Bad Handwriting?







For the past 12 years of my teaching career, I have worked with many children who struggled with their handwriting. Some of them had existing disabilities, such as down’s syndrome, autism and speech impairments. Others did not. Fortunately, an Occupational Therapist visited my classroom often and worked with these children (between the ages of 4-6). I was able to witness and borrow many of her techniques.

Sloppy handwriting is hard to read, messy and is just not pretty to look at. It can be frustrating for the child because no one can read and understand what he is writing about. A parent becomes discouraged because she knows the potential of her child. A teacher may get irritated by “bad handwriting” because she can’t grade the child adequately.

Why are we so Worried?

To be honest, some educators are not, because of the increase in testing and influx of technology. However, good handwriting is important. There is actually evidence that indicates that children who write better and faster, get better grades. But don’t be fooled-superb handwriting is not an indicator of success. There are many intelligent and successful people who have horrible handwriting!

What Causes Good and Bad Writing?

  • Investigate to see if the problem is cognitive or physical. If a child can’t remember how to write a letter or shape or they take too long, then the problem is cognitive. If they have trouble forming the letter, then it is likely physical.
  • Be aware that a pre-requisite to good handwriting is developing the fine motor muscles in the hand, wrist and fingers.
  • If a child’s fine motor muscles have never been “worked out” or used often, then they will most likely struggle with holding a pencil or crayon correctly.
  • Holding a pencil correctly is another pre-requisite to good handwriting.
  • Some children’s problem may be from an existing or “not-yet diagnosed” disability. Having an evaluation from an Occupational Therapist is a good idea.

What Can I Do to Help?

  • Check that the child is holding the pencil correctly.
  • Be sure that when writing, the child’s feet are touching the floor and the table/desk is below chest level. He may need a shorter table or chair.
  • Check that his posture is tall and straight. Slouching and laying on the table does not help handwriting!
  • Be sure that his vision is not impeding his writing (Is it possible that he may need glasses?)
  • Encourage him to play with his food. That’s right! Here are some fun food activities: Pull grapes off the stems, cut strawberries, spread peanut butter on bread or help with mixing and stirring in the kitchen. These activities make the hands strong enough to write better!
  • You can also ask an OT yourself at:
  • Encourage typing. That’s right. It builds up fine motor muscles, too!
  • Increase their physical activity through gross motor fun. Try these muscle developing activities: throwing a ball back and forth, playing “wheel-barrow,” crawling, climbing
  • Play outdoor games like baseball, tennis, jacks, marbles, clapping songs
  • Enforce the use of silverware at dinner time. Grasping a utensil increases fine motor strength.
  • Provide various writing tools like thin, short or fat markers and crayons, golf pencils, chalk, gel pens, paint brushes.
  • Bring out the play-dough and clay! This fun is disguised a muscle building.
  • Encourage your child to button and zip his own clothing and shoes.
  • Rake leaves and wash the car
  • Sort laundry
  • Write letters on the table with shaving cream or finger write on the shower door or wall
  • Encourage block play, snap cubes and snap beads as well as necklace beading.
  • Provide handwriting letter stamps for your child to stamp and then trace

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