Handwriting For Kids

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There are many factors affecting handwriting for kids. Read on to get the information you need and find some activity ideas to help your child develop the skills needed for good handwriting!

Factors affecting handwriting for kids.

Introduction

Even in this age of technology, reading and marking a child's handwritten work is still (often unfairly) the primary way that elementary teachers figure out what their pupils know.

Kids with poor handwriting may be at a disadvantage when a teacher marks their written work. They may also struggle to write creatively or even to write down answers correctly, as it takes all their concentration and effort to just get ANYTHING down on paper.

When kids struggle to write neatly and efficiently, they are often accused of being lazy, and this may affect their behavior and self esteem.

In high school years, kids who struggle with handwriting may suffer even more as they struggle to keep up with the volume of written work required.


Factors Affecting Handwriting

Handwriting for kids can be affected by many factors. I have tried to outline most of these in this article to help parents (and teachers) to better understand why a child may be struggling with handwriting.

As with all my pages, this information is NOT a substitute for occupational therapy. It is intended to inform and to guide normal development.
Please speak to an occupational therapist if you are concerned about your child's progress.

These are many, but not all, of the factors that can affect handwriting for kids. Some kids struggle with just one area, others may have more than one factor impacting on their handwriting abilities.

The quick links below will give you a brief overview of each factor; with links to more in depth information. 



Visual-Motor Integration (VMI)

Child learning to trace and copy shapes.Poor VMI - unable to copy shapes
Poor VMI - unable to copy letters

Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) enables the hands to correctly replicate what the eyes see. Visual perception and fine motor abilities are integrated in this skill, to enable the child to copy shapes, numbers and letters. 

Children need to be able to copy basic shapes – such as diagonal lines, circles, squares, triangles and intersecting lines before learning to form their letters correctly.

Visual-Motor Integration and specific Fine Motor skills have found by various studies to have the biggest effect on handwriting for kids.

See the references at the bottom of this page to view some of the research.

How You Can Help:

  • Provide lots of opportunities to trace and draw shapes and simple drawings in early childhood BEFORE letters are introduced.
  • Let your child trace over your shapes in sand, or with chalk on a board before trying to draw the shapes on their own.
  • Work on visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills to strengthen those foundations.
  • Older kids can benefit from grid drawings to strengthen their visual perceptual skills.
  • Check out my visual-motor integration activities for kids of all ages.

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Fine Motor Skills

Finger skills are important for handwritingFinger Dexterity

When fine motor skills are poor, handwriting is often affected.

However, the actual pencil grip could be less important than we think: handwriting is more affected by the child’s ability to manipulate or control the pencil.

In-hand manipulation (dexterity) and finger skills have been shown to have the most impact on handwriting for kids.

A poor sitting posture will also affect handwriting in kids, as the smaller muscles of the hands are not freed up to work properly!

How You Can Help:

  • Work on core muscles and shoulder muscles so that the hands and fingers will be able to move more freely and accurately. Climbing on jungle gyms gives these muscles a good workout - encourage your child to climb and clamber as much as possible.
  • Work on hand and finger skills from an early age. Encourage lots of scissor cutting, playdough play and playing with lego.
  • Encourage your child to spend less time on electronic devices and more time on gross motor and fine motor activities to build these skills. Computer games don't help develop the in-hand manipulation and finger skills that are needed for kids' handwriting!
  • For more ideas, check out my downloadable fine motor e-books.

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Eye-Hand Coordination

Eye-hand Coordination

The seemingly innocuous ability to play with bats and balls can affect handwriting for kids.

Children need eye-hand coordination to guide their pencil between the lines and ensure their letters don’t go over the lines or touch each other.

Messy writing could therefore be a result of poor eye-hand coordination!

How You Can Help:

  • Help your child develop this skill with lots of gross motor hand-eye exercises.Play bean bag games, ball tossing games, and bat and ball games as much as possible. If your child struggles, check out the pages on coordination on my site for some activity ideas.
  • Encourage your child to thread beads and do lacing cards. Playing with Lego and other types of building blocks also encourages eye-hand coordination. You can get some more ideas here.
  • Look for worksheets and activity books that have mazes and follow-the-path pictures.
  • Working on ocular motor skills such as visual tracking can also help develop hand-eye coordination skills.

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Spatial Perception

developing spatial perceptual skillsSpatial Perception Activity

Spatial perceptual skills can affect a child's ability to lay work out well on the page and can make their handwriting look messy.

Letters may be irregularly sized, or the child may struggle to use the lines properly, writing with haphazard sizing and spacing. This is common in children learning to write, but may signify a problem by the second and third grade.

How You Can Help:

  • Spatial perceptual games such as Tangoes and construction games where your child needs to follow instructions, can help a child develop good spatial perception.
  • Older children may need to learn compensatory strategies instead. These may include specially lined paper, sticks to help with spacing and frequent cueing.

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Directionality And Reversals

Reversals and working from right to left

Directionality and problems with left-right discrimination can affect letter reversals and transcription (writing "saw" as "was"), as well as starting on the wrong side of the page or writing in the wrong direction.

A good sense of direction develops from a good personal spatial relationships, but starting on the wrong side of the paper can also be caused by midline crossing issues.

How You Can Help:

  • Help your child get a good sense of direction with games that use space, and space words, such as forwards, backwards, up and down, under and over.
  • Work on midline crossing with some fun activities that get your child reaching over to the opposite side of the body with each hand.
  • Once general space concepts are established, work on left and right. This can take some time. It may help your child to hold a beanbag in the right hand during those games, to help the brain to register that the right side is different to the left in a sensory way.

    This often works better than putting a dot on the hand, as the child has to stop and look at the dot to remember which hand is which; but with a weighted object in one hand, it FEELS different. Remember to use the same hand each time - preferably the dominant hand.

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Sensory Feedback

Holding the pencil too tightly could be a sign of poor sensory feedback from the hands.Holding too tightly and pressing too hard

Getting good tactile (touch) feedback, as well as proprioceptive and kinesthetic feedback from the hands and joints plays an important role in helping develop good handwriting for kids.

Kids who struggle with these skills may hold the pencil too tightly, or press too hard on the paper when writing. Sometimes they may scribble "uncontrollably" to give themselves proprioceptive feedback, much to the frustration of their teacher!

They may also feel the need to keep their heads close to their work to watch while they write, trying to get as much visual feedback as possible to compensate for their poor sensory feedback.

How You Can Help:

  • Try some tactile perception activities to help develop good touch perception. Hide some toy animals in a cloth bag and have your child identify the animal by feel. You can also use household objects for younger kids.
  • Playing with playdough can give the hands lots of proprioceptive feedback - encourage your child to knead, pound, and pull off blobs of playdough to give the hands a good workout.
  • You can also try vibrating pens! These give the hands tons of sensory feedback while writing and may satisfy those little hands which are craving sensation while engaging in handwriting.

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Orthographic Coding

Remembering how to form a letter!

Orthographic coding skills enable a child to remember what a word or letter looks like, and then to write it down as needed.

Children with poor orthographic coding skills easily forget how a letter is formed and may thus form it differently each time they write it, even writing it different ways within the same writing task! Or they may retrace parts of the letter trying to figure out where the next part goes.  This can cause their handwriting to look untidy.

Kids with poor orthographic coding may struggle to figure out where to start the letter, and may hesitate a lot while writing. They take a long time to put their thoughts on the page as they are just trying to figure out where to start to form the letters or how to write the word.

Orthographic coding delays may affect reading and spelling as well as handwriting skills.

How You Can Help: (these suggestions deal only with the handwriting for kids aspect of orthographic coding)

  • Teaching correct letter formations from an early age may help reduce later problems. Start with the letters of the child's name and later teach letters in order of similar formation (eg c, a, d, g, o, q). It is never too early to learn to form the letters correctly!

    Just as you would encourage your child to practice kicking a ball or building a tower, show the same patience and creativity in practicing letters correctly. Make it fun and interesting, but don't force young kids to write if they are not interested.

  • Use verbal cues (such as rhymes that reinforce the formation of the letters).
  • Ask your child to try writing the letter in the air with eyes closed. Watch carefully and you will get a good sense of whether the correct formation has been internalized.
  • You can also work on visual memory skills with games like Concentration and include memory exercises in letter formations as well. Have them look at a letter, trace it with a finger, cover it up, picture it in their mind’s eye, trace it in the air and then check, trace it again and then write.
  • Older kids may benefit from a letter chart on their desk, along with arrows indicating starting point and initial direction.

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Visual Perceptual Skills

visual perceptual skills can affect handwritingVisual Discrimination Activity

Visual perception enables kids to understand what they see. This can affect handwriting for kids in subtle ways.

A child with poor visual discrimination skills may not see that writing an “r” is different to writing and “n” or a “h”. And this may be reflected in a child's handwriting, where those letters all look the same!

A child with poor visual closure skills may not realize that an “o” which is not closed properly looks like “u”, and this would affect their letter formations.

How You Can Help: 

  • Incorporate visual perceptual games and activities into your family life. Try Waldo books, "Seek and Find" books and plan regular jigsaw puzzle sessions as a family.
  • Look out for Lotto and Bingo type games where your child needs to match up picture cards.
  • Encourage your child to pay attention visually by finding items in picture books, finding specific groceries on a shopping advertisement, and looking at "spot the difference" pictures.

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Motor Planning Skills

motor planning skills can affect handwritingPlanning how and where to write

Motor planning can affect a child's handwriting in many different ways

  • figuring out how to hold the pencil and how to put it to paper
  • planning the layout of work on the page and carrying it out
  • establishing the motor memory of remembering how letters are formed
  • carrying over the memory from one task to the next

A lesson in handwriting for kids with poor motor planning skills,  is like a brand new lesson for them each time – they can really struggle to carry over what they have learned in previous lessons.

Poor motor planning (also called dyspraxia) can thus affect all the other areas discussed here (such as fine motor skills, visual motor coordination, orthographic coding, etc)

You may also see the child with poor motor planning skills struggling with other classroom tasks, like figuring out how to use a ruler to draw a line, figuring out how to cut around a complex shape with scissors, etc.


How You Can Help:

  • Kids with poor motor planning skills can benefit from lots of sensory and movement input to help their brains develop sensory-motor maps of movements.
  • They also benefit from learning strategy through games such as obstacle courses and strategic board games – they may need to be patiently taught the strategies of each game.
  • However, in the classroom, these children need accommodations to help them work AROUND their problems. An occupational therapist will help analyze your child's specific challenges and then provide "just right" recommendations to help your child.
  • Addressing each individual challenge they face can help their overall motor planning delays and may help improve their handwriting in the long run.

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Cognitive and Language Skills

Each child has inherent mental and intellectual abilities – these inherent abilities will affect their ability to learn handwriting skills. It is beyond the scope of this website to address these issues.


Organization and Problem Solving

Organization and problem solving skills include motor planning and the spatial perceptual ability to lay work out well on the page.

Kids' handwriting skills may be affected as a result of general disorganization and failure to understand and follow instructions.

How You Can Help:

  • Problem solving games such as Rush Hour as well as spatial perceptual games such as Tangoes, can help a child develop organization and problem solving skills. Clicking on the images above will take you to those products on Amazon so you can see what I'm talking about!
  • Play listen-and-do games, where your child has to respond to instructions given.
  • Older children may need to learn compensatory strategies instead in order to deal with the immediate classroom demands. 

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Handwriting For Kids: Related Pages

On My Site:


On The Web

(these links open to other sites in a new tab/window)


My OT Mom E-Books contain a wealth of fine motor activity ideas to help your child get a good start in handwriting skills.

Just click on the images to view the e-books! Thanks for your interest!

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References

  1. Daly, C.J., Kelley, G.T., Krauss, A., Relationship between visual-motor integrations and handwriting skills of children in kindergarten: a modified replication study.” AJOT, 2003, 57(4):459-642. Abstract can be viewed here.
  2. Wiid, Julie, “Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) and Graphomotor (handwriting) Problems as a Barrier to Learning” . PDF can be viewed here.
  3. M-L Kaiser, J-M Albaret, and P-A Doudin, Relationship Between Visual-Motor Integration, Eye-Hand Coordination, and Quality of Handwriting, 2009. PDF can be viewed here.
  4. Jo Tennyson, Effective Occupational Therapy Intervention For Handwriting/Fine Motor Difficulties, 2006. Article can be viewed here.
  5. Nirit Lifshitz and Shirley Har-Zvi, A Comparison Between Students Who Receive and Who Do Not Receive Writing Readiness Interventions on Handwriting Quality, Speed and Positive Reactions. In Early Childhood Education Journal, Published online January 2014. Article can be viewed here.

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