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Helping Your Child with Handwriting

Children who paint or write in cursive, but who are unable to write legibly and consistently, in spite of repeated admonitions, require special approaches to the solution of their special difficulties. These are youngsters who are unable to properly form their letters, who have difficulty keeping their letters on the line, who may not seem to understand the relative sizes of letters, who either crowd letters within words together, or who space so poorly that it is almost impossible to determine where one word ends and another begins. The net result is that what they have written is often difficult or near impossible to decode, even when it is spelled correctly. Here are suggestions other parents have successfully used to help their children.

Our alphabet is based on geometric shapes-the circle, cross, square, and triangle. Get a large chalkboard, or make one. Dad can purchase a sheet of masonite from the local lumber company and then get a can of chalkboard paint from the hardware store. Use at least a four-by-four surface (larger would be even better). Select a wall in your home that is convenient and, after it is dry, tack it up. Let your child practice drawing circles and other geometric forms, nice and large.

Finger painting is a messy activity unless you have a law area that won't be too difficult to clean. Oil cloth on an old table or on concrete or vinyl floor works quite well. Use a plastic apron on yourself and your child. Have him roll the paint around in huge circles so that not only his hands, but his elbows and shoulders are involved. Just playing with shapes on the slippery surface helps tremendously. Making shape designs is fun and reinforces the development of shape constancy.

When children just can't seem to stay "on the line" as they print or write, try using a red felt tip pen to rule across the lines that will be the bottoms of letters. You may also want to use a green felt tip pen just to remind your child when to begin his strokes, since printed letters start basically at the top and go down.

Clay can be purchased from crafts stores in twenty-five pound sacks, often for under $5.00. Letting children mold the clay into forms gives them another kind of experience with shapes, but in a three- form that is helpful for form recognition. They can also form "snakes" and make letters, even their own names.

Quite often children hold pencils and crayons in an awkward manner and grasp. To develop the strength in the hands and fingers for proper grasp, let your child do activities that require holding or hanging. Make good use of your school play yard. Let him hang by his hands from the jungle gym to develop strength in the shoulder girdle as well as his hands. Squeezing objects, such as little rubber balls, or playing with wooden clothespins help to develop finger coordination and strength.

One of the prerequisites for handwriting is the ability of the eyes to work in close cooperation with the hands. This means that the eyes themselves must be able to move smoothly and must be able to follow moving targets. General motor coordination (balancing, hopping, running, skipping, et cetera) is necessary for laying the groundwork for smooth, fine muscle control. Play, for example, flashlight tag with your child. This requires two flashlights and a dark room. You be "It" and see if your child can, with his flashlight, "tag" your light.

Play tracing games. Have your child sit next to you with his eyes closed. Take his writing hand, index and middle fingers pointing and the other fingers flexed, and a-ace a shape or letter on a large surface. See if he can guess what shape or letter you traced.

If you're prepared to be squirted, and it's a warm day, and your back yard has a sunny wall, try this one. Get a squirt gun and let your child "write" letters with water on the wall. The sun will dry the letters reasonably fast. This allows your child to use space and estimate, on a large surface, just how he will execute the proper formation of the letter.

Observe the way your child sits when he writes. As a check, try this yourself. Sit at a table so that your elbows comfortably rest on the surface. Then fold your hands in front of you, flat on the desk so that your body and folded hands form a triangle. If you are right-handed, the paper would go directly under that folded arm. If you are left-handed, the paper would go directly under that folded arm. Notice that when you old the pencil, after this experiment, that the writing hand touches the surface of the paper directly along the line of the little finger and wrist. If you are right-handed, your back and head will be slightly curved to the left. (Vice-versa for the left-hander.) If your child is doing anything other than this, it means that he is not ready for the activity, or it is too demanding for him. It may also suggest that he has visual difficulties in the way he uses his eyes. (This does not necessarily mean that he has poor vision.)

If a child continues to reverse letters, even as his handwriting improves, give him opportunities to identify left and right on his own body. Play games requiring use of just the left hand or the right hand or the left foot or the right foot. Play "blind man's bluff, in which you must direct him across a room by giving him turns to make. Have him direct you when it's your turn.


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Last Updated: 12 April 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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