Tuesday, June 16, 2009

10 Ways to Improve a Child's Handwriting

Many educators no longer consider handwriting a crucial skill because technology has changed our world. (When’s the last time you wrote a letter by hand? So, keep this skill in perspective.) Most of us, even kids, can communicate faster using a keyboard/keypad rather than with handwriting. (My cousin’s 12-year old scored 88 WPM on one of those just-for-fun typing quizzes on Facebook!)

Nonetheless, the skill of handwriting is still somewhat important. There’s evidence that children who write better and faster get better grades. However, remember that good handwriting is not an indicator of success. Look at your doctor’s handwriting!

Before trying to help a child who’s experiencing handwriting difficulties, determine if the issue’s physical or cognitive. If the child struggles with fine motor skills or forming letters, the problem is likely physical. If the child can’t remember how to form a letter of the alphabet or takes too long deciding what to write, there could be a cognitive issue.

Most handwriting problems are physical. Fine motor practice helps, but gross motor play is equally important. After all, many experts believe the increase in handwriting problems (1 in 3 kids struggle now) is tied to the decreased physical activity of today’s children. Handwriting involves body posture, and proper use of hands, arms, head, and eyes! If you suspect your child is having physical difficulties, try these activities:

1. Bilateral, outdoor play activities
Reduce time in front of the computer and video games in favor of outdoor play! Playing “human wheelbarrow”, crawling, and climbing help connect the motor-neural pathways needed for handwriting.

2. Game time & clap songs!
Engage kids in games that require hand-eye coordination such as Operation (tweezer games), Skeletons in the Closet, badminton, tennis, baseball, or go “old-school” with pick-up sticks, jacks, and marbles. Betcha your little ones know these fun clap songs too: Miss Mary Mack and Down, Down Baby (…down by the rollercoaster…)

3. Lil’ “Iron Chefs”
Cook with your kids. Let them knead dough, roll it out, cut it with cookie cutters, and pick up food with tongs. On days when you don’t want to deal with the mess, kids can use a pretend baking set.

4. Artsy fartsy
Creative activities that involve paper cutting, folding (origami), gluing, and drawing hardly feel like fine motor practice! Give them lots of opportunities to draw with various instruments—pencils, colored pencils, markers, gel pens, crayons, pastels, and calligraphy pens. Sculpting with play dough or clay is also good (kneading, pushing, pulling, and cutting).

5. Civilized diners
Make it a house rule to use silverware at every meal. Yes, the family will look very sophisticated on pizza or burger night. ;) Also try chopsticks some nights!

6. Dressing skills
Lacing, tying, buttoning and snapping are important life skills that can help strengthen some of the same muscles used for handwriting. Use clothes, shoes, or doll clothes for these activities, or entice kids with fun toys that teach the same skills.

7. Finger writing
Have kids practice writing with their fingers in, or on, different textures—shaving cream smeared on the table, play dough, clay, or sand. (For extra help, they can use letter molds as a starting point or trace their fingers over magnetic letters.)

8. The “write” environment
Make sure your child has a good chair and table at the right height for comfortable writing. Demonstrate how to sit with correct posture, rest your arms on the table, hold the writing instrument, and keep your torso in the right position.

9. “Uh, thank ya, thank ya very much.” (Elvis voice)
Get kids into a habit of writing handwritten thank you cards for gifts they receive.

10. Explicit handwriting practice
Help kids learn to write both legibly and quickly (handwriting fluency) with repeated practice using different kinds of pencils (different thicknesses and grips). Letter stamps and line-ruled paper, journals, or dry-erase boards can offer even more support.

If you try these techniques without success, consult a professional—your child’s teacher, school reading specialist, and/or an occupational therapist. Your child may need physical therapy or help overcoming a learning disability which is causing cognitive difficulties.

Just remember that not all cognitive issues indicate a learning disability. Sometimes kids simply have trouble remembering letter shapes, deciding what to write about, or taking too long to include too many details when they write. Your child’s teacher can give you some simple ways to tackle these cognitive issues.

Whatever your child’s struggles with handwriting, help her to not be self-conscious about it. People tend to think of handwriting as reflections of themselves. Help your child realize that she will get better with practice (and probably with age), and that it’s okay that her writing isn’t a masterpiece now!


  1. Having children write with broken crayons and chalk is also a great way to strengthen the pincer grasp and encourage correct finger gripping.

    1. A stupid suggestion! On the contrary to avoid writing problems ensure that children have proper pencils and crayons instead of broken ones or stubs. You are fostering developmental skills like fine motor skills!

  2. Thanks, Marlise! What a great way to make use of supplies that might otherwise be thrown out, too!

  3. Thanks Wendy for the great ideas:-) I will refer my incoming kinder parents to your page. I have also read some research (can't remember the exact name) that chalk is better than whiteboards because of the drag/feedback while writing and that kids benefit from writing on a vertical surface. In my classroom I tape construction paper to a cabinet and let the kids practice writing letters and words with chalk on the paper. They love it!

  4. Awesome info on the chalk and vertical surface, Joan! Oh, and big thanks for referring parents my direction!

  5. Have you heard of wirte dance - its a fab way to get children to move to music at the same time introducing drawing patterns on paper. You would need to look it up to get full idea but its great for helping children with writing difficulties

  6. Please contact me at support/at/masterhandwriting[dot] com and check out my website for a joint-venture business opportunity

  7. We've tried everything with my 9 year old son to get him to print better. It'll take him 30 minutes to copy a small paragraph onto his workbook. When he writes, he presses so hard with his pencil and goes over and over the letters at least 4 or 5 times until they are thick and dark. We tell him not to press too hard and tried different pencils (we even tried a new pen that writes in liquid graphite, it feels like a pen but it erases like a pencil) but nothing works. He forgets to leave spaces in between the words.

    I don't know why teachers don't reject work with writing that looks so bad, it looks like a 1st grader wrote it instead of 4th grader. I wish that teachers would do something about this. Even his spelling is not that great, the other day he asked me how to spell "present". What exactly are the teachers teaching kids these days?
    Why don't they just teach the basics first. What ever happened to the 3 "R's". When I was a kid teachers did a better job of teaching kids, and they didn't even have all the conveniences like they have now, like computers. Or perhaps that's the problem, they rely on technology too much. What would happen if the power went out and a student had to take notes in class? For that matter, not every parent out there can afford a computer, what about kids that live in poorer areas.

    1. I agree! My son is going into third grade and his handwriting is not good at all. It was actually better in first grade. The second grade teacher, while very nice, was very "lax" about things such a handwriting. No matter how sloppy it looked, she always said, "Oh, don't worry about it. It's fine." I would try to get my son to be neater when doing his homework and his response was always the same, "Mom, my teacher doesn't care if it's sloppy. She says it's fine." What is that teaching them? That subpar work is acceptable? I realize that not every child has the neatest handwriting but I know my son's could be better (as I said, it WAS better in first grade). I try my best but when his teacher doesn't back me up, it makes it very difficult.

    2. Teachers are too worried about passing the state exams in order to keep their jobs. Who has time to teach anymore. You should become a teacher and fix everything they can't, I'm assuming you're a miracle worker and all as you seem to have all the answers.

  8. As a kid, I loved to write big letters with my finger on my Mum's back, and she had to guess which letter it was. The best part of it all was when she had to give in, after a good few guesses. Sometimes I'd give her clues, for example, if the letter was b, I'd say 'it's next to c in the alphabet'. Then she'd have to guess either b or d. It helped me to remember which letters go where in the alphabet.

  9. Hi Wendy, it was lovely getting educated by your article. My 3 years old daughter is studying in Nursery. Here in India schools n parents are obsessed with the cursive writing at this stage. Is it advisable to start with cursive writing so early with pencil ? Need your guidance for how should i help my child with the early writing skills . ( in her last class already she has learnt how to write capital block letters in four line paper with pencil ) is all this too early for her ? N will this be harmful for her later ?

    Thanks n regards
    Sudipta Sen Srivastava

    1. Developing fine muscles is a more important thing to be done at this age. learning to write cursives in Nursery is not something that should be encouraged. it is too much for a child and gripping the pencil at this age harms the muscles too. the grip that the child develops at this age will remain with them for the rest of their life.


  11. It's interesting how quickly parents are to blame the teachers. Is the entire responsibility that of the teacher. Please, parents, when will the you take part in the education of your children? We are all in this together. Remember, it takes a village.

  12. Parents blame the teachers because quite frankly they are the teachers. The expectation is that when a child is sent to school that they will be taught the fundamentals. After all isn't that what school is for? It doesn't make sense to send your child to school for 6-8 hours and then have them come home for more schooling. Whats the point!

    1. Aw... your ignorance is evident... seems your teachers didn't do a good job either. Handwriting has nothing to do with what your child's teacher teaches them or accepts at school, it has to do with their fine motor schools and the muscles in their hands.... which leads back to the question where are you failing as a parent that your child does not have these skills???.... where you to busy to play ball with them or help them make things out of play dough??? Seems your child is a product of another lazy parent who thought it was ok to use the television as a babysitter instead of actually paying them or their education any attention, and now you need a scapegoat so you blame it on their poor teacher who is overworked and under paid and has to give your child extra attention because you have failed as a parent and then you have the audacity to ask "what's the point" .... I guess I should expect nothing less from someone who doesn't even know that "whats," quoting the comment you made, is actually the contraction "what is" and needs an apostrophe to be correct. It's pathetic people as ignorant as you are even allowed to have children much less raise them. It is because of people like you that I fear for our future.

  13. I don't agree with that, after all won't you help your child with homework if they have it? We all learn by practice, which is what I do with my son at home, we go over what he learns at school so that it would stick. At six he is doing fractions and spelling words like fetus for his spelling tests at school, but I think it's a bit different in the Caribbean than most places.

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