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Developing Handwriting Skills

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Handwriting requires a complex set of skills involving the whole child. To write efficiently and effectively, a child must possess adequate skills in attention, posture, balance, perception, memory, dexterity, strength, and coordination. The following activities develop prewriting skills in preschoolers and primary-aged children:

  • Lacing and Sewing:  Lacing macaroni on yarn and sewing with heavy thread and plastic "needles" are fun bilateral hand activities.  Preschoolers can handle large macaroni, while primary-aged students can sew smaller noodles and work with thinner thread.
  • Finger Play:  To strengthen the small muscles of the hands needed fro pencil skills, children can imitate finger movements, play with finger puppets, trace designs in sand, and duplicate forms with Play-Doh.
  • Tweezer Time:  Picking up small objects or small macaroni with a tweezer and placing them in a container will strengthen the finger and hand muscles necessary for later writing skills.  Gradually reduce the size of the container opening.
  • Prewriting Activities.  To encourage appropriate finger control, break crayons and chalk into small pieces so the child has to hold the pieces with his or her fingertips.  Encourage imitating writing shapes from a model.  For some children, using an easel or other vertical surface is helpful in strengthening the whole arm and hand.  For others, light weights may need to be added to the wrist to promote further strengthening.  When the child is struggling with hand writing, an analysis of his or her approach to handwriting should be conducted by a therapist.

Learning to print or write in cursive can be frustrating for some children. It is important to begin with good writing habits, since it is easy for inefficient strategies to develop. Ideally, a child should be positioned comfortably in a chair, with feet flat on the floor and the trunk supported in an aligned, upright position. Paper should be positioned approximately 30° to the left for right-handed writers and 35°–40° to the right for left-handed writers. For some children, a pencil grip allows them to hold the pencil appropriately for writing. The proper grip promotes isolated thumb and finger control and can prevent fatigue in the hand.

The following suggestions can support a child who is finding writing challenging and can make handwriting fun.

  • Place paper on a vertical surface like an easel to promote wrist extension and thumb and finger opposition. Raised lined paper provides a tactile cue to assist the child with alignment of the letters on the line.
  • Use rainbow writing, tracing printed letters with different colored markers, focusing on correct letter formation. This activity is an engaging way to introduce new letter formation to the beginning writer.
  • Practice writing on different surfaces that provide tactile feedback or in the air with eyes opened or closed.
  • Have a child guess what letter another child is writing on his or her back.
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