Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Wonder Friend. Wonder Friend Wonders, “Why do young children write letters backwards and inverted so much?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Wonder Friend!

Do you remember learning to write? Some kids do, while others might not. Ask an adult family member, though, and they’ll likely remember teaching you to write your first words. It may have been your own name. Perhaps it was the word for a favorite animal or food. Whatever your first written word was, we bet you practiced it many times before you got it right!

If you have any samples of your early handwriting, take a close look at it. What do you see? It probably looks quite a bit different than the way you write now. The words are probably bigger and a bit harder to read. We’d wager a guess that you’ll find a few letters written backward, too.

Many young kids write letters backward. It’s common before the age of six and even has a name: mirror writing. Some adults also find themselves writing letters backward again after a brain injury.

Have you ever WONDERed what causes mirror writing? A few incorrect explanations have been given over the years. For example, many people have long thought it’s caused by left-handed writing. However, that’s just a myth. A 2016 study found that mirror writing occurs about as often in right-handed kids as in left-handed ones.

Others think mirror writing is a sign of dyslexia. That’s not the case, though. Instead, dyslexia is a condition in which people have a hard time connecting written letters to sounds. As a result, people with this learning disability may have difficulty spelling or sounding words out. Writing letters backward is not a sign of dyslexia.

A few other explanations for backward letters are more commonly accepted today. One has to do with the way the human brain stores images. It uses a process called mirror generalization. That means, when we remember images, we don’t place as much importance on their orientation as on their shape. 

The reason for this is survival. For example, a human can identify a tiger by looking at it from any angle. The predator doesn’t have to be facing in any certain direction for us to know what it is. This ability to identify something we see no matter what direction it’s facing allows us to react quickly to dangers.

Picture a young child learning to write a new letter. Because of mirror generalization, they’re more likely to remember the letter’s shape than which direction it faces. Their understanding of directions (left vs. right) is also still developing. These factors make them more likely to write letters backward.

Another reason for mirror writing may have to do with the letters themselves. In English, most characters open to the right (examples: c, r, 6). Children may pick up on this pattern. This may cause them to write letters that open to the left (examples: j, 3, 7) backward.

Did you ever write letters backward? If you have a younger sibling, you may see some examples of mirror writing from them. It’s a normal part of writing development and usually goes away with age and practice.

Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

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