By the time children are finished with first grade, they have usually become fairly proficient at handwriting. It might be a bit shaky sometimes and perhaps really messy when they are in a hurry, but they have a fairly good grasp of how to hold a pencil and how to form the letters and the numerals.
But, what if your child is still having significant difficulties with handwriting? What do you do then?
Below, I will touch briefly on a few common handwriting issues and discuss when to seek additional help.
- Left-handedness - This is certainly not a problem, but it can pose challenges for young children when they are just learning to write. Since their hand moves in a different direction across the paper, their writing can be concealed as they write or their writing can be smudged. Finding a comfortable position that is effective might take a bit of extra attention. One suggestion is to encourage your child to tip their paper to the right so that their hand moves more below the line than on top of it.
- Backward letters - Writing letters backwards is very common with young children, and most correct themselves as they begin to learn the alphabet betters and discriminate between those that look alike. When you notice certain letters being written backwards (“b” and “d” are common culprits), gently point out the difference to your child. Using fun analogies makes it easier to remember: “b” has a belly, etc.
- Writing is too light - Sometimes children have a hard time using enough pressure to make their marks legible. This is often the result of weakness in fingers or upper body, so back up and encourage some of the strengthening activities that we mentioned in this post and this post. It could also be the result of an incorrect pencil grip, so check that and help them learn to check themselves when they write.
- Letters are huge - When children learn to write their letters are usually large due to the maturity of their muscle development. As they mature, their letters begin to get smaller and they are able to actually write on a line or in a given space. Huge letters generally indicate that muscle development is lagging a bit so activities that focus on muscle strength and coordination (like crayon flipping, etc.) can be helpful.
When to seek additional help:
Because handwriting develops naturally for many children, parents often avoid seeking help when they notice difficulties, assuming they will correct themselves. However, when a child struggles in handwriting, they can become frustrated, which can affect their self-image, performance on tests and can even lead to anxiety or behavior issues. Since handwriting is needed in virtually every subject, seeking help as soon as possible can help your child succeed in school and boost their self-confidence as well.
If your child continues to have difficulties with handwriting in general, first talk to their teacher. Most schools (public and private) have systems in place to screen and/or evaluate students for additional help. You can also enlist the aid of an OT (Occupational Therapist) privately, and in most cases, these services are covered by insurance.