Dinehart, an assistant professor at the Florida International University School of Education, was examining data collected on 1,000 second-graders and comparing it with information collected when they were in pre-kindergarten. She and her research team expected to find that early number skills might predict math achievement and that early language skills might predict who would be better readers in second grade. But they were surprised to find that a 4-year-old’s fine motor writing skill – the ability to form letters, numbers and shapes – was an indicator of stronger academic achievement later on.

What’s just as surprising, says Dinehart, is that the academic achievement by those with better penmanship is seen in both reading and math, and it’s reflected in both teachers’ grades and standardized test scores. Students who received good handwriting grades in pre-K had an overall “B” average in second grade. Their standardized tests scored above average in both math and reading. By contrast, pre-kindergarten students who did poorly on fine motor writing tasks had an overall “C” average and below-average test scores in second grade.