Improve Handwriting:
Tips To Help Older Kids

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.

For your convenience, I have linked to products on Amazon (marked #Ad) that are similar to the ones I use myself - I may receive a small commission if you purchase something through these links, which helps support this site. However, you are under no obligation to purchase anything!

Strengthen Fine Motor Skills

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.

view my fine motor ideas for older kids

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.

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Try a Pencil Grip

I am not usually in favor 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 pencil grips#Ad (pencil grippers) to see if any of those help reduce fatigue.

using a good pencil grip may reduce fatigue

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Strengthen the Upper Body

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.

If 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!

shoulder exercises for kidsshoulder exercises may help

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Italic Cursive Can 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.

Italic Handwriting Book F#Ad is designed for use in Grade 5 for those who have used the earlier books. But both Book F and Book G#Adwould be suitable for older kids (sixth grade up) who want to work on their handwriting skills. If your child requires slightly easier work to start with, then try Book E#Ad .

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Understand And Practice Regular Cursive

If the italic cursive mentioned 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, especially if your child has not had any formal cursive writing lessons.

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!

View Cursive Writing Rules and Free Worksheets here! These are good for kids in grade school.

If your teen has had a bit of cursive practice and needs some practice in order to master it, then you can try this cursive handwriting book for teens#Ad from Amazon.

The first section of the book revises the cursive formation of each letter - just revise and practice until your teen knows the letter. No need to complete each page of letters if your teen already knows them.

Then there are pages of words to practice and then cool quotes from famous people to copy out.

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Frequent Breaks

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.

Pick Your Battles

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.

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Figure A Work-Around

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.

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Some more food for thought...

When an older child is referred for handwriting issues, my first recommendation is that we first think about WHY the handwriting is so lousy.

  • Has your child always had a poor pencil grip and weak fine motor skills?
  • Or is handwriting poor because your child rushes through it?

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?

  • distractability and poor concentration?
  • A general dislike of schoolwork, boredom with that particular topic or a need to finish quickly to move on to the next activity?

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 the tips and resources on this page to be helpful!

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