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Tips for Teaching Handwriting

By Shirley Erwee

Since we can all write, handwriting is something that virtually all parents can teach their children, provided they still remember the correct formation of each letter.

If you have a beginner writer, a good place to begin is with the letters of the child’s name. Begin with lower case letters, rather than capital letters (except for the first letter of the name, of course) as these are the letters your child will encounter most frequently as she begins to learn to read.

You probably know from experience that young children generally have limited concentration spans and often struggle to sit still for long periods. For this reason, educational experts, recommend that formal lessons should not exceed 20-30 minutes at a time. Let your children to have a break and play out of doors for a short while before resuming a focused activity.

Research has also revealed that young children are naturally far-sighted as their eyes have not fully matured to function like that of an older person. Therefore, to avoid eye-strain, a young child should not be required to focus on a book or a page for more than 15-20 minutes at any one time. For the same reason, when writing, encourage your children to make big letters, especially if they are at preschool level. When they are older (Grade 1 or higher) they can be required to practice writing neatly between lines!

Do not be critical of a beginner writer’s scrawled efforts, but encourage her to keep practicing. If a child is reluctant to write, then encourage her to do just three beautiful letters, rather than expecting a whole row of letters. This also applies to older children - a small sample of neat work is better than a page that is scrawled!

Here are some useful guidelines for teaching handwriting skills:

1. Oversee handwriting practice

When children are practicing handwriting it is very important that you oversee their work so that they do not develop bad habits. Praise them for letters or words that are written well but nip any problems in the bud before they take root. Remember it will take more time to undo bad habits later on.

2. One objective at a time

Focus on correcting or improving one objective at a time – be it a particular letter, spacing, size, alignment, etc. Keep praising your child and encouraging her efforts. Then move onto the next objective. Show excellent work to your child’s father or grandparents or anyone else who will offer encouragement and deserved praise.

3. Practice Daily

Handwriting practice should be scheduled every day but keep lessons short for best results.

4. Correct pencil grip

Correct pencil grip allows a writer to write quickly and smoothly, while a tight or awkward grip can hinder writing. The correct grip also prevents physical problems with the hand and arm later in life such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

When a pencil is held correctly, the thumb and forefinger form an oval when a child holds the pencil. There should be equal pressure between the thumb, the side of the middle finger and the tip of the index finger. All fingers are bent slightly. This is called a "tripod grip" or "tripod pencil grasp". The fingers should be relaxed, in a somewhat straight, rather than bunched position. Tension in the hand or fingers indicates weak fine motor skills, which can be improved by activities such as threading beads, lacing, manipulating play dough, crumpling a sheet of newspaper in one hand only, fingerplay rhymes, cutting out with scissors and using a clothes peg to pick up small objects.

The whole hand and arm should be employed in writing, gliding freely across the paper and tabletop, while the other hand holds the paper securely. This gliding motion allows nice smooth letters and straight lines, it also prevents cramping in the hand and fingers.

Watch your child and pay attention to whether or not she wiggles her fingers to form letters on the paper or whether she used the whole hand and arm to move across the page. Remember, it takes time to establish new habits.

If a child struggles with the correct pencil grip, her hand strength and development may be too immature for writing. Practice basic writing strokes with chalk on a vertical surface and begin writing on paper again with a triangular shaped pencil later on.

5. Proper posture

Be sure that your child is sitting properly at a surface that is not too high. Her arms should rest comfortably and her feet should be supported (by the floor or a box), rather than hanging loosely. This is to avoid fatigue and bad habits which may develop as a result of improper posture. Monitor your child’s posture regularly.

6. Be patient

Improvement in handwriting requires a combination of skills and developmental maturity. Each child will progress at her own rate. Remember that fine motor skills develop more slowly in boys, than gross motor skills.

7. Keep handwriting separate

Keep handwriting practice or copy work separate from composition and other writing tasks, which require attention to other skills such as focus on content, organizing ideas, editing, spelling, punctuation etc. so that students will not be reluctant to write.

In a nutshell, focus on one objective at a time, praise your child for her progress and supervise regular practice sessions.

Submitted by Shirley Erwee of .

Shirley is a mother of five and has been homeschooling her children for ten years. She is the author of various homeschooling curricula, from preschool to high school.

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