In many ways, the world is created for right-handed people. Children who are left-handed can find many daily tasks challenging, including handwriting. Left-handed people often discover that their writing hand covers what they’ve already written. If directions are posted in the left margin or side of the paper, their arm may cover the instructions thereby preventing them from reading them. Additionally, as they write and their arm moves across the paper, there is a tendency to smear the ink or lead from the pen or pencil.
The good news is that there are a lot of strategies and accommodations you can employ, as well as materials to use that will make your child’s writing experience better. And… If they continue to have difficulty, pediatric occupational therapy professionals can assist your child with left-handed writing so both the processes of writing and reading are more successful.
One of the common compensation strategies a lefty adopts to get their wrist and hand out of the way is to become a “hooker.” In other words, they often bend their wrist forward in such a way as to appear to have an awkward writing posture. Without reasonable alternatives, left-handed children will practice left-handed hook writing throughout the day using a position that quickly leads to complaints of discomfort and fatigue. The extra effort to write and to see what they write may also lead left-handed children to experience pain and poor legibility.
This can easily lead to demotivation. How can you help?
How to Assist a Left-Handed Child… Plus How to Learn to Write With Your Left Hand: Helpful Tips
Fortunately, there are several things parents, teachers, and occupational therapists can do to help children who are left-handed. In fact, you can even use these tips if you are right-hand dominant but can no longer use this hand to write, or if you would like to improve your own left-handed handwriting out of curiosity.
Start by Practicing the Movement
Repeatedly drawing the lines and shapes that form letters develops motor memory. Making the same letter over and over again may seem tedious, but there is no fast way around it. Developing a new motor skill requires practice, practice, and more practice. You won’t be able to write a full sentence or even complete words with your non-dominant hand right away. Attempting to do so will be frustrating. It’s a much better idea to simply start with the component parts of letters, including vertical, horizontal, slant/diagonal, and circular strokes. In time you will be ready for tracing and copying letters and shapes.
Research on writing readiness indicates that one should first master the following 9 lines and shapes: vertical, horizontal, left and right diagonals, circle, X, triangle, cross, and square. When you can independently recreate these lines and shapes, start with letters that have similar strokes. Vertical lines are the easiest. The Real OT Solutions Path Ways series practices these prewriting lines and shapes in a series of gradually narrower paths.
Regardless of whether one uses their left or right hand to write, to develop consistency in printing letters, it’s best to begin with the uppercase alphabet since all of these letters are the same size. That means the first letters you’ll practice may be uppercase I, T, L, H, and so forth. If your students write inside letterboxes, consider starting with letters F, E, D, P, B, R. It is interesting to note that while right-handed children typically cross the letter t, T, J or make the horizontal strokes in E or F in a left-to-right direction, a more comfortable direction for lefties may be right to left. Similarly, while righties typically make a circle or the letter o in a counterclockwise direction, an easier movement pattern for lefties is often clockwise. It has to do with the natural movement of the small joints in the fingers.
You can use any book or try a tool designed to help children learn to write, such as the Real OT Solutions Student Workbook or Letterbox Worksheets for individual letter practice.
Start with ABCs
When you move on to left-handed cursive writing, you’ll want to start with developing the movement patterns in cursive lettering. Known by many names, the Size Matters Handwriting Program’s Cursive Kaleidoscope workbook calls the initial cursive lowercase letter lines strokes Waves, Peaks, Hills, and Sails. Once again, practice is your friend. A lot of repetition is needed before these movements become comfortable and automatic. Take your time and draw these letters every day. As time goes on, you’ll get better at forming the letters correctly, and writing cursive and/or writing with your left hand will start to feel more second-natured.
Move on to Sentences
Whether right or left-handed, when you feel more comfortable tracing letters, move on to writing words. Start with short ones that are 3, 4, 5, or 6 letters in length. Then move on to 2-word phrases, 3-word phrases, and eventually sentences. If left-handed writing is new to you, be patient. Sentence writing involves so many higher cognitive skills, fluency and speed take a back seat to composition. And… if you add in the fact that writing itself is an unfamiliar or unnatural action, additional time is needed.
Left-to-Right Progression Across a Page is Counterintuitive for Lefties
It would be easier for left-handed writers to move a pencil from the right side of the paper to the left side of the paper. However, for English language writers, or any other languages who similarly write left to right, right-handed writers have an advantage. First… It’s just an easier and more natural movement to figuratively ‘pull’ a pencil across a page rather than to ‘push’ one. But there is a second and perhaps even more significant disadvantage left-handed writers have, and that is the tendency to smear or cover what’s just been written.
4 Popular Left-Handed Writing Tips
There are several tips and tricks that can help children practice left-hand writing and avoid some of the problems inherent in left-handed writing. These include everything from how they angle the paper, grip the pencil, and lay out the worksheets. These tips will help lefties compensate for known problems and better prepare them to perform at a functional level just like their right-handed peers.
Children who are right-handed should rotate the paper counter-clockwise 30 degrees. By contrast, children who are left-handed should rotate their page 30 degrees clockwise. Unfortunately, some educators, in an effort to be consistent, encourage the same rotation for all kids. However, the angle recommended for right-handed children will just make their difficulty even more pronounced. Instead, a more comfortable writing angle would be to rotate the paper clockwise to the right at 30 to 40 degrees. This allows them to see their work clearly and reduces the amount of smudging that takes place as they move their hand across the page.
Pencil or Pen Grip/Hold
Knowing how to hold a pen left-handed is very important. Left-handed writers often find that it’s easier to see their work when they hold their pencil or pen a little further up the shaft. Adding a pencil grip or an elastic band around the pencil can guide the writer in where to place their fingers.
Slanted surfaces can make a big difference for left-handers. It can prevent them from developing a hooked wrist. There are several ways to achieve a slanted writing surface. One is to elevate the front legs of the desk. Placing 4” of carpet samples underneath those two desk legs could do the trick. Or, if using an adjustable height school desk, elevate the two front legs one or two notches. Slant boards are also available for this purpose. There is a recipe for creating a slant board on the realOTsolutions.com website. Look it up under the Free Downloads. You’ll need a hard foam core sheet, an Exacto knife, and a glue gun. Other people find it helpful to write on the cover of a 3-ringed binder, with the wider edge on the far side. Writing on a vertical surface or an easel can also make things easier.
Upon request… and perhaps a little research, workbooks, and resources designed for left-handed writers can be obtained. If the intent of the worksheet is to provide a prompt, model, or instruction, this information should be on the left AND right so lefties can always see it. A beginner writer shouldn’t have to lift their hand or put it in an awkward position to view the model or directions.
If the child is practicing on a worksheet and there are directions or words to copy in the left margin, either rewrite the directions so they are also visible on the top or right side of the page, or provide an extra copy altogether. This way they’ll be able to see the page without hooking their wrist. If you are looking for materials to promote printing that works equally well for left-handed writers, Real OT Solutions’ Letterbox Worksheets and Alphatrangle can also be used to make left-hand handwriting better.
Need More Information on How to Teach a Left-Handed Child to Write?
Real OT Solutions supports therapists, teachers, and parents with a range of educational and therapy products and services. If you need additional support in helping your child, student, or patient write with their left hand, reach out to us for guidance.