Writing practice: how to help your struggling child

Child practising handwriting
Is your child’s handwriting a cause for concern? Help them to improve it with these simple activities.

Not all children are given a good start with their handwriting. Some may suffer from changes of schools or teachers during the early years, and others still may simply find handwriting especially difficult.

A child who has never crawled in the early years or who finds things like dressing, putting on shoes, tying laces, catching a ball or hopping and jumping hard to do is likely to find writing more difficult than others. A child who fulfils these criteria and might be affected by dysgraphia might benefit from some sessions with a paediatric occupational therapist. Either the school or your GP could arrange a referral.

Positive support

When older children have very untidy or illegible writing nothing at all is achieved by critical comments, either written or spoken. Children who have poor handwriting are usually well aware of it but have no idea how they can change it for the better.
The first step to improving handwriting is to look carefully at a page of the child’s normal writing and to try to decide exactly what is making it untidy or hard to read. Focus on what is going wrong and practise just that for a while. 

Tackling handwriting problems

Try these quick exercises to help with common problems:
Problem: The letters are not resting on the baseline.
Try this: Don’t let your child practise on plain paper, instead buy lined. Get them to write out simple words, making sure that the bottoms of them touch the baseline each time.
Problem: The ascenders (sticks) on letters ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘h’, ‘k’, and ‘l’, for example, are not tall enough.
Try this: Use double-lined (tram-lined) paper if you can get it, otherwise ordinary lined paper. First write out the sentences: 
‘The boy had a kite in his hand.’
‘Take this ball home to Dad.’
‘I must not let the dog get out.’
Now ask your child to put a red dot on the top of all the tall letters. Ask your child to copy the sentences, making sure that they begin each tall letter high enough. Write the sentences several times a day. 
Problem: There are no spaces between the words. 
Try this: Write or type out some simple sentences for your child and ask them to draw a pencil line where the spaces between the words should be. Now ask them to copy the sentences, leaving the spaces between words, so that the sentences make sense. Finally, get them to write the letter ‘o’ in each space. Encourage them to write these every day until they get them all right on their first go.

Print out our free blank handwriting practice paper to help your child size and position letters correctly, or look through our Handwriting Learning Journey for a step-by-step guide to improving handwriting.

Exercising the fingers

There are many enjoyable activities which help young children to develop the strength and dexterity in their fingers which are necessary for holding and controlling a pencil. These could include modelling with playdough or Plasticine, doing simple jigsaw puzzles, tracing, colouring, threading beads, finger-painting, following dot-to-dot pictures, playing with sand and any other games which involve controlling and manipulating with their hands and fingers. 
Children who are not interested in undertaking such activities by themselves will often enjoy them if a parent or an older brother or sister will join in.