Curtis tested the ability of children of various ages to sit perfectly still. He attributed this to the fact that the higher centres of volun- tary control are not much developed until rather late in child life. From these facts it has been argued that the child is not physiologically fitted to write until at least nine or ten years of age. Writing requires such close attention and finely co-ordin- ated movements involving practically the whole organism that it seems reasonable to postpone its learning until the child has acquired considerable control over itself through work involving larger movements and coarser co-ordinations. Such preliminary training could be better given by instruction in drawing and manual training, which may be made much less complex than writing can possibly be. This substantiates to a certain extent the conclusions reached in the sketch of the racial development of writing that the teaching of writing should not be begun at so early an age as is the general prac- tice to-day, and that it should be preceded by instruction in drawing. There is another side to this question, depending upon the need which the child feels for writing. Writing is a method of expression, and, therefore, to a certain extent, should be a 21 natural outgrowth of the expressive instinct of the child. Writing should not be taught until the child feels the need of another mode of expression than that of oral language. The age at which the recognition of this need appears seems to vary tremendously. Children well endowed by nature and in a good coursework masters environment will arrive at this point much sooner than stupid children in an environment which tends to dull rather than to whet their curiosity. From my own observation, how- ever, I should place it on the average at a much younger age than nine or ten, certainly as early as seven, and perhaps even sooner. This argument assumes that the child who begins to learn to write at six will be a better and more efficient writer at ten years of age than the child who does not learn until nine. Unfortunately, I can find no evidence to prove or dis- prove this assumption, but it does seem likely to be true, sim- ply on the ground that the increase in power gained by the second child through practice in other voluntary movements would never be equal to the increase gained by the first through practice in actual writing, since writing is such a complex and special habit. It seems that middle ground is the only safe position to take. Begin writing at six or seven, but do not demand pre- cision in execution.
The writing should be large, and the practice should be mainly upon the blackboard, so that large comprehensive arm movements are the only possible ones the child can use.
The ordinary development of the child in the years preceding school, aided perhaps by a year of manual training in kindergarten work, gives him quite enough motor ability for the kind of work described.
The difficulties which arise from immature fingers, central and peripheral unsteadiness, and the great precision needed for writing on paper largely vanish when writing is taught by 22 blackboard practice. After a year or two of such work it is not difficult to obtain a gradually increasing precision and fineness of writing with pencil or pen and paper. We may conclude that the evidence we possess does not so much demonstrate the necessity for postponing the learn- ing of writing until nine or ten, as it does the necessity of adapting the work to the capabilities of the child.
If the child begins at six or seven, and is taught by a teacher who real- izes the importance of letting the child imitate movement, and of encouraging large and free arm movements, and who does not demand fineness of execution, the child will have no great difficulty in mastering the art of writing.
The third cannot be used until the mind is sufficiently developed to work with ideas. It can never be successfully used in the acquisition of skill in motor activities. The trial and success method means that a desired end is achieved by one of numerous attempts which is then selected for repetition. If, for instance, a child attempts to get his rattle which is lying beside him, he may make four or five trials before he is successful in reaching it. With this experi- ence as a basis, he will soon be able to reduce the number of 23 unsuccessful attempts, and eventually will be successful in every attempt. He has learned to reach the rattle by the method of trial and success.
It is shown when a child laughs, yawns or cries when he sees the act done by another. Yawning and laughing are infectious in a group of people of any age. Spontaneous imitation reproduces acts simply because the impulse to reproduce an act perceived is too strong to be de- nied.
Its value lies in the fact that through it a large amount of material is accumulated in the way of knowledge and power of varied movement. It is dom- inant for the first three or four years of life. Dramatic imitation implies a more extended use of imag- ination.
Voluntary imitation reproduces an act to gain some end rather than for the mere pleasure of reproduction. It must be both analytic and synthetic, as attention is necessarily directed both to the parts of the process to be imitated, and also to the synthesis of those parts into the whole. It is upon voluntary imitation that the learning of handwriting must be based.
The first point to be noted in voluntary imitation is that a child can imitate a movement much more easily than he can perform that movement from a description of how it is done or from seeing nothing but its results. We have pointed out before that this has an important bearing upon the proper method of teaching of writing, but it is of sufficient import- ance to bear repetition. A teacher must continually show the class the movement to be used. So, too, in attempting to correct bad form or movement, the best method is to show the actual movement which produces better form or which is less laborious and more rapid. We may also note the fact that consciousness will not enter very largely into the process of imitation so far as the move- ment is concerned. The reason for this lies in the fact noted before that the child has gained coursework masters all or nearly all of the ele- ments of the movements needed before every attempting to write. To attempt to teach just what movements are coursework masters needed to attain a certain end is bad pedagogy, for, by thus fixing attention upon the movement the teacher hinders rather than helps its correct coursework masters reproduction. Further, since writing is eventually to be used automatically and unconsciously, con- sciousness should enter into the learning of it as little as pos- sible.