Writing may feel like a simple task for many of us, but it’s actually a fairly complex activity that involves the coordination of mental abilities with fine motor skills. Your mind thinks about what you want to write and then has to work together with your hand and eyes to form letters and words on the page. It is fairly common for children to have trouble with this process, so if your child is struggling, there are ways to address it to help them improve their handwriting.
Some common issues that affect handwriting include incorrect pencil grip, poor letter formation, and difficulty with sizing and spacing of letters. These can all be affected by poor fine motor skills, which play an important role in writing, as well as your child’s overall development. There are many strategies that are used to address these issues, and some may work better than others for your child. Tools, such as slant boards and pencil grips, may be helpful as well. Be flexible and open to see which of these would be most effective in helping your child improve their handwriting.
Tips & Strategies to Improve Your Child’s Handwriting
- Have a comfortable setup. Make sure your child is as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Children, especially at a young age, may get restless and impatient when practicing their handwriting for extended periods of time. Find a comfortable and correctly sized chair and table for them to work at, as well as any other cushions or footrests.
- Use a slant board. Another tool you can use for a comfortable setup is a slant board. A slant board is an inclined writing surface that can help make writing easier for children. Having the surface slanted slightly toward them can improve posture, as well as visual tracking, which makes reading and writing easier on their eyes. This will in turn reduce eye strain and fatigue, and make the visual part of writing a bit easier. Slant boards are also helpful for improving pencil grasp, as the angle makes the writing motion easier on your child’s wrist and elbow to help modulate the force of when writing.You can buy a slant board, but you can also make one at home. The simplest DIY slant board involves just taking a 3-ring binder and attaching a clipboard to it to hold the paper up. You can also just tape the paper to the binder if you don’t have a clipboard. Another DIY slant board you can try is using a cardboard box. Use a wide and flat surface of the box and cut the edges off so that it’s at an angle that will sit comfortably on your child’s desk.
- You may also tape paper to a wall for the use of a vertical surface or use an easel.
- Be supportive and patient. If your child is having difficulty with their handwriting (or with anything, really), they may be resistant to addressing it. They may feel embarrassed or insecure about their perceived shortcomings. In fact, children often write illegibly on purpose to cover up spelling errors (if you can’t read it, it technically can’t be spelled incorrectly). Let them know that it’s OK to make mistakes, and try to build up their self-esteem to the point where they are no longer embarrassed to spell a word incorrectly. Their writing doesn’t need to be perfect. The goal should be to make it easier for them.
- You can succeed if you don’t at least try
- Make practicing enjoyable. To keep your child engaged, make practicing a fun and enjoyable activity for them. Use colored pencils, play games, or have them write a fun story, a poem, or a simple list of things they like. You’ll need to practice writing specific words and letters at times, but other times, all that matters is that they are writing, so what they’re writing won’t matter. This means you should pick something as enjoyable as possible for them to keep them engaged.
- Hide spelling list words in dry beans/rice. Child has to find the slip of paper and copy the word
- Have the child form words/letters using shaving cream or Playdoh- the more sensory experiences the more engaged a child can become. Added benefit is it strengthens fine motor skills as well.
- Improve their grip. Make sure they hold the pencil properly, using the “tripod grasp” to hold it between the index finger, middle finger, and thumb, with the pencil resting on the inside of the hand between the thumb and index finger. Be sure to use a good quality pencil when practicing, as well as a good eraser to easily correct mistakes. Check that they are applying the right amount of pressure when they put pencil to paper: their markings should be clear and dark, but there shouldn’t be strong imprints on the following pages in their notebooks.
- Golf pencils are the best for little hands to feel comfortable with handwriting.
Simple pencil grips may be helpful as well. These small attachments fit over the end of a pencil and are shaped to help your child grasp it properly and more comfortably. Using a pencil grip can also make your child’s hand feel less tired while writing. Pencil grips won’t solve your child’s handwriting issues on their own, but they can be a helpful tool when used in conjunction with consistent practice and other strategies.
- Use lined paper. Lined paper helps children to properly size and space their letters. The bottom line is the most important, as it sets the baseline for where all the letters need to sit. Use these lines to teach your child the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as bigger and smaller letters (for example, a lowercase “d” still extends to the same height as an uppercase “D”). Additionally, you can practice writing letters that extend down below the line, such as a lowercase “p” or “g”.
- Practice spacing. Children will often have difficulty spacing out words and letters properly. Writing with lined paper helps somewhat, but you still might have to focus a bit more on improving the spacing between words. Have your child practice placing their index finger (finger space) between words when they’re writing to create a consistent space.
- Work on fine motor skills. Even when they’re not sitting and writing, there are many ways your child can improve their fine motor skills. This includes playing with toys, such as LEGOs or Play-Doh. Having them stack or arrange their toys can also be a fun and helpful activity. Something as simple as using scissors to cut a piece of paper can build fine motor skills as well. You can even have them help you with various chores around the house, such as folding laundry or putting away dishes and cutlery. You may also use chip clips or open/close ziplock bags when making lunches. All of these activities can help improve fine motor skills and dexterity will in turn lead to improved handwriting. You can find more examples of these activities here.
Helping your child improve their handwriting can be a daunting task. Our Pediatric Occupational Therapists are trained to work with children to master developmental tasks, including improving fine motor skills and handwriting. Contact us today to speak with our Occupational Therapists and see how we can help.