ADVICE: Why Does My Kid Struggle With Handwriting?
The importance of good handwriting can be easy to overlook in the digital age. Writing by hand, however, is an important skill for our children because it engages the brain in a different way than typing on a keyboard or touching a screen does. Studies show that writing improves memory and helps students retain information and new ideas better than typing can.
Handwriting can be a source of frustration for many kids, but with a few fun and easy strategies, we can help them develop this skill.
Drop it. Pinch it. Flip it. The first step to good handwriting is a proper pencil grip. To demonstrate this, I teach kids to “Drop it. Pinch it. Flip it.” I have children drop their pencil on the table in front of them with the point facing toward them and the eraser pointing away. Next, I tell them to pinch it with their thumb and pointer finger toward the bottom of the pencil. Finally, they use their other hand to grab the eraser and flip it (or tip it back) so the opposite end of the pencil rests in the fleshy area of their hand between their thumb and pointer finger.
If your child struggles to hold their pencil properly, they can do fine motor activities to promote a strong pincer grasp (the grasp children use to hold objects between the pad and tips of their index finger and their thumb). They can do the following activities using their thumb and pointer finger:
- Cut a sponge into small pieces, place in water, and have your child squeeze water out of the sponge into a cup.
- Use an eye-dropper to suck up water mixed with food coloring to learn what happens when you mix colors.
- Make a ball out of a small amount of Play-Doh and squeeze it in between the thumb and pointer finger.
Multi-sensory learning. Use a multi-sensory approach to help your child learn letter formation. Examples of this include writing letters in shaving cream, on the sidewalk with sidewalk chalk, or with finger or bathtub paints. They can also form letters out of Play-Doh or trace letters with their pointer finger on sandpaper.
Vertical writing. The developmental sequence for learning handwriting as opposed to arm writing is to start on a vertical surface, progress to a slanted surface, and finally a horizontal surface. Have your child begin writing or drawing on an easel, a wall painted with chalkboard paint, or tape their paper to the wall. Next, progress to a slanted surface by placing their paper on a three-ringed binder that has been turned so the spine of the binder faces away from your child. Finally, have them write with the paper flat on their work surface.
Stars and dice. To play stars and dice, I have the child roll a die. The number they roll becomes the number of times they must write a letter well enough to earn a star.
Spacing. Spacing is an important part of legibility. I like to use the “spaghetti and meatballs” approach to teach this. I use a dry spaghetti noodle or piece of yellow yarn to show the proper amount of space to use between letters in a word. I use a small brown thumbnail-sized pom-pom as my meatball. The meatball should be able to fit between words in a sentence.
CINDY UTZINGER is an occupational therapist, mother of two, and author of Why Is My Kid Doing That?, a book to help parents better understand their child’s behavior.