Handwriting is not as simple as moving a pencil.  Here are some comon handwriting complaints and six tips for parents to help teach handwriting,

 1.Get Set. My son is always falling out of his chair when writing. Provide the right size table and chair to allow a stable base .  When seated heels should contact the floor with desk height at the elbow to allow free arm movement.  An occupational therapist can provide recommendations for special equipment.  A Stokke chair or foot platform may be helpful.   Slantboards/3-inch binders may improve wrist positioning by providing a sloping surface. Stabilized ball chairs, move-n-sit or wedge cushions or weighted vests  may assist attention while writing.  To develop the shoulder stability needed for writing  provide vertical surfaces such as easels or chalkboards for standing to write.  Provide alternatives by placing writing surface such as chalkboards, large writing pad, Magnadoodle or AquaDoodle on the floor, so child can write while lying on his tummy.

2. Get a Grip.  My four year old is holding the crayon in his fist and avoiding coloring. Preschool and kindergarten are the best times to develop a functional grasp.  Encourage fun activities to develop hand strength such as working with Play-Doh. Large muscle activitiy such as ball play develops eye-hand coordination needed for writing. Manipulatives such as Legos, lacing cards and spinning tops  develop fine motor skills needed for writing. Using silverware correctly  helps to develop grasp.  Pinch pencil with thumb, index and middle fingers like crab pinchers and tuck the little and ring finger in. Encourage grip with small crayon and chalk pieces and hold off on pencil grips unless needed. 

3. Get letters facing the right way. My first grader forms many letters from the bottom reversing many letters.  Regardless of handwriting style, teach letters in a strategic sequence rather than just "any which way" for worksheet completion.  For example, parents can demonstrate forming all upper case manuscript letters from the top.  It is common for children just learning to print  to reverse letters sometimes, but persistent reversals can  be remediated with materials such as  small chalkboards with smiley face on upper left corner from "Handwriting Without Tears"® .  Outlining letters in correct sequence with multi-sensory media such as shaving cream, small wet sponge pieces, pipe cleaners or in sand provides the kinesthetic "feeling" of letter direction.  Parents can help children get the feeling of correct letter formation by forming large letters in the air or with flashlights. Once children master correct letter starting point and sequence, legibility and control usually improve.

4. Get letters in the right place. My second grader draws oversize letters that are anywhere but on the line without any breaks between words.  Some kids have spatial difficulty and line confusion. Special paper from www.hwtears.com with only two lines helps sizing. As sizing improves, the child can return to regular paper.  Guide-Write raised line paper from www.rainbowresources.com  can help alignment.   You can highlight the middle and baselines with different colors to cue placement.  Highlighter paper or color guideline paper can be purchased through www.brightlinespaper.com or www.zaner-bloser.com.  Double-ended stamp markers can be used to stamp between words.  Pennies, finger or popsickle space sticks can cue spacing.  Writing sentence strips and then cutting the sentence into word pieces helps children visualize the spacing concept. 

5. Get thoughts on paper. My third grader is bright but minimizes his written production due to handwriting difficulty. He complains that writing is tiring.  He constantly breaks the pencil lead with a white -knuckle grip.  He attempts cursive with roller coaster backward strokes.  A cushion grip may help to relax grip.  Placing a mouse pad under paper teaches children who press too hard to decrease pressure so that they don't put holes in paper.  Slant becomes illegible when it is inconsistent.  Some children do better when allowed a vertical simplified writing style.  Cursive allows a free flow of ideas and can provide a new start in learning handwriting.  Some children are most functional with manuscript.  Children with extreme writing difficulty often require extra keyboarding training, technology alternatives or accommodations. 

6. Get fun and functional.  My child is not motivated to write. Finally make handwriting activities fun and functional.  Provide novel materials such as blendy pens, or window crayons.   Encourage writing grocery lists, labeling and phone messages.   Encourage writing thank you and seasonal notes to family and friends.

Mary Cater MS, OTR/L is an occupational therapist who is a  Level 1 certified "Handwriting Without Tears"  specialist with training to evaluate, tutor and remediate handwriting.  She can be reached at 206-707-4956 or handwritingstars@hotmail.com.