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Written by Hand

Writing with a pencil by hand is a foundational skill. But it’s also a beautiful endeavor. I have fond memories of learning to form the ABCs. This work was quiet, slow, and mysterious. Yes, mysterious. My grandmother, who raised me, wrote little notes by hand and left them in various places around the house to my great delight. Her hand was one of a kind, a lovely extension of her loving self.  It was not like any other by-hand note I’ve ever encountered in life. That’s the thing about penmanship. Penmanship is personal.

Sadly, digital teaching tools have pushed handwriting instruction to the back seat. But writing by hand is multi-sensory, connecting hand-eye coordination and memory. Writing by hand, the art of encoding language, strengthens the ability to read (decode) language. Writing by hand slows us down so that we might engage with and bring shape to our ideas.

This past Sunday, January 23, was the birthday of John Hancock—the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. I can see his strong, courageous calligraphy in my mind’s eye. His is the one famous signature that my elementary classmates and I committed to memory. So it is fitting that here at the end of January each year we celebrate the art of handwriting connected to this larger than life signature!

So at the dawn of 2022, may you pick up a pencil, craft your very own John Hancock, marveling at each individual stroke that defines your hand.

Want to learn more about printed letterforms?

Take a look at our free worksheet: Typography 101

Typography 101

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Sharpening Pencils


Picnic-table_crop

When Hannah was five her best friends were twin boys. The trio devised all sorts of amusing
activities. One sunny afternoon I noticed they were spending a significant
amount of time gathered round the child-sized picnic table that Hannah’s father
built. “How cute, they are conversing,” I thought to myself as I went for my
camera to capture the moment.

Wrong.

When I zoomed in I spied a couple Willie’s screwdrivers and
a little pile of screws in the grass. I zoomed in closer. Yep, the trio was seated
around what would soon be the once-upon-a time-child-sized picnic-table. They
had spent the better part of the afternoon disassembling not conversing. Still,
they were so focused, such dedicated little carpenters, that I didn’t have the
heart to stop them. Instead I rehearsed the speech I would deliver to my
husband, “…it was all very, well, Montessori …and after all we can easily
re-build, right?”

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Okay fast-forward about fifteen years. Last week my
mother-in-law assigned Liam the task of sharpening fifteen dozen pencils that
she would be taking to an orphanage in Uganda this summer. I appreciate how she organizes these
perfect child-sized humanitarian activities for my children.

Liam got to work immediately. At a minute per pencil, 180
pencils, the task would take about three hours without a break! The task took
Liam most of the morning. At one point he came in and asked me if he could use
the manual pencil sharpener.

“The electric one might be faster.”

“But it’s clogged.”

“Okay Liam.”

“Thanks mom.”
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A couple of hours later Liam came bounding into the kitchen
with a pencil stained grin holding in the sharpened pencils safely tucked back
into their original packaging.

“Wow Liam, all these pencils!”

“I hope the children in Uganda are happy when they write!”

I choked back the lump in my throat, “I hope so too Liam, a
job well done son.”

Later that evening I went into the studio to tidy up, there
it was, a brand new installation: The manual pencil sharpener had somehow been
removed from its perch in the pantry and re-attached with screws to our antique
Craftsman desk. I caught my
breath, mortified, then after a moment of letting the shock settle, enjoyed the
smile cracking. My son set up shop, got the job done and I must admit, I’m
proud.

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I pulled out the speech and began rehearsing, “…very
Montessori and after all…”