Handwriting is widely recognised as one of the most complex skills that we learn and teach, involving a range of motor, visual, language, emotional and cognitive skills. The development of handwriting skills are influenced by having the opportunity to practice at an early age, experience, diagnosis, communication skills and equipment.
The ability to write doesn’t develop by itself. It needs to be learned in a systematic way with lots of opportunity for practice. Only then can a child become fluent in handwriting.
It is important for a child to hand write and build their skills as much as possible until at least the age of 8 years old. Handwriting helps us to develop a sense of a letter sound and shape in our minds and bodies; it helps us to learn to recognise letter sounds and the physical act of pencil on paper forming letters improves spelling and reading.
In order to be ready for the formal teaching of handwriting, your child should have developed all of the skills below to a good standard:
If your child has not achieved the above yet, they are at a pre-writing stage of development. Click here for our helpful resource for parents and carers to support their child in pre-writing.
When helping your child to learn early writing skills, make sure it is all about fun and practice.
We recommend using a multi-sensory approach to developing letter formations; this means using as many senses as possible to reinforce letter shape and movement. So combine activities that include vision, sound, touch and movement.
For example, when children traditionally learn to write there is an over reliance on vision – seeing and copying the letters. By including verbal instructions, adding texture to paper, using pens/pencils that have a scent or bright colours and asking the child to ‘draw’ the letter using their whole body, the correct letter shape is easier to grasp.
As your child gets more able with their letter formations these different sensory cues can be reduced.
Is your child comfortable?
Can they hold and use a pencil or pen without pain in the wrist or fingers?
Ideally we use our fingers to form letters when writing, however lots of children develop other ways of writing. Here are some things to consider if your child is not comfortable
It’s also worth noting that even if a grip looks odd to you, if the child is not in pain and you can read their writing this is a functional grip that does not need to be altered.
Sometimes children can use too much pressure or not enough pressure when writing. This can make it difficult to read if the pressure is too light and heavy pressure can often cause discomfort.
Sometimes children press hard on the paper and hold the pencil tightly to get a stronger sense of where their hand is moving. This can persist as a habit in older children. Here are some activities that may help your child become more aware of the pressure they are using:
Children can sometimes have difficulty with the formation, placement, size and direction of letters. This can all have an effect on presentation and the ability to read what your child has written. Some of these are expected when first learning and up until the ages of 6 or 7 years, this should be considered typical.
It can be useful to have structure when learning to write letters. Writing on paper that is double lined, squared or coloured can all be helpful. This also supports greater awareness of left to right direction and stop and start position.
Children require a stable, comfortable posture in order to have good control of their hands for handwriting.
This involves developing trunk, hip and shoulder stability so that the control of the elbow, forearm, wrist and fingers can become more precise and accurate. During the early years working and playing in different positions such as standing, lying, four-point kneeling or high kneeling can help to develop postural control and may be more engaging to the child.
Initially children may struggle to sit for prolonged periods at a desk and regular ‘movement breaks’ may help, encourage interest and attention. This may be something as simple as standing up and stretching to something more active such as jumping on a mini trampoline. Gross motor warm-up activities will also help prepare the body for working, as well as developing control and stamina.
As well as developing posture, consider the environment, e.g. the size and position of tables and chairs. The optimum seating position involves the child’s thighs being well back in the chair with the feet placed flat on the floor, with their ankles, knees and hips bent at a 90 degree angle. The ideal table height is approximately 2” above the height of the bent elbow (when the child is sitting upright).
It can be helpful for some children to use a sloping desk. This can encourage the child to maintain an upright position and supports a comfortable wrist position for writing (see equipment section).
Writing with your left hand is not the same as with your right, this can often be harder as the writing is directed toward the body and pushed across the paper which requires more effort to achieve. So, teaching a child to write with his or her left hand is not just the opposite from teaching how to write right-handed.
It is especially important for parents and teachers to understand how to teach left-handed children to write correctly and some of the most important factors are:
The paper should be positioned left of the child’s midline, and tilted so that the top right corner of the paper is closer to the child than the top left corner.
The angle that the paper is tilted will vary according to the individual child. The important thing to remember is to keep the arm perpendicular to the bottom of the page. The wrist should be straight and the writing hand should be below the writing line.
When writing Left-handers need to grip the pen or pencil far enough back from the point to be able to see what is being written, and also to not smear what has just been written. It is recommended the child grip the pencil around 2.5 cm (1 inch) to 3.8 cm (1.5 inches) from the point.
Consider the type of tool your child is using as there are several pens and pencils available specifically for left handers (see the equipment section below).
If the grip is too close to the point, make a mark on the pencil at the right distance to remind the child where to hold the pencil. The wrist should be fairly straight, not bent sharply.
The hooked style of writing that can be seen with some left handers has been adopted because they are trying to see what they are putting on the page. Careful consideration of paper placement and pen grip can prevent this.
If handwriting is not proving an effective tool for your child, it would be sensible to consider supporting their writing with alternatives alongside the development of this skill. If you feel this is the case with your child, we would recommend having a conversation with school staff on ways to take this forward.
Alternatives to handwriting while at school could include the following:
If you feel you need more support navigating this issue with your school we recommend you make contact with SNAP Cymru.
When to contact us
It is recommended that school staff also access the above information and implement use of the Handwriting Motorway Program to support your child’s handwriting skills.
This will help to identify specific gross and fine motor concerns, set goals and monitor progress. A lack of progress would then trigger a referral to the specialist teachers located within the Local Authority Learning Support Team for consultation and support. This in turn can provide access to a specialist Occupational Therapist located within this team.
The following examples serve to demonstrate the type and quality of product you may want to copy. We do not endorse any brand.
To aid pencil grasp
To aid pencil grasp
With ergonomic grip
For comfortable wrist position
How to access Occupational Therapy for Children and Young People.
To make a Request for Assistance please contact us on 02921 836910. Please click here for more information on our Request for Assistance process.
Occupational Therapy for Children and Young People
1st Floor, Woodland House
Maes Y Coed Road
Phone: 02921 836 910
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