OPINION: Bugger off with your pen licences

PEN licences, a bizarre primary school tradition in which children are rewarded with a ceremonial certificate once their handwriting is deemed good enough to graduate from pencil to pen. It's pretty weird when you think about it, and it's not a thing in most parts of the world. 

Dr Angela Webb of the National Handwriting Association describes the purpose of the tradition here: 'Pen licences formalise the transition from pencil to ink, and the prospect of earning a pen licence is used by teachers as a motivator to encourage children to develop the required standard of handwriting.'

Well, Dr Webb, that's cute and all, but that's not how I remember the experience. I was that kid with the handwriting that looked like a drunk spider fell into a pot of ink before staggering across the paper. My handwriting was HUGE, illegible and didn't improve much over time.

I remember a teacher telling my mum I had fine motor problems, but that it wasn't anything worth following up as it was a 'rich person diagnosis' and not an actual problem. I didn't understand that reference then, but I get it now.

Nowadays there's lots of information available for parents who want to improve their child's fine motor. Back in the pre-internet days of the 90's it was just me and that freaking hellish tracing handwriting book.

When the talk of pen licences started, the concept wasn't introduced to me and the other two rubbish writers in the class as a reward worth striving for, it was introduced as a potential humiliating punishment if we didn't pull our socks up.

"Do you want to be the only kids writing in pencil while all the other kids get to use pen?"

"Do you want to be grown up like the other kids? Or a baby with a pencil?"

Ok, just to interject here, I'm not trying to imply that I'm some poor hard-done-by child who was traumatised by this minor event, I get it, it's not that big a deal. But, at the time, it really did seem like a monumental event. I remember sobbing in bed one night, genuinely feeling stressed out and anxious that I was going to be left behind my friends and that I would let everyone down by not reaching their goal.

It turned out, I needn't have worried. My handwriting didn't get much better, but they still gave me a pen, and it made zero difference to my life. So why the hell did they make me think it would?!

I'm now a writer, I've been working as a writer for the past four years or so and I rarely pick up a bloody pen. Obviously, kids need to know how to read and write, but in reality, none of them are going to grow up and work in a job using pen and paper - when was the last time you used one on any regular basis? So can we scrap this high pressure, weird ceremonial nonsense? If your kid has bad handwriting, find a fun way to help them improve their skills, it's going to be way more effective than the threat of a public shaming. 

This article originally appeared on Kidspot and has been republished here with permission.

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