Legible handwriting for kids is just as important as anything else they'll learn throughout the school. Research shows that the manual task of writing stimulates the reading centers in the brain. This same neural activity is not present in children who visually regard letters nor those who type them. The problem is that many schools have minimized or reduced handwriting instruction, assuming that it is perhaps an antiquated skill or one that kids will figure out on their own. But research also shows that legible handwriting is not self-evident nor is it a logical consequence of normal development. It actually must be taught. Further compounding this problem is that children attempting to print but who have not been taught proper technique will develop habits that impede their efforts and could subconsciously influence perceptions of their competence by their teachers.
Research also shows that students with legible handwriting tend to be scored higher and that children with illegible handwriting tend to be scored lower. So, not only does handwriting impact their grades, but repeated ‘failure’ to do so well can impact teachers’ perception of their competence and their own self-esteem. It is therefore not a stretch to recognize that handwriting defines a child’s personality, helps in elevating their grades, and by virtue of practice, improves hand-eye coordination.
Handwriting is one of the first impressions that your child will leave on their teachers. Without being fully aware of the unconscious messages conveyed by sloppy handwriting, teachers may erroneously conclude that the writer is careless, not capable, or not trying. Even though all of these assumptions may be wrong, it is helpful to make sure that any written work is the best reflection of a child’s efforts possible.
When to start writing is a controversial subject. Some preschoolers will attempt to mirror their teachers and parents by sitting at a table and scribbling on paper with crayons, markers, or pencils. Some may try copying letters… and may even be successful doing so. And some 3- or 4-year-olds actually get letter writing right. However, those kids are the exception to the rule. They are unique in their interests and possibly their motor development. Most children will not have developed the fine motor skills to properly hold a pencil before age 6. By that age, many children can hold a pencil with three fingers, making this a good age and starting point for you to get busy improving your child’s handwriting. By contrast, those children in whose hands writing instruments are placed prematurely will likely develop atypical and/or uncomfortably grips… positions that become difficult or impossible to change once they have habituated them.
If you wish to see your child write gracefully and develop healthy hand-eye coordination that will go miles into improving their educational career, then this article will help you a lot.
Read on to explore some of the best practices and exercises to improve handwriting.
8 Proven Tips to Smoothen Handwriting for Kids
Here are eight tips to improve handwriting for kids:
- Start with the basics & be patient
- Practice frequently
- Create a stimulating environment
- Go beyond writing
- Teach your child to soften the grip
- Don’t rush
- Equip your kid properly
- Make it fun
Tip 1: Start With The Basics & Be Patient
The minds of children are like empty vases or blank canvases that they fill with their experiences. When it comes to functional writing, the first step is holding the pencil properly. Teach your child the OK pencil grip. In other words, make an OK sign. Place the pencil between the index and thumb, then curl the other fingers into the palm resting the pad or side of the middle finger on the pencil shaft. The space between the thumb and index should be a rounded circle. If the circle is ‘flat’ on the bottom, help the child bend their thumb.
Mastering this tripod grip will take some time, but without the basics, moving further could add problems on top of problems. Let’s build a strong foundation. Utilizing an efficient grip with consistency may take time and frequent reminders or physical assistance. Be patient. Model, assist, provide picture cue cards, and praise. Remember to be positive, encouraging, and playful during all instructional lessons including exercises to improve handwriting. This is a brand new skill and as is true for all expectations… Kids will do well if they can.
Tip 2: Practice Frequently but Don’t Push It
This step does not have to be hard or boring.
In the beginning, scribbling feels like writing to kids. It makes them feel grown-up. It’s even fun. As it should be. Let kids gravitate to the table and the writing tools. Do not force it. In fact, regardless of whether they come to the table by choice or encouragement, keep those early sessions limited to 10-15 minutes tops! In truth, the best way to promote competence in writing is to ensure that it is a successful experience.
After that, it may be possible to add some structure and rules to the equation. Have your child draw short, straight lines. Vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines. Next, demonstrate how to make simple shapes: circles, +, X, triangles, and squares. Use these shapes to draw pictures. This can be a shared experience in which the child draws a shape, you discuss what the shape could become, and then you finish it. For example, a straight line could become a tree. A circle could become a basketball. A square could become a house. This game not only promotes the child’s enthusiasm for paper-pencil tasks, but also their creativity.
Once they master this level, move on to letters. Start with the uppercase ones. All these letters are the same size and so are easier to master. Teach the rules for letter size. Uppercase letters are Size One. The rule is that they have to touch the top line, touch the bottom line, can’t go higher, can’t go lower, and can’t float in the middle. Make a few letters that follow the rule. Then make a few letters that don’t. Ask the kids to critique your letters. Teaching them the rules is like giving them the answers to the test. When they know the answers, they become the teachers!! Now they can grade you!!
Once you have taught all the uppercase letters, identify words commonly found in all uppercase letters. Signs are a good source. Look around your community for street signs, billboards, store names, etc. Practice writing the words on 3-lined paper beginning with ones that are 3 letters long. Gradually copy 4, 5, 6, and longer words. This practice works both on writing and reading! A great source for 3-lined paper at different grade levels is realOTsolutions.com. The bottom line is slightly thicker to ensure success stopping on the line.
For consistency purposes, teach numbers next. They are the same size as the uppercase letters.
Lastly, teach lowercase letters. Since these are all different sizes, start with the ones that are also Size One. For instance b, d, f, h, k, l, and t. . After mastering these letters, teach Size Two letters and their rule: They have to touch the dotted line, they have to touch the bottom line, they can’t go higher, they can’t go lower, and they can’t float in the middle. There are 14 Size Two letters. They are a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, and z.
Next are Size Three letters. There are only 5, and they are g, j, p, q, and y. Their rule is that they have to touch the dotted line, they have to go below the bottom line, they can’t go higher, they MUST go lower, and if they have a belly, it must sit on the bottom line. Note that only j is without a ‘belly.’
There! You just mastered one of the key concepts behind the Size Matters Handwriting Program! Especially if the child is younger than 6, exposure is the first step before expectation. Let them see the letters, associate sounds with them, identify them… and then WRITE THEM.
Write single letters on paper for your child, big and prominent. A common learning method is a Trace it/Make it one in which students trace then write a series of letters across a page, writing independently in between the ones they trace. The independently produced letters are a true sign of learning. The Letterbox worksheets and other online resources can help you with these efforts.
Tip 3: Create A Stimulating Environment
Location. Location. Location. If you are trying out exercises to improve handwriting to make it neater, consistent, and functional but the surrounding environment is distracting or not kid-friendly, your progress will be nominal at best. Give your child a dedicated writing table adjusted for their height. That means that their feet must be on the floor or a solid surface, knees, and hips at a 90-degree right angle, and the writing surface at chest height. Dangling feet from an adult-sized chair or a table whose height causes the shoulders to hunch up will not only be uncomfortable but will NOT provide the child the stability needed to do their best work.
Secondly, make sure the work area is cleared of other materials. The writing paper or notebook should not be on top of a pile of other papers or books. A cluttered workspace increases the likelihood the child’s hand will bump something, the page will need to be adjusted during writing, or a crumb from previous work will create an uneven work surface. However, , if the child is writing on a single sheet of paper, consider placing a single sheet of large construction paper underneath. Construction paper, by virtue of its construction… What a coincidence… Creates a soft surface that helps absorb extra effort and slows down a runaway pencil. The construction paper layer serves as a blotter, something business executives often use on their own desks!
Want some writing sample books to copy? There are lots to choose from. Consider the Student Workbook from realOTsolutions.com when learning letters. When writing words, choose from familiar books, like the child’s storybooks.
All of these will help your kid dedicate their undivided attention to the task at hand and achieve more.
Tip 4: Beyond and Before Writing
Too much too fast? If your child is resisting writing, they may not be ready. This next tip then may seem a bit odd coming in the midst of tips to improve handwriting, but it is very much relevant.
Rather, go outside to the playground. Climb, swing, jump, run. Work on balance and strength with your large body muscles. Develop gross motor stability and strength. When inside, get on the floor and play with puzzles, pegs, building materials, and self-care fastenings. These activities build fine motor and manipulative skills. The more effort you put into building the motor skills of your child, the faster they'll ace handwriting. If an activity involves the fingers and looks like fun, go for it. You can try stuff like sorting buttons or small objects, craft projects, gardening, cookie decorating, or anything similar.
As you tap into the uncharted potential of your child’s brain, you can expect very positive results, one of which can be improved handwriting.
Tip 5: Teach Your Child to Soften the Grip
Most kids press the pencil hard against the paper when they first start writing. Pressing hard against the paper can make your child’s fingers ache. This makes the process much harder than it needs to be. If you see pressure marks on the other side of the paper, try the construction paper trick. Then ask your child how that works for them. Nine times out of 10, they like it. It makes for a softer and more comfortable work surface. Just asking your kid to ‘fix’ the grip and write lightly will probably not result in any change. After all, what does ‘Fix your grip’ or ‘Write Legibly’ exactly mean?
And if they still do not seem to understand that they are pressing too hard, try placing a single paper on top of a mousepad or Styrofoam sheet, and then writing with a sharpened pencil. Too much pressure will puncture the paper. It’s a little biofeedback trick!
Tip 6: Don’t Rush
In your efforts to improve your child’s handwriting, it helps to be realistic. Remember that kids learn at different paces. Having a schedule of daily lessons may help organize YOU, but it may also put a lot of pressure on your child. A sequence of teaching lessons is fine. Just reconsider assigning each lesson to a date or length of time. Do not pressure or rush your students to master printing quickly. It is a new motor skill. Instead, let them proceed at a pace that they’re comfortable with.
Writing has to be fun. Short lessons are best, especially ending on a positive note. Perhaps only 1-2 minutes with a writing instrument is all they can commit to. That’s OK. Whatever time you have together must be fun and positive. Success experiences build self-confidence and motivation. If it means repeating lessons, letters, instructions, physical assistance, modeling, or more… offer it gladly. As the expression goes, “slow and steady wins the race.” Your child should not feel stressed. After all, like any new motor skill, there is a lot of cognitive drain remembering the steps, sequences, etc. However, once they master individual letters, combinations of letters in words happen faster. Eventually, they’ll learn how to build up pace.
And here is something else to remember. Until writing becomes automatic, it continues to require an excessive amount of cognitive attention. In other words, instead of focusing on adding details to a story, identifying a good opening or closing statement, and increasing the number of descriptive words, the child’s attention is stuck on the basics of letter formation. The lack of proficiency with writing will likely result in less writing, less developed stories, and a lesser display of your child’s true ability.
This is a long way of saying that kids need to master the automaticity in writing before they can acquire a love of writing.
Tip 7: Equip Your Kid Properly
Garbage in. Garbage out. You’ve heard that expression before, right?
The same is true with teaching handwriting and good work habits. Start with a quality writing paper. Children need structure, so the earliest writing paper may be single lines, individual letterboxes, long letterboxes, or 3-lined paper. Offer a variety of writing instruments: short pencils, fat primary pencils, pencils with facets and finger indentation markings, weighted pencils, pencil grips, soft-lead pencils, triangular crayons or pencils, and more of the same. Suggest they pick out the pencil with which they feel they could do their best work. Kids are intuitive. Often, they select the one we adults may have offered in the first place. Other times, they just want to experiment. Encourage them to use a pencil that fits perfectly in their small hands. You can find several types dedicated for children, go for one of them. There are over 100 reproducible options inside the Master Guide of Adapted Paper from realOTsolutions.com.
Work in an instruction book that provides lots of practice. The Student Workbook from realOTsolutions.com is one example. You can also find handwriting books online.
Go shopping!! Whether online or in an actual store, show your child some options. The best practice would be to allow them to select the stuff they like the most.
They will feel encouraged to work harder this way.
Tip 8: Make It Fun
You know well what brings a smile to your child's face.
Add colors, transform exercises into games. Find activity books with mazes, puzzles, connect-the-dots, or other paper-pencil play. Look into the Activity Book series from realOTsolutions.com. Encourage your child to use any writing instrument, like markers, mechanical pencils, colored pencils, crayons, pastels, puffy paints, paintbrushes, etc. as well as standard pencils.
Identify milestones, assign rewards, anything that gets your child to enjoy pencil-paper time. If working on letters, consider creating a Certificate of Achievement. Lots of options are available online, but one of your own designs works just as well. And then, at any interval, like having mastered all uppercase letters, issue a certificate just for that.
Most kids like seeing their name “up in lights.” Having a certificate with their name on it feels that way. Now post that certificate on your refrigerator or a designated bulletin board just for them. Every time they walk by is an opportunity to praise them for their accomplishments. And be specific: “Proud of you!! You can now print all your uppercase letters the correct size!!”
Hopefully, these recommendations will help you improve your child’s handwriting and make it fun at the same time. The learning phase needs not be hard or challenging; make it as easy and appealing as you can for your child.
However, if you’ve gone through all the aforementioned tips to improve handwriting and still seem to be struggling to help your child progress, it may be time to seek professional help. Look for an Occupational Therapist in your area. OTs are specifically trained to assess development, motor skills, perceptual competence, and learning readiness… and then to systematically work with your child to build these skills.
Experts recommend that you act as supportive as possible. Patience is truly a virtue. But that said, seeking professional assistance is also a worthy option. Don't stress either yourself or your child too much. Stop well before either of you reach the point of frustration or failure. The most important quality to possess in the long run is the feeling of competence. If you or your child need help to acquire skills or question the ability to learn, your school, its teachers, the professional-related service team, and the educational counselors are available to guide you.
Things will work out.
Everyone is awesome.
Just in different ways.
And all in our own time.