Handwriting - how to remove some of the headaches

I am writing this not just as a teacher, but also as someone who every parents’ evening (all the way up to the fifth form) was told that she needed to improve her handwriting! I also find that, as a parent, handwriting is one of my children’s biggest challenges.

Before a child can develop good handwriting, however, there are certain pre-requisite skills that need to be acquired. I have listed some of these below, with ideas of how to support your child if they have difficulty in that particular area.

  • Balance - For a child to achieve good handwriting, they should have good balance. One way of checking this is to get them to stand on one leg (and then to shut their eyes if they can do it with their eyes open). If they find this difficult, exercises to improve core stability include using a balance cushion to stand on for example while throwing and catching a ball or leaning over an exercise ball to do a jigsaw puzzle or game. If your child has poor balance, ensure their feet are not dangling when writing, but instead resting firmly on the floor or footstool.

  • Stability - Some children lack the shoulder, elbow, forearm or wrist control necessary for drawing smooth controlled lines. To develop shoulder or elbow stability, the child can lean forwards and their elbows can be rested on the table. If they have a difficulty with forearm stability, these can be rested on the table, or weights used to strengthen the forearms. To support weak wrists, a writing slope can be used for the child to write at.

  • Confusion about dominance – By the age of six, most children have discovered their hand dominance, but this is not always the case. If a child is not sure, get them to try a range of activities and see which hand gives the most control. Encourage them to stick to using this hand, so that they can practise with it. If they are left handed, ensure the paper is tilted 45 degrees to the right, so that they can see what they are writing.

  • Poor grasp and control of the writing tool – fine motor skills can be practised: drawing lines, shapes etc. with a range of media and tools (water in the bath, cars on the floor or in sand etc.); tracing patterns on different surfaces; stacking blocks; threading beads and using tweezers to pick things up. My children love the Cleverstix chopsticks which are a great way to develop fine motor control – they have just released a left-handed version at last. Also, ensure that your child has a good pencil grip – a tripod grip is generally recommended (writing with the second finger on top of the pencil and with the pencil resting on the thumb and third finger). The important part to check is that your child’s thumb does not overlap their first finger which can cause writing strain. Tricks to remediate this include putting a small piece of paper or small object under the child’s fourth and fifth finger while they write (to keep them out of the way), or using a pencil grip. The most popular one with my students is the dolphin grip, but there are a wide range available, and different grips suit different children. Different sized and shaped pencils and other writing tools can also be helpful. My son used a Twist’n’ Write pencil when he started in Reception, which we called a rocket pencil. This forced him to think about how to hold the pencil.

  • Poor attention span – Present activities that use a range of senses to keep a child engaged.

  • Poor imitation skills – Some children find it hard to copy shapes, especially when the shapes begin to become more complex and interact with each other. The Teodorescu Perceptuo-Motor Programme is very good for developing hand eye coordination (and can be used at home or school). Other fun ideas include dot-to-dot puzzles and mazes.

  • Vision – do check back to Liz’s earlier blog if you have any concerns about your child’s vision – it is hard to copy something if you cannot see it clearly.

Once these pre-writing skills have been addressed, you can consider actual handwriting.

  • The first step is to ensure that all letters are formed correctly. This can go unnoticed if a child forms them neatly, but it will be very hard to join letters that do not start and stop in the correct place.

  • Secondly, children need to understand the difference in the letter sizes. The revelation to me was when my fifth form English teacher suggested I write on squared paper, so that I could see this clearly. I now use this technique with students, either writing in squares, or on split lined paper. This is a sample of the difference for one child (the first was on lined paper and the second on squared).

  • Ensure that a child’s writing actually sits on the line, rather than floating around it. Using raised line paper where a child can feel the bump as their writing hits the line can be a good way to support this.

  • Make sure that the child knows how to create the different joins. The join that the most students that I see find hard is from when a letter finishes in the air to the next one also startsing in the air e.g. from an ‘o’ to an ‘e’ as they try to go down to the line, inadvertently looking as though they have created an extra letter. Joining handwriting does help to increase the flow of writing, and also activates the kinaesthetic memory when learning spellings, causing the spellings to be learn as a whole, rather than as a series of independent letters.

As with anything, practise really does help.

There are many resources out there to support handwriting, but I have found that Fantastic Dyspraxic (https://www.fantasticdyspraxic.co.uk/) are a great place for ideas and resources to support handwriting and fine motor control. Also, Anything Left Handed (http://www.anythinglefthanded.co.uk/acatalog/writing_equipment.html) has great advice and resources for left-handed writers, including pens and handwriting practice books specifically designed for left-handers.

If you have any favourite resources, do leave a comment and let us know, so that we can share ideas.