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More Tips for Teaching Handwriting

Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: August 2003
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Handwriting questions continue to fill my mailbox, so here are a few tips that I hope will help.

Proper handwriting includes correct letter formation, proper proportion, and even spacing. Begin with proper formation (which includes slant).

Cursive or italic forms of each letter are easier to write since the lines are more fluid-the child doesn't have to lift the pencil as often and finds a rhythm in writing. Studies suggest that fast and legible handwriting is usually a sort of hybrid where not all letters are joined (www.global2000.net/handwritingrepair).

No matter which type of handwriting is taught, children must learn the starting and stopping point of each letter. This is easily introduced by having children trace each letter with the pointer (index) finger. If teaching printing (manuscript), have the children use a single stroke for b, d, and p rather than lifting their finger to make a straight and a curved stroke.

Touching letters cut out of sandpaper provides stimulation kinesthetically for the very young or children having difficulty. Besides tracing individual letters, children should practice writing letters and words in the air. For variety, additional practice may include writing in a tray of cornmeal or sand, or writing with finger paint. Practice should also include writing the letters and words from memory.

Teach proper grip to be used with a pencil, pen, paintbrush, marker, crayon, or even a stylus-anything that will be used to write, draw, or color Then let the child practice writing anything they have traced and written in the air. They can paint the letter or word, use a stylus in a tray of cornmeal, try a fat marker on plain paper, or any other appealing combination.

Describing the proper grip is difficult, but since I am frequently asked, I will try:
Hold the utensil with the thumb and pointer finger fairly close to the writing tip. Those two fingers alone should be able to grip and move the utensil. Frequently, children use two or three fingers along with the thumb because their muscles are weak. However the middle finger should be curved under, with the utensil resting lightly on the first joint from the tip. It provides balance. The fourth finger and pinky are curved and lined up under the middle finger, out of the way.

Give young children plenty of opportunity to color-in large shapes using slanting lines and learning to fill the space fairly evenly. This improves fine motor control and coordination necessary for successfully writing on lined paper. For children with difficulty controlling their lines, trace the outline with white, liquid glue. It hardens to provide a boundary that makes it easier for children to color inside the lines successfully.

Proper proportion can be practiced using handwriting paper which has a dotted middle line. Capital letters touch the top and bottom (outside) lines and lower case letters touch the bottom and middle line (excluding the stems of certain lower case letters). Frequently, such paper is labeled by grade, with first grade paper having the widest space between lines. Rather than purchasing paper according to the child's grade, use samples of the child's writing on plain paper to determine the most appropriate line size. These samples indicate the writing size the child is most comfortable with. Measure the height of the majority of his upper case or lower case letters. Find paper with guide lines closest to that width. (If you measured lower case letters, remember that the measurement will be from the middle line to the bottom line when choosing paper.) The paper chosen for practice should be used for all work requiring writing. (Check www.amazon.com for dry-erase handwriting boards.)

Space between letters within a word should be the same. Space between words should also be consistent. Often writing looks sloppy because the letters are spread out in some words, but close together in others. Even spacing between words is a bit easier to practice since a finger or narrow object can be placed at the end of a word to indicate the starting point of the next word.

Handwriting practice typically involves having children trace or copy something: letters of the alphabet, simple words, phrases, and, finally, sentences. Such practice should be supervised so that children don't write an entire page incorrectly and become discouraged by having to do it all again. Since kids are more willing to work when lessons cover several objectives at once, try to combine handwriting practice with other subjects. For example, spelling words can be written several times each during handwriting practice. Scripture verses and even final drafts of compositions can be copied on handwriting paper once kids are ready to write sentences.

There are a number of handwriting programs and resources available. Kate Gladstone's website www.global2000.net/handwritingrepair includes research about effective approaches, tips for specific handwriting problems, and a list of resources. Startwrite (startwrite.com) has a software program loaded with a few different handwriting methods. It allows you to type your own assignments and choose the width of lines to print in order to create your own practice paper. BFH Handwriting is an italic program which doesn't try to join every letter-promoting fluency and speed along with legibility (www.BFHhandwriting.com).

Some programs are designed with the struggling writer in mind. Handwriting Without Tears (hwtears.com) offers both printing and cursive practice using a rhythmic approach that has been successful with such children. Callirobics Writing Programs by Liora Laufer offer a multi-sensory, rhythmic approach which uses music to accompany practice (available from Imaginart at 1-800-828-1376). Loops and Other Groups - A Kinesthetic Writing System teaches cursive writing to children with perceptual motor difficulties. Pre-Writing Skills by Marsha Dunn Klein, M.Ed., OTR, is designed for preschoolers and developmentally delayed children.

No matter what form of handwriting you teach, encourage students to write letters properly by memory before expecting them to focus on proper proportion and even spacing. As with anything to be memorized, short, frequent practice will achieve faster results than occasional, long lessons. Children as young as three who show an interest in writing can be taught with mini-lessons lasting a minute or less as their attention allows. How long will it take your child to learn to write legibly and quickly? As long as it takes! But hopefully the ideas listed here will make the process a bit easier.





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