Handwriting practice: what all parents need to know

Little girl handwriting
If you’re worried about your child’s handwriting and want to help them improve, you’re not alone – handwriting is an essential skill, but we all have to learn it, and it’s a very complex task. Legible, neat handwriting takes lots of practice – here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re working with your child at home.

Handwriting isn’t just learning the alphabet – fine motor skills, hand eye co-ordination and an interest in putting pen to paper are essential as your child develops their handwriting skills. The final goal is for handwriting to become an automatic skill, so your child can concentrate on what, and not how, they are writing.

How handwriting develops by age

All children learn to write at a slightly different pace, but as a general guide research suggests that handwriting skills develop in these stages:

Child's age Handwriting level
1 year Can scribble on paper
2 years Can make horizontal, circular and vertical marks on paper
3 years Can copy horizontal, circular and vertical lines
4-5 years (Reception) Can use a pencil and hold it effectively to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed
5-6 years (Year 1) Can form lower case and capital letters

Can form digits 0 to 9

6-7 years (Year 2) Can use the strokes needed to join letters

Can write capital letters, lower case letters and digits that are all the correct size in relation to each other

7-9 years (Years 3 and 4) Can use the strokes needed to join letters

Increasing the legibility, consistency and quality of their handwriting

9 to 11 years (Years 5 and 6) Can write legibly, fluently and with increasing speed

Correct posture and sitting position for handwriting

Before your child even picks up a pencil make sure they are sitting comfortably at a table.

• Their feet should rest firmly on the floor.

• They should be sitting back in their chair so their hips touch the back of the chair.

• Their forearms should be resting on the table.

• They should be facing the table squarely.

Preparing for handwriting

There’s lots you can do to prepare your child to write, including games that help develop fine motor skills. If they’re happy to pick up a pencil and get writing, start with patterning – our handwriting pattern worksheets offer lots of practice in push pattern movements, pull pattern movements, vertical pattern movements, diagonal pattern movements and ‘c’ pattern movements – all very satisfying when armed with a favourite pencil!

Writing letters and numbers

Ready to start practising letter formation? It’s useful to show your child the letters of the alphabet divided into ‘movement groups’. “The letters of the alphabet can be divided into groups according to the movement made to start writing the letter,” explains Gwen Dornan of the National Handwriting Association. “Each group has a lead letter – L for Long ladder letters, C for Curly caterpillar letters, R for One-armed robot letters and Z for Zig-zag monster letters.” It’s important to note than some schools use different shapes for some letters (b, f, g, j, y and k are the commonest letters with variations). For example, y can be taught as a curvy letter (like a u with a tail) or as a straight-lined letter (where the letter is made up of diagonal strokes only). Always check your school’s handwriting policy and ask to see an example alphabet so you can help your child practise letters the same way at home and at school.

The way handwriting is taught varies hugely from school to school. Even in Reception some schools use an entry stroke that starts on the base line (the line your child is writing on) to begin each letter and prepare children for joined-up handwriting from the beginning of primary school. Again, it’s important for your child to practise their school style at home, so if your child’s school uses this method with their age group you should amend any handwriting worksheets and practice materials by drawing the entry strokes at the beginning of each letter yourself.

Find more handwriting practice tips and handwriting dos and don’ts on the site. If your child has been writing for a while and you’re looking for ways to improve their handwriting follow our 5 steps to success in developing handwriting, try a few exercises to help with common handwriting problems or download our step-by-step subscriber-only learning pack, Improve your child’s handwriting in 8 weeks.

For hands-on practice browse through our handwriting worksheets, developed with the support of the experts at the National Handwriting Association, or try our 8 great handwriting activities.

Photograph: YZ Photography