Poor handwriting is something that every child has when they are first learning how to write. But, what happens when it becomes a constant problem well past the appropriate age?
Is your child having a hard time forming the letters of the alphabet? If you are past that stage, are they forming those letters way too big or forgetting to put space in between their words?
With so many factors that go into creating neat handwriting, it can be hard to figure out where to start. But, that’s why you are here because you want to know how to improve handwriting in your child.
With so many resources out there such as handwriting worksheets and handwriting exercises, fixing poor handwriting should be easy. But it is not always that simple.
Without the proper teaching and evaluation techniques, those worksheets and exercises tend to become useless for a lot of children with learning disabilities.
And depending on the age of your child and the handwriting problem that is occurring, seeking outside assistance may be your answer to how to improve handwriting.
So in this post, I have explained how to improve handwriting through the use of an OT (occupational therapist). I’m discussing what usually causes poor handwriting in children, and how working with an occupational therapist can help eliminate many handwriting issues.
Let’s get to it!
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An occupational therapist works with children in the school system (elementary in my case) to help improve handwriting difficulties such as:
- Letter formation
- Spacing issue or spatial issues on the page
- Writing on the baseline
- Letter sizing
- Holding the paper with one hand while using the other hand for writing (bilateral coordination)
- Motor control (holding/ writing with the pencil)
- Pencil pressure (writing either too dark or light)
- Proper body positioning while writing
When trying to figure out how to improve handwriting in children the first step is to figure out what is causing the problem. This is where an OT comes in handy. By providing age-appropriate assessments, they can better understand how to improve handwriting.
The therapist is looking to find out what your child’s strengths and weaknesses are. Once that information is gathered, the therapist then uses your child’s strengths to help them improve their handwriting through various strategies and evidence-based practices.
For example, based on your child’s age they should be forming certain stokes and shapes before they are ever required or expected to write words. (see chart below)
What causes poor handwriting in children?
Fine motor deficits
Majority of the time a lack of fine motor skills directly affects the child’s ability to write neatly. The child may not have fully developed them due to age or exposure.
Or, the child may have difficulty manipulating the writing utensil in their hand. Either way, being underdeveloped or having difficulty with in-hand manipulation affects how a child forms letters.
Lack of attention
This is a big one and is expected especially in young children. Lack of attention may be due to various reasons and the first is to find out why the child is not paying attention.
It may be due to their diagnosis (autism or ADHD) or simply boredom. The child may have sensory needs that need to be regulated before they can focus.
Depending on the need and the student they may need a sensory break, like the one I discussed in 5 easy ways to increase focus in a virtual class.
Your child may require a seated sensory cushion if they are having trouble staying seated and focused (these work great for children with ADHD). Or they simply may need a different teaching approach, such as video modeling.
I shared a great video modeling program in my 10 easy ways to improve handwriting post.
Lack of motivation
Maybe your child is not feeling motivated to learn or improve handwriting. When a child is not motivated it can be a challenge. This is where we as teachers have to take a different approach.
Just as in 10 ways to improve handwriting, we have to teach them to write without using the pencil and paper technique. We have to find creative ways to not let them give up by using their favorite toys, games, or fingers for some messy learning!
Unfornatuatly, at times it is always not the child’s fault. So before focusing on what the child needs to improve, we at times need to improve our methods of teaching.
You can always ask yourself a few questions to figure out if a change is needed. Start with, Is this the best teaching method for my child? You can find out which teaching method works best for your child here.
Is the lesson entertaining? etc. Observing, providing sensory regulation, and changing teaching methods is what happens in OT and what helps to improve handwriting overall.
How to improve handwriting through OT?
Handwriting is one of the first things that children learn when entering school. This is what allows children to be functional in school and is required in almost all assignments.
For some children to be successful in school, handwriting needs to be addressed. But, for some children, this is not a simple process and occupational therapy services are needed to address the following deficits:
Increase Hand strength
weak hand strength is almost always the main culprit in most children. Having weak hand muscles can cause frustration along with fatigue while writing.
A child who displays hand fatigue will often switch between the right and left hand while coloring or writing. Others display their weak hand strength by the way they hold the pencil or produce letters.
Some children are vocal and will tell you when their hands are hurting from writing tasks. Whenever a child is referred to occupational therapy for handwriting, as a therapist we automatically incorporate hand strengthening into the sessions.
Increasing hand strength can be done in multiple ways, I’ve listed some that works great for my students below:
- Pinching clothespins
- Playing with dough
- Squeezing spray bottles to wash windows
- Ringing out wet towels
- Tug of war
- Molding clay
- Tweezer activity (using tweezers/tongs to pick up items)
Using a Multi-sensory Approach
keeping your child actively engaged by utilizing all of their senses is crucial while dealing with handwriting issues.
For example, in OT, when teaching the letter A for the first time, we may show them a video where they can see how the letter A is formed, and hear words that start with A (eyes & ears). After the video, we may have the student write the letter A in shaving cream (touch). Finishing the session with them practicing the letter A on paper.
All of the steps above allowed the child to form the letter A multiple ways, which helps the child how to write that letter in the future. It is all apart of a simple process on how to improve handwriting!
The purpose of this is to provide carryover and help produce better outcomes. I always recommend the usage of a multisensory approach to get quick and desired results.
The multi-sensory approach is a way of boosting the child’s ability to identify and recall different forms of letters. To accomplish this, the OT may have the child utilize the following items:
- Playing with dough ( playdoh)
- Draw multiple letters in shaving cream
- Using chalk to write letters
Improve Visual Motor Skills
In the process of working on how to improve handwriting, what the OT looks at first is the child’s visual-motor skills. Visual-motor skills involve both the eyes and the hands working together to complete a certain task and in this case handwriting.
Improving visual-motor skills along with hand and eye coordination crucial in the development of handwriting. Both of the mentioned skills can be enhanced through various activities and worksheet including the few listed below:
- Connecting the dots
- crossword puzzle
- Completing mazes
- Tracing activities
- Spot the difference activities and or worksheets
- Playing catch
Adapt the paper
For efficient alignment practice and teaching your child about the spacing, adapting the paper is very effective. Children often learn how to improve handwriting by “seeing” errors they made and how to correctly fix the error.
The occupational therapist often introduces the Hi write paper as a visual prompt so that students know where to place their letters on the baseline. This type of adaptive paper also helps the children correctly size their letters, and with spacing errors.
- Use the wide margins
- Highlighting the lines by using bright colored markers (Hi- Write paper)
- Placing the dots over the paper to guide the kid (helps provide a visual starting/ stopping point) while forming letters.
Make it fun!
One thing I have learned about teaching handwriting is that it needs to be fun! What is amazing about OT is that if done correctly the child never realizes that they are in therapy.
When my students come into their session, they are ready to learn because they have so much fun. So Implementing a fun environment for children helps to boost their writing skills.
If you are looking for fun creative ways on how to improve handwriting, read my 10 easy ways to improve handwriting skills.
When trying to figure out how to improve handwriting in your child, please remember that not every strategy listed above will always help.
Every child learns differently, and at a different pace so please don’t lose hope. Some children are visual learners, while others may be tactile (hands-on) learners.
So knowing how your child learns best will help with improving handwriting skills.
If you’ve found part 1 in the handwriting series on how to improve handwriting in kids helpful be sure to check out part 2: Prewriting skills: Valuable tips to improve handwriting.
If a weak hand grip is something that your child has, be sure to read part 3: 13 easy activities to improve hand grip in kids.
In what ways have you been working on improving handwriting with your little ones? Comment below and let me know your thoughts.
About the Author
Erika is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant working in an elementary school setting. She wanted to create a blog and podcast that shows all sides of school-based learning. Her #1 focus is on providing parents of children with learning disabilities with relevant information in hopes of making each day a little more functional. So if you are interested in more content like this, please sign up below.