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Handwriting

Many children experience difficulties with handwriting. These can be caused by things such as poor sitting position, lack of fine finger movements, sensory awareness, incorrect pencil grip and visual perception.

Your child might have difficulty holding the pen or pencil, be reluctant to write or do so at a slower pace than their peers.

Concerns about using their left or right hand

From about the age of four or five, children tend to prefer using either their left or right hand when picking up small items and performing delicate tasks such as writing and drawing. They establish a definite hand dominance at around seven or eight.

It’s common for some children to use one hand for writing but choose the other hand for fine motor tasks such as cutting paper. Quite often, children who write with their left hand find it easier when cutting to hold the scissors in their right hand and the paper in the left. This allows the action (left) hand to move the paper while the scissors remain fairly still, needing only to open and close. This isn’t a cause for concern.

Sitting position

Sitting in a good, comfortable position with a firm stable base will enhance your child’s ability to control the pencil and allow them to concentrate on their writing skills.

  • Make sure their table and chair are at the appropriate height for your child’s size to provide stability while writing; when sitting, they should be able to put their feet flat on the ground with their knees at right angles and the table at elbow height
  • Encourage your child to check their posture before starting to write: bottom back as far as possible in the chair, chair pulled into the table, feet flat on the ground
  • An angled writing slope or an A4 folder can also help to achieve a more upright sitting position

Good pencil grip

By the age of nine, most children have developed a grip that is comfortable for them and it is very difficult to change this. 

  • If the child has difficulty placing their thumb in the correct position, put a coloured dot on the place where the thumb needs to go to provide a visual reminder
  • Writing on a chalkboard or vertical surface using very small pieces of chalk or crayon encourages a tripod grip
  • Trial different types and sizes of pencils, pens and pencil grips to help the child hold the pencil effectively. Some children work better with roller pens, pens with indents for fingers and others with fountain pens. It is often a case of trial and error and it's best to try the pen for a couple of weeks before trailing another.
  • Pens and pencil grips can be purchased from taskmaster and tts-group

Paper positioning

Some children can produce good handwriting with paper in a variety of positions, but ideally:

  • Right-handers angle paper to the left
  • Left-handers angle paper to the right (it is better to seat a left-handed child at the left-hand of the classroom when facing the front)

Sensory awareness

This involves interpreting the awareness of thumb and finger position and judging the correct force to use when writing.

Very dark writing - hard pencil pressure: if pencil pressure is too hard this can cause pain and fatigue in the hands and can increase the amount of time it takes to write. Try:

  • Asking the child to write a word very lightly on the paper and erase it without leaving marks
  • Using a retractable pencil as the lead will snap if too much pressure is applied
  • Using a weighted pen or pencil so that they can feel more pressure on the paper

Very light writing - soft pencil pressure: too little pressure will affect control and make writing appear poorly formed. Try:

  • Providing a writing slope or angled board of approximately 25 degrees to ensure wrists rest on the writing surface
  • Using a weighted pen or pencil
  • Using weighted wristbands to increase the child's awareness of their positioning
  • Using softer leaded pencils so that writing appears darker
  • Improving shoulder strength, which will improve hand function, with weight bearing exercises such as wheelbarrow walking, press ups and climbing.

Hand warm-up exercises

The following exercises can be worked through before any written or dextrous work is to be carried out. The more effort used to carry them out, the greater the sensory feedback received. Older children could use these to help reduce fatigue, or they could be carried out by all children in class at the same time.

  • Shoulder shrugs - place hands by sides, raise shoulders to ears, relax. Repeat 10 times.
  • Rub palms of hands together briskly.
  • Make a tight fist with both hands and stretch the fingers wide again. Repeat 10 times.
  • Praying position - push hands together with elbows away from sides for a count of 10. Repeat once. 
  • Chair push ups – sit on hands, palm side towards the floor or chair. Lift bottom off the chair by extending elbows and pushing down. Repeat 10 times.
  • Monkey grip – hook fingers together and pull with elbows extended away from the body.
  • Squeeze a stress ball or bulk of therapy putty.

Letter formation and word spacing

Some children who have difficulties with letter formation, sizing and spacing may have visual-perception problems. Some of these strategies may help:

  • Writing on handwriting lined paper will help to highlight the borders of the letters, progress to one line as improvement is made
  • Ensure the child can form each letter before asking for speed.
  • Ensure the child knows why they need to write smaller or larger and demonstrate the size you'd like the letters to be.
  • Use squared paper prompting the child to contain the letters in the squares.
  • Encourage the child to leave an exaggerated large space between each word, or use coloured stickers in place of the spaces to increase their awareness.
  • When writing, have your child say the word 'space' after each word to remind themselves to leave a space.
  • Create a spacebar using a piece of paper around one or two centimetres wide, and encourage them to use this after every word to keep spacing a consistent size. Check their work using the spacebar and let them know where the spaces are too small.

Alternative methods of recording

For some children and young people, it can be beneficial to promote alternatives to handwriting, particularly if this is preventing them from achieving their academic potential.

  • Use a dictaphone to dictate a story or homework
  • Use a computer to record longer pieces of work
  • Use diagrams, and mind maps where possible
  • Write key points when taking notes or have a print out from the whiteboard
  • Use answer sheets where the gaps need to be filled in
  • Use photocopied notes where possible
  • Allow extra time for the child
  • Recognise that they may be concentrating so hard on their writing that they miss out on verbal instructions
  • Sit the child at the front of the class or directly facing the board

 

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and you’re still not seeing any improvement after four months, please read the referral criteria so that we can ensure your enquiry is directed to the right area and follow the directions on that page. 

Handwriting Without Tears Programme full of useful support and resources

Teach Handwriting - a comprehensive guide to teaching handwriting

AbilityNet - Provides IT support for home and schools

Taskmaster - online equipment to help with handwriting and sensory needs