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Our children still need to master handwriting skills

by David V. Appleyard

Writing practiceDespite our ever-increasing dependence on computers. tablets and smartphones, children's capacity to write clearly and legibly with more traditional tools can play a decisive role in how well they end up doing in school exams. If words fail to flow from their pens, they may not be able to get down all they know within the time allowed and so lose vital points. Further marks will be lost if there is no clear distinction between letters which look alike, such as o and a, v and u, or m and nn.

Clear handwriting involves the eyes as much as the hands, so both must work in perfect co-ordination. Just as when we learn to play the piano, the many fine muscles of the hand need to be strengthened, something only achieved through plenty of practice. Every opportunity should therefore be given for children to write things down—and preferably on a daily basis.

A key point to bear in mind is that they themselves should feel there is a real purpose in what they are doing—they will soon get tired of repetitive exercises only aimed at improving certain strokes. One good idea is to let them keep a diary to be filled in at bedtime. Another is to have them write shopping lists when food items run out.

The advice of experts on the subject is sometimes age-specific. For example, when older kids draw pictures they should be encouraged to make less use of "undemanding" marker pens, and greater use of crayons and colored pencils.

In the case of very young children, however, practice sessions need to be kept relatively short, as their delicate hand muscles and movements need more time to develop.

So then, lasting benefit is sure to come if the emphasis is placed on regularity rather than the duration of the practice sessions. And be sure to make it fun!

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Suicidal poets 'leave behind clues in their writing'

by David V. Appleyard

The final resting place of Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)American researchers have discovered that the words of poets who later commit suicide show a clear tendency toward disengagement from others. This is apparently exemplified in a marked preference in their writing for self-references, such as first person singular forms (I, me, and my). In contrast, it seems non-suicidal poets tend to make greater use of the first person plural (we, us and our), as well as communication words, such as talk, share and listen. As one might expect, they also include fewer death-related words than their suicidal counterparts.

The study, which was conducted by Shannon Wiltsey Stirman of the University of Pennsylvania and James W. Pennebaker of the University of Texas in Austin, was first presented back in 2001 in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine under the title "Word Use in the Poetry of Suicidal and Non-suicidal Poets".

The researchers point out that although, of course, most poets do not take their own lives, they appear to do so much more often than other categories of writer or, for that matter, the public as a whole. Less surprisingly, there is frequently a history of mental depression, signs of which can now be identified in the individual poet's writing.

British, American and Russian poets were selected for the survey, with suicidal and non-suicidal poets being paired off as closely as possible by nationality, educational background and gender.

John Berryman, Hart Crane, Sergei Esenin, Adam L. Gordon, Randall Jarrell, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Sarah Teasdale were chosen as examples of suicidal poets. These were matched with the non-suicidal poets Matthew Arnold, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Alfred Joyce Kilmer, Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell, Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, Adrienne Rich and Edna St Vincent Millay.