A concerned aunt asked

My nephew is an intelligent boy but his handwriting is horrible. He is playful and careless so his parents are convinced that he is goofing off but I think there is some underlying issue. His parents and teachers are scolding him and his dad is on the verge of beating him. I want to provide additional information to the parents so they know how to tackle this issue.

Neatness in handwriting has nothing to do with brilliance and too much emphasis on neat handwriting can discourage the kid from writing or trying to communicate via writing.

In India, a nice handwriting is believed to indicate that the child is meticulous, a perfectionist, that he takes school work seriously, is careful and patient and takes pride in his / her school work. Too much rides on a student’s handwriting and that is why parents get tensed if their child’s handwriting is not good. They worry that their child will be branded as irresponsible and someone who is not serious about academics even though the child is a brilliant kid. In India, parents believe that once a teacher brands a child as unfit / poorly behaved, they talk about it in the staff room and it becomes very hard to erase that first impression that develops about that child.

We Indians stress upon handwriting as an isolated motor skill and not as part and parcel of the literacy piece. Having heard many comments like ‘our (Indian) kids are so intelligent because they have such good handwriting ‘ I like to emphasize the need for independent expression in their writing.

A significant point to be noted: “Early, systematic handwriting instruction improves the quality and quantity of writing, not just its legibility.

Important things to note if your child’s handwriting is not neat or legible

Is the work interesting? is his difficulty in writing due to lack of interest, limited stamina or attention skills? Does he get enough time to play after school or does he have to start homework writing right away?

1. Is his spelling wrong as well?

Some children mask their spelling errors by writing illegibly that others find it hard to decipher what has been written.

2. How bad is his handwriting when compared to children in his age group?

If his writing skills are very poor, then his parents should take him to be assessed by a professional who will suggest a plan to improve handwriting. Also read about Dygraphia. 

If his writing skills are not very bad but needs slight improvement, then the parents can try to retrain him using some of the  methods mentioned below. Whatever it is, the parents should not show frustration as it will demoralize the child.

3. If it is because of lack of interest in the writing activity,

you can give interesting writing exercises suited to his age level.

4. If it is because of poor attention skills

then you have to divide the assignment into small portions and help him complete one at a time (with some breaks).

5.  If it is due to poor grip/strength in hands

you have to build up his finger/wrist muscles and also check how he sits.

6. If it is due to pressure (parental and/or school related),

then work on the adults.

7. Is the child using his dominant hand?

Sometimes parents force left handed children to write with their hand. Some kids are ambidextrous and they can use both hands but one hand is dominant. But a child should be allowed to choose which hand he wants to use. While writing, a right handed person, moves away from the portion that was just written leaving it visible. But the wrist of the left handed person will cover what was just written. In such cases, the angle of the paper and posture has to be adjusted

8. Is he holding the pencil properly?

Proper pencil grip – Check if the child is holding the pencil properly. The pencil has to be held between the thumb and pointer while the pencil rests on the middle finger.

The grip should be gentle and not too tight. Some children move only their wrist when writing rather than involving the whole arm. Some children hold the pencil really close to the tip and also hold the pencil very tight. The pencil has to be held about 1 inch away from the tip. This will help them see what they have written just now. A triangular is easier to hold and write than a cylindrical one or hexagonal pencil.

Check this out writing aid for students. This Pencil Grip, Universal ergonomic writing aid can be bought from Amazon (Link given below).

pencil-grip-help-for-students

9. Posture and Position

The height of the table and chair can affect handwriting. The child should be taught to sit erect and properly support the arm when writing.

10. Is it possible that he is complacent?

Is it possible that he is complacent because he knows he can write carelessly and get away with it if he manages to sit through mom and dad’s advice sessions? If he is under that impression, then making him repeat the work will improve his hand writing.

Sometime kids write very fast assuming that it will impress teachers / parents / classmates. And this can be their reason for having bad hand writing.

Here are 15 Simple and Practical Tips For Improving your child’s Handwriting

1. Montessori pre-writing activities

Montessori prewriting activities prepare the child for writing exercises. Before expecting him to write letters or words, make him practice his strokes.

  1. Vertical lines (|)
  2. Horizontal lines (-)
  3. Circles and ovals (o and 0)
  4. diagonal lines ( / and \ )
  5. Waves
  6. Cross (+)
  7. Squares
  8. Triangles

Some schools start with lower case letters and some start with upper case letters. Did they by any chance start with lower case letters? Some kids find it harder to write lower case letter first. Children will find it easier to write capital letters with straight lines first (like F, E, T, X) before they are taught letters with curves (O, B, Q, U, C, D). Once the child is confident, he can start writing lower case letters.

2. Strengthen fingers and wrist

Even toddlers show eagerness to scribble using crayons. They can be taught to develop

pencil control by engaging them in activities like drawing, tracing, coloring etc.

These pre-writing activities will strengthen fingers / wrist

tracing dots-to-dots

Coloring

tracing letters

Cutting paper

Mazes

String beads

Many parents don’t realize that writing is a complex task and it is a skill that needs methodical teaching and learning. To practice control over hand movement, ask the child to play with mazes without bumping into the walls. His parents can either buy a book of mazes or they can draw one with him. This activity needs concentration, planning and a little bit of trickiness to make the maze elaborate and intricate. It is a good mental exercise.

(we used paint tubes to make the maze)

draw-your-own-maze

3. Benefits of Play dough / Paydoh

Playdoh is a good toy that helps strengthen fingers. Here are some of the benefits of playdoh.

Stress balls can help too.

4. Piano lessons

Piano lesson can help improve motor skills.

5. penmanship books / worksheets

handwriting-letters-worksheets

Visit book stores and purchase some penmanship books / worksheets and retrain the kid to learn writing. This requires patience but with time, there will be some improvement. In India, 4 lines and 2 lines notebooks are available and he can practice his letters with that so he know the tall letters and the short letters etc. But please remember that making the child write again and again can lead to frustration for both parents and children. If he does not want to copy from a book, ask him to write grocery list, a letter to his classmate or friends. This will make him enthusiastic to write. 😉

6.Space between words and lines

Writing is illegible when the space between words is either too short or too long. Cut strips of paper and ask him to use it as a space bar. Write one word, keep the space bar and then write the next word.  A finger may also be used as a space bar between words.

Till he learns how to write neatly, he can leave a line in between two lines of text. This space makes the page look less cluttered and the text slightly more legible.

7. Mirror Writing

Some times children confused b and d and write c facing the opposite direction. These things usually get corrected by itself around 6 years of age and is not a serious issue.

8. Make writing fun

Play games like asking the child to label items in the house by writing the name on postit and then sticking them on the household items. The parents have to be creative and deal with this with a positive attitude or they risk alienating their child from written word.

9. Reading can improve handwriting

Another option you have is to give him books to read. Some kids understand the words, meaning, pronunciation etc, but are not very sure how to write them. If they are exposed to neat handwriting, they may try to imitate it. As the words get imprinted in his mind, his hands will be able to write them.

There are some kids books where the letters look like they were hand written. For Example Bob books (shown below)

bob-books-to-encourage-children-to-read

10.Stencils and Stencil books

Have you tried stencil books? They are fun and he won’t even know that he is learning to write.

11.How dark is the pencil’s graphite / lead?

This is a simple thing but can easily get overlooked. The graphite in some pencils can be very light in color that children have to apply a lot of pressure to make what they write visible. This gives them finger pain and may result in bad handwriting. Buy darker pencils (for example 6B pencils) so he need not put a lot of pressure while writing. Here is a nice article that explains various shades of graphite pencils.

12.Improve pincer grip by using fork and spoon

Stop spoon feeding children ( I meant literally 🙂 ). When children learn to eat by themselves, their pincer grip improves and this activity makes their finger muscles stronger and helps them develop the coordination required for writing.

13. Toys to improve fine motor skills that are required for neat hand writing.

Neat handwriting just shows that the kid’s fine motor skill is well developed. If a kid has difficulty in writing, we have to see if he is really complacent or if it is a cry for help. There are many toys available that can improve finger strength and fine motor skills.

Here are some very good and easily available toys that can improve fine motor skills

For very little kids, this is a wonderful toy to improve finger strength and motor skills. I wrote a review about this toy here Playskool busy poppin pals

Playskool-busy-poppin-pals-toy-review

Lacing beads is a good activity to improve fine motor skills. More info here Improve fine motor and math skills in children – Bead lacing

These are large beads and are not a choking hazard. So kids as young as 2 years old can be play with them.

Improve-fine-motor-skills-Bead-lacing

For older kids around 4 -5 years old, another activity that helps with concentration and hand eye coordination is using perler beads and Aqua beads.

3D-shape-with-Perler-Beads-crafts-for-kids

More about perler beads with step by step procedure for making this 3D penguin can be seen here  Crafts for Kids – 3D shape with Perler Beads

3D-shape-with-Perler-Beads-crafts-for-kids

Aqua beads are easier than perler beads but the kid should be old enough to know that the beads should not be put inside the mouth.

Aqua-Beads-Crafts-for-kids-4-5-years

Aqua beads  will melt and fuse when water is sprayed on them. Heat is not needed to fuse them. Just like the Perler beads, these increase concentration and fine motor skills in kids. Unlike Perler beads, kids can easily swallow this. So it is not advisable for kids who are too young and have a habit of putting toys in their mouth. To discourage swallowing, there are aqua beads that have special bitter coating. Look for those brands or go for the safer perler beads. Most kits come with patterns and a tray to arrange the beads

Aqua-Beads-Crafts-for-kids-4-5-years

Another very good toy is Building blocks. Because kids can put together blocks in a variety of ways, block play is divergent play. Divergent play may prepare kids to think creatively and be better at solving divergent problems. More about the benefits of building blocks can be read here.

Benefits-of-building-blocks

14. Focus on progress made:

Encourage the child by showing the progress that has been made.

Tips-for-improving-handwriting-Indian-Schools

This will motivate the child further more than constantly criticizing their work.

Tips-for-improving-handwriting-Indian-Schools

15. Relationship between involving children in household chores and handwriting:

Don’t underestimate the benefits of household chores like folding clothes, chopping vegetables, pouring water etc. These practical life activities not only train the child to be independent and have a feeling of accomplishment but they also refine their fine motor skills and strengthen their fingers for writing.

At times parents start to pressurize the child to improve his handwriting. They try desperate measures like shouting or hitting the child. Handwriting is not something that improves in a single day. So parents should be willing to work consistently for days. Handwriting improves only by practice, practice and more practice. They have to strive to understand and communicate with the child and show that he is loved the way he is. Then they have to work with him. The knowledge that he is respected and loved as he is, will give him the strength to work on improving his handwriting.