At Teach Handwriting our aim is to move children off of worksheets as soon as possible. To achieve this, it is important to encourage them to transfer their skills to plain or lined paper whichever is most appropriate to their ability level. We realise that it is not always possible to buy paper with the appropriate line height in all cases, so would recommend creating your own on the computer.
Use a combination of worksheets and lined paper in each handwriting session with your child:
Use the colour worksheet, or a grey scale version, and complete one or two rows.
Then encourage the child to try the same patterns or letters on appropriately lined paper, again try one or two rows only.
Hopefully the worksheet will last over a couple of handwriting sessions and you and the child will see an improvement over the time. The sooner they learn to transfer their skills to paper the better.
We realise that printing off our worksheets and coloured lined paper can become costly so, to help reduce the costs:
Use a colour version of the appropriate worksheet initially and then try printing in grey scale. Children usually make the adjustment to grey scale well once they are used to how the picture clues and colours work.
You could also use the grey scale worksheets and colour the start of each row with the appropriate colour.
Choosing and using the right pen can help to avoid smudging; make handwriting look smarter and prevent hand strain when writing for extended periods of time. Everyone is different, so the type of pen required is different too.
There are three main points to think about when choosing a pen for handwriting:
The type of ink it uses.
The size and weight of the pen.
The type of point it has.
1. Types of ink used:
The ink is quick drying and so does not smudge easily
The ink flows smoothly depending on the point style of the pen
Ink can stop and start for no apparent reason
The ink does not dry as quickly as oil-based ink so can smudge
The ink flows very smoothly
2. Pen sizes and weights
Because pens come in different shapes, sizes and weights it is important for your child to try out a range of pen styles to help them find the best fit for them. Remember one pen style does not suit all, everyone’s hand size and finger length are different.
Things to consider when choosing a pen:
Does it feel too short or too long?
Does it feel too thin or too thick?
Does it feel too heavy or too light?
Some children like a smooth round pen shape.
Some prefer a textured round pen shape.
While others may prefer a hexagon shaped pen.
3. Pen points
Pens come with different point or nib widths and shapes. The size and shape of the point gives different line thicknesses and are usually purchased as point sizes: extra fine, fine, medium or bold (some will have a measurement on as well).
A fine pen point produces thin lines and some children will find this can help to make writing neater.
A medium and bold point give thicker lines which many may find smoother to write with, though the letter size may be slightly larger because of it.
Once again it is important that children try out a range of pen point sizes to help them find the best fit for them.
Remember one pen point style does not suit all, everyone’s fine motor skills and writing pressures are different.
Last week we looked at why pencils, rather than pens, are a good first tool for learning to handwrite.
Children can’t wait however for that magic day when the teacher moves them from pencil to pen. It really is a big moment and means more than just “I can write neatly”, for them it is an acknowledgement of their maturity (growing up) and a status symbol of intellect and ability in their eyes and those of their peers.
Moving from pencil to pen can have a dramatic effect on a child’s confidence and self-esteem. I have seen how moving a child from pencil to pen can give them a new found confidence and self-belief in their own ability, because I showed my belief in them by making that gesture. They may not have had the perfect font style in pencil but moving to pen did improve their ability to form letters more freely and become more consistent in their formation.
It is difficult to put an age on when a child should move from pencil to pen because every child is different. Schools have different policies on when this should happen, with most tending to make the move at around the age of 8/9 years old. It should really depend on the child’s ability rather than their age, as well as the potential benefits the move may have to confidence and self-esteem.
It does not make sense to keep a child working with pencil until they have a perfect handwriting style because that may never happen. For many a neat, beautiful handwriting style may never be a reality.
Advantages of pens:
A good quality pen will give an even ink flow.
A more consistent hand pressure is required, helping to develop and maintain a fluid handwriting style (reducing hand strain).
Fibre tip and roller pens can give the same look and writing experience as a good quality fountain pen, but are far less messy (especially for left handed people).
With the right pen everyone’s handwriting can look good, (I love my fountain pen for that reason).
Cheap biro pens require a lot of hand pressure and give an inconsistent ink flow (so not very different from pencils).
Cheap fountain pens can be scratchy and messy
Some schools will insist on using a particular type of pen which is not always good for all.
My tip would be to test a few pen types and weights to find out which ones your child finds the most comfortable and enjoyable to use. I realise this can be an issue if your child’s school insist on one type of pen. But if you can prove your child’s handwriting ability is great with a different style, I think it is worth talking to them about it.
Moving from pencil to pen is an important point in a child’s education, affecting their confidence and self-esteem, and like any transition stage it should be approached with thought and care.
Why do we use pencils when we start to teach handwriting?
Modern classrooms use a range of technology, such as interactive white boards, so why are our children still using pencils when learning how to handwrite?
Pencils are a great first tool for learning to handwrite!
They come in different widths and lengths (to cater for the different gross and fine motor skills of the children).
Have different lead thickness and grades (soft to hard) of lead.
Provide varying degrees of resistance (depending on lead grade) which slows down the letter formation process enough for young children to have the control required to start to form their letters correctly. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.
As a child develops their handwriting skills to a more fluid handwriting style the pencil type can be easily changed.
Cheap and easily accessible.
A drawing medium which young children are already comfortable using.
Often a one size fits all approach to the pencil type, rather than tailoring to a child’s needs.
Difficulty in maintaining a good writing point, results in the child needing to use different levels of pressure, making handwriting hard work.
Over use of rubbing out mistakes (wastes time and develops a culture where making a mistake is seen as a failure). Making mistakes is how we learn, it is not failing!
Pencils are practical in school:
With pencil, children find it more difficult to write on one another and their clothes.
You do not have a whole class of children clicking pens (Velcro is bad enough).
Pen lids are not constantly lost or being swallowed.
Pencils seem less of a problem when stuck in ears or up the nose.
They are cheap.
Pencils do not explode, leaving a mess all over the room and any child that happened to be in the room at the time.
Time not wasted by trying to suck the ink up out of the pen.
Handwriting is a complicated skill to learn and having the right tools for the job always helps. It is worth spending a little time with children using a range of pencil styles and lead grades to find ones that they find comfortable to use for handwriting. These will be different from those they use for drawing. As their handwriting skills develop so the type and grade of pencil they begin to favour will change.