How can I improve my child’s handwriting skills?

Good handwriting is an essential skill and a critical part of a child’s education. Even in an era where most writing is done on electronic devices and PCs, a person’s handwriting still matters a lot. It allows us to communicate our thoughts clearly, contributes to reading fluency because it activates visual perception of letters and has an impact on how those around us perceive us, whether at school, in exams, in our jobs or interviews; people read a lot into handwriting.

At the root of poor handwriting can be many different problems; wrong pencil grasp, poor letter formation, poor sizing of letters, difficulty in spacing words, poor pencil pressure or an inconsistency in upper and lower case writing. Diagnosing the issue is an important place to start because only then can you begin to help your child correct the problem.

If your child is struggling with their handwriting, it is important to do something about it now. There are many different techniques and tricks that can be employed to help get those letters looking clear and neat. Here’s a few pointers that you can try at home together.

Improve their writing grip

Improvement in writing can only come about when your child knows how to hold a pen or pencil correctly. Therefore, teaching them (or reteaching them) the correct pencil grasping technique is very important.

There are actually two different ways you can hold a pencil; known as the tripod and the quadruped grasps. By the age of four, children can usually fairly confidently use one of these techniques to hold a crayon or a pencil by gripping it with two or three fingers while the thumb helps keep it anchored. Some people like to use two fingers, and others three. Either way is not a problem as long as they feel comfortable.

If your child has handwriting issues, then before you do anything else, check out their grip. This video gives a demonstration on how to correctly hold a pen. Grip aids can also be bought, that slide over the writing implement, to help if your child is struggling to hold them in the correct way.

Take advantage of technology

Kids these days learn to use mobile phones and tablets before they start writing; therefore, it makes sense to use these technologies for their benefit. If your child is averse to picking up a pen, you can ask them to use stylus pens instead to write something on their tablet. There are many good handwriting programmes and apps to help children get to grips with writing, and it might just be an easier way to engage them if paper and pen handwriting practice has become a bit of a battleground.

Practice makes improvement

One of the more traditional ways to improve a child’s handwriting ability is to provide them with worksheets where they can practice writing set letters over and over again. As boring as these might seem on the face of it, they are actually a really good way to change bad habits and teach the correct formation of letters. Sometimes bad handwriting habits form and the only way to change the muscle memory is to practice writing that letter or those groups of letters until the new technique becomes automatic. Offer rewards as an incentive for improvements and do little and often rather than hours and hours of the same boring writing exercises, as your child will lose interest quickly otherwise. Regular, smaller amounts of practice will have far better results.

Use a variety of writing equipment

Make it interesting and fun! Provide different coloured pencils, glitter pens, scented pens, chunky crayons, funky paper and even stencils and stickers to help your child take more of an interest in writing and engage their senses.

Give them a journal

Another good way to improve technique and get your child engaged with  writing is to ask them to write something just for fun, without the pressure of it being ‘perfect’ or assessed by anyone else. Journalling can be a really good activity for kids who are reluctant to write. It doesn’t have to be a diary type journal where they record their feelings – although for some children this is a great idea – but it could be a science journal, or a nature journal, or a summer holiday journal where they write down what they have done every day and stick in tickets, pictures and anything else they collect along the way. Journals are great because they remind children of how writing can be for pleasure, without all the pressure of it needing to be perfect.

Create a quiet writing space

Having an appropriate place where your child can sit down and do their homework can also really help with improved handwriting. If there are people around all the time or distractions such as television or music playing around them, they won’t be able to concentrate, no matter what they say to the contrary! Having a designated, quiet, peaceful study space, where they can be focused and free of distractions is really important to help lengthen their attention span. Equally important is having a good, flat writing table or desk and a comfortable chair, which is at the right height for the desk. Trying to write on the floor or on their lap will not help handwriting to improve.

Spend time with them & give plenty of praise

If writing is something your child finds difficult, do not leave them to struggle alone.  Children crave adult attention and they will be far more likely to want to practice their handwriting if they know they get some of your precious time while they do it. Be there to help them correct mistakes, but also make sure you give plenty of praise for the things they work hard on. Research has shown that it is sincere praise, based on something specific you can point to as being an achievement that really makes a child feel good rather than generalised, hollow “well done”s. So, even if the piece of writing has lots of mistakes within it, praise the fact your child persevered and didn’t give up even though writing is something they find hard. Or the fact that they took their time over it and didn’t rush. Praise the effort and the process rather than always looking at the results.

Align their interests

No one knows what engages and interests your children better than you, so use that knowledge to try and get them hooked on to writing with activities and rewards you know they’ll appreciate.  Any excuse for writing is a good opportunity to practice those new letter formation skills they’ve been learning. If they like a particular book series or TV character, use this is a way of encouraging writing activities. There are loads of resources out there. Whatever your child is interested in, if you can find a way to make them write about it, give it a go.

Sometimes it’s just one or two small things that can be holding a child back when it comes to handwriting and most things  can be easily fixed with practice and a bit of encouragement, so don’t panic if your child’s handwriting is incomprehensible right now. Whether it’s the wrong pencil grasp or poor letter formation, there will be a way to get the problem corrected. The most important thing is ensuring they keep that enthusiasm and love of writing that all children naturally start off with, and don’t become disengaged.