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How to Help Handwriting Struggles

Growing up I had absolutely atrocious handwriting.  Try as I might it was just bad.  At the start of every school year each teacher was sure that they would be the one to ‘fix’ me.  Every year they failed and I felt a little more hopeless.  The problem was that they didn’t really understand how to help students with handwriting struggles.  They meant well but did the exact wrong things!  Now that I’m raising kids who have the same struggles I had I’ve learned how to really help and I want to share it with you.

It can be frustrating when your kids has handwriting struggles. With some time and these tips it can get better!

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Understanding Handwriting Struggles

The first step to helping kids who struggle with handwriting is understanding what is, and what is NOT, happening.

What (Might Be) Happening

There are a few common causes of handwriting struggles.

  1. Poor grip strength: A common cause of handwriting struggles is poor grip strength.  If your child is having trouble keeping a proper hold on the pencil it’s going to be difficult to write legibly.  Kids with this issue might have also had trouble learning to use silverware.
  2. Coordination struggles:  Writing involves the coordination of a lot of different muscles.  Things like fine motor delays, trouble crossing the midline, and eye hand coordination issues can all contribute to ‘poor handwriting’.
  3. Vision Issues: We all know about struggles with the ability to see (visual acuity), but there are other vision problems that can contribute to handwriting issues such as visual-motor processing issues.

What Is (Almost Certainly) Not Happening

  1. Lack of intelligence: The neatness of someone’s handwriting is not a reflection of his or her intelligence.  It doesn’t mean someone is less intelligent, nor is it a sign that they are a secret genius.
  2. Willful disobedience:  Messy handwriting is NOT a character flaw or a ‘heart issue’.  Even if it seems to ‘come and go’, it’s not about them ‘choosing’ to have poor handwriting.  It’s actually really common for struggling kids to be able to write neater in some circumstances than others.
  3. Laziness: Your child’s handwriting struggles are almost certainly not caused by laziness.  When handwriting comes naturally it doesn’t require much (if any) effort so there would be no need to ‘be lazy’.  If your child needs to put in a lot of effort it means something more is going on.

How to Help with Handwriting Struggles

You can help your child with writing.  There are a few things you can do to help both their skills and their confidence grow.

Fine Motor Practice

One of the best things you can do to help your child is to work on her fine motor skills.  The key is, do NOT do this by giving a bunch of extra handwriting practice pages.  That will just start to feel like a punishment for your child and could build resentment and resistance.  Try some of these fun methods instead.

  1. Playdough: Playing with modeling clay, theraputty, and even bread dough can be a great way to work on those fine motor skills and strength.  Even if your child didn’t play with them while young, they can still work their magic on an older kid, teen, or adult.
  2. Building toys: Toys like LEGOs and K’Nex are fantastic for building eye hand coordination and visual discrimination.  One of my kids would barely pick up a crayon before we introduced K’nex and a few months later was drawing all the time!
  3. Beading: Stringing beads may seem like a simple task but it’s a great way to get your kids working on their pincer grasp without them knowing it.  It feels like a fun craft to them while sneakily building up fine motor skills.

Handwriting Practice

Obviously you are going to need to do actual handwriting practice with your child if you want him to improve.  Keep these things in mind as you work together.

  1. Focus on the task at hand: If there is one piece of advice I could give every homeschool parent (and classroom teacher) it’s to focus on the task at hand.  As long as you can read it, do not factor handwriting into any subject other than handwriting practice.  Not math, or language arts, or anything else.  Just handwriting practice.
  2. Watch your words:  Avoid saying things like, “If you just applied yourself” or, “If you tried a little harder”.  Without meaning to those words can cut rather deeply for kids who are struggling with their handwriting.  This also means to watch your tone because they can hear our frustration when we speak to (and about) them.
  3. Choose a good curriculum:  I know that a lot of homeschoolers advocate for just using copywork as handwriting practice with the idea that by copying other work kids will eventually develop good handwriting.  That’s just not true for kids who struggle with their handwriting (and even for many who don’t).  Choose a good curriculum like Handwriting Without Tears, which is popular among teachers, parents, and occupational therapists alike!  It teaches them the specific details of how to form each letter and works to progressively build skills.

Handwriting struggles are a huge source of frustration for both parents and kids.  With some time, gentleness, and effort you CAN help your child get better.  If (in spite of everyone’s efforts) things don’t improve, consider asking for an occupational therapy evaluation.  In the meantime, work through the tips here and stay patient!

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