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Many parents have asked how to improve handwriting skills in their older child or teenager. The answer is not always straightforward, but I try to give some suggestions in this page.
If you feel your child's poor handwriting is affecting academic performance, please do seek an occupational therapy evaluation to help get to the bottom of the issues.
Increasing hand strength and finger dexterity can help your older child get more control over the pencil (and hopefully improve handwriting as a result). Strengthening fine motor skills should also help improve endurance of writing tasks.
Encourage your older child to get involved with general household tasks that will use hand and finger muscles may help strengthen the hands - tasks like cutting with scissors, using a screwdriver, helping dad sort nails and screws in the garage, sewing and knitting...
You will find some fine motor exercise ideas that may appeal to your older child on this page of my site.
Older kids and teens can still benefit from strengthening their hand muscles and getting better control over their fingers with focused activities. But instead of doing the playful activities that younger kids do, call it a "hand exercise program".
Keep the suggested items at hand and encourage your child to get into
the habit of using them regularly before and during long writing
exercises, for just 2-3 minutes at a time.
I am not usually in favour of recommending the use of pencil grips
without first addressing any underlying motor issues. However, for older
kids, using a good grip could help reduce fatigue and prevent muscle
cramps, which may help to improve handwriting. Read my page about using pencil grips to find out more.
Let your child try different writing implements and/or pencil grips (pencil grippers) to see if any of those help reduce
This is my affiliate link to a supplier of good pencil grips - you can order the sampler pack to try out different grips till your child finds one that works.
Encourage your child to build upper body strength through sports, climbing, swimming and targeted exercises. These will help strengthen and stabilize the shoulder muscles to free up the hand muscles for handwriting.
I have some ideas for shoulder exercises on my site and in my e-book (aimed at younger kids, but older kids may still benefit) - have a look and see if there are any you can encourage your child to do.
your child gets tense and tired easily during handwriting, then try
these exercises as a break. Developing upper body strength may be just what your child needs to help improve handwriting!
Some children really struggle to write (and to read) the loops of regular cursive handwriting. My own kids benefited from the Getty-Dubay handwriting books, which are italic. The cursive handwriting books helped all of my own children to develop flowing handwriting, which was much neater than their printed handwriting.
I recommend italic cursive especially for kids who struggle with fine motor and visual perceptual skills.
These are my affiliate links to the books on Amazon, for your convenience.
If the italic cursive above is not for you, or your child's school prefers regular cursive, then understanding the basic cursive rules may help your child master neater handwriting.
Hop over to my friend Mary's page on cursive handwriting, read her helpful explanations of how it works, and download her free cursive practice worksheets!
If your child tires easily or becomes distracted, then let them have a quick break instead of plowing through and risking deteriorating handwriting.
A good use of a break time would be to do some gross motor exercises (especially shoulder exercises), fine motor exercises, or getting some water to drink.
You could also try some on-the-spot aerobic exercises - these fun brain breaks, designed by a fellow therapist, could help spark your child and give them the boost they need to focus on handwriting after a break.
Sit down with your child and decide together which subjects/occasions can get away with poor handwriting and which ones absolutely have to be good.
On tasks where creative input is being rated, your child may be able to write more freely and easily if freed from the effort of writing neatly. A neat final draft may be required, but being allowed to type or scrawl at first may get the creative juices flowing. Accept that legible can be good enough for these times!
It is tiring to write neatly, but if it is not required at every lesson and on every occasion, then it is easier to write neatly when it really does matter.
You can also consider being a scribe for your child if you are homeschooling, or consider asking for a facilitator in the school system.
When your child is brainstorming a topic, or planning answers and structure for a project, it can really help to have someone else jot down those thoughts and answers as they flow out. Once the scribe has the rough draft on paper, your child can then refine it and write it out neatly, without being tired from the initial handwriting effort.
Learning keyboarding skills has helped many children who struggle with poor handwriting - see what your child's school will allow in terms of typed essays and assignments.
When an older child is referred for handwriting issues, my first recommendation is that we first think about WHY the handwriting is so lousy.
If your child always rushes, then motivation may be more of an issue than fine motor delays. If your child is always rushing writing tasks, what is the reason behind it?
If your child can write neatly on occasion, what is it that motivates them?
One motivator is to use your child’s dream vocation to inspire and encourage – I tell my son that if he wants to be an airplane pilot, he has to make sure his figures (numbers) are legible, otherwise he will end up at the wrong coordinate on the map!
Answering these questions honestly could help you unlock some keys to help your older child improve handwriting skills.
I hope you found this page helpful!
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