Transferring handwriting skills from worksheets to paper 

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:
    1. Use the colour worksheet, or a grey scale version, and complete one or two rows.
    2. 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 a Pen for Handwriting

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:

  1. The type of ink it uses.
  2. The size and weight of the pen.
  3. The type of point it has.

1. Types of ink used:

  • Oil-based ink
    • 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
    • Water-based ink
      • 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.

The Move from Pencil to Pen

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).

Limitations:

  • 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.

Pencil Power!

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!

Why?

  • 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.

Limitations:

  • 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.

Making it Easier to Copy from the Board

Copying accurately and quickly from a board at the front of a classroom can be a challenge at the best of times. For young children and those with specific learning difficulties it can be near on impossible. It is amazing how many children lose some, if not all, of a break time because they could not complete the copying task quickly enough in the lesson time.

The practise of taking information off the board has its uses and there are times when there is just no other alternative but it can be made more manageable, here are a few ideas which may help.

  • Make sure the child is sitting facing the board.
  • That they can see the board clearly.
  • That light is not reflecting off the board so that the writing disappears.
  • Try using a different colour marker pen for each line of writing (this way a child will be able to quickly locate the line they were copying from).
  • Or try numbering the lines so the child can more effectively find their way around the text.
  • Leave more of a gap between each line of writing so that each line is clearly visible from the back of the room.
  • Ask those children, who struggle copying, to start the first line of writing as you transfer the text to a smaller board which can then be placed at a more appropriate distance and level for them to continue copying from.
  • If you know the information that will need to be transferred to the child’s book then pre-prepare a text that can be given to the child to copy from. It may be in a different order or layout to that on the board; but it is the information and the child’s ability to access it, that is important.
  • Is a full sentence explanation always required or could the information be presented in another way such as a mind map or diagram which would be equally, or even more, useful to the child.

It can be surprising how frustrating and upsetting being asked to copy from the board can be for many children. So, anything that can help to alleviate these emotions and difficulties has got to be worth a try!

Poor Motor Memory and Visual Memory Skills and Handwriting

Motor memory and visual memory difficulties can have a dramatic effect on a child’s handwriting ability. Possible signs of poor motor memory or visual memory skills can be that their handwriting is slow and deliberate or fast and messy (as they try to hide their letter formation issues), making it difficult to read. They can spend so much time on trying to remember how to form the letters, they have no working memory space left for the important tasks of composing their writing and spelling.

Poor motor memory skills can make handwriting difficult as shapes and letter formation movements are often forgotten, causing letter reversals and incorrectly formed letter shapes, which can make joining a very slow process to learn. A poor and often slow handwriting style can develop as font styles are mixed and capital letters are used inappropriately. Combined, these difficulties can cause poor presentation, spelling and legibility issues.

Poor visual memory skills make handwriting difficult as the ability to recall how letters look and reproduce them with appropriate spacing and positioning is partially or completely lost. This leads to poor letter formation skills, letter reversal along with spelling and presentation difficulties.

Visual memory and motor memory skills are linked and so a game or activity that supports one is likely to support the other.

For games and activities ideas to support and develop these skills use this links: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-motor-skills.html

Too much Pressure or not Enough – #Handwriting?

Some children may hold a pencil correctly but struggle to maintain and control the pressure required to handwrite.

Here are some additional tips to help support a child who is pressing down too hard with their pencil:

Focused games and activities can develop both the physical strength and sensory perception areas.

  • Make sure that the pencil isn’t gripped too close to the tip of the pencil (check out the how to teach section for more information).
  • Play dough writing – flatten a large piece of play dough/clay on to a desk and using a pencil write or draw onto it. The idea is to create smooth lines, not torn ones, which pressing too hard will create. The advantage of this activity is it gives a child instant feedback about whether they are pressing too hard or not. When a good pressure has been found ask the child to try doing it with their eyes closed and talk through how their body feels when they are using the right amount of pressure.
  • Corrugated card – place some corrugated card under the writing paper – the aim is to try not to flatten the bumps in the card.
  • Tin foil writing board – wrap a piece of card in tin foil and place the paper on top, the aim is to not rip the foil when writing.
  • Carbon copies – use carbon paper to create an extra copy, start with two or three sheets of paper on top of the carbon paper then move to two and then one, so that your child starts developing an understanding of how much pressure is needed for a task and how that feels. Talk through with them how it feels as they need less pressure to create a copy.
  • Pattern work – look at and discuss light and dark line patterns and how to create them. Then using different writing tools ask the child to try and create their own. Talk through how it feels when they are making dark lines compared to faint/pale colour lines using the same pencil or crayon.

Here are some additional tips to help support a child who is Not pressing down hard enough with their pencil:

Focused games and activities can help develop the physical strength and sensory perception areas.

  • Crayon rubbings – when a good pressure has been found ask the child to try doing it with their eyes closed and talk through how their body feels when they are using the right amount of pressure.
  • Wax drawings – rub a wax crayon all over a piece of paper then turn it over on to a plain piece of paper. Draw on the back of the wax crayoned paper and when finished lift and see another copy of the picture. The greater the pressure the more complete the hidden picture will appear.
  • Carbon copies – use carbon paper to create an extra copy, start with one sheet of paper on top of the carbon paper then move to two so that the child starts to develop an understanding of how much pressure is needed for a task and how that feels.
  • Use a softer pencil such as a B6 or B4 and slowly change the pencils so that they work up to a HB. Each pencil change will mean they have to exert a little more pressure to create the same line mark. B marked pencils are softer than H.
  • Pattern work – look at and discuss light and dark line patterns and how to create them. Then using different writing tools ask the child to try and create their own. Talk through how it feels when they are making dark lines compared to faint/pale colour lines using the same pencil or crayon.

Hand Swapping Issues?

Hand Swapping is a normal developmental stage in infants and young children and therefore, at this stage, not a sign that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand. However, this is not ideal for a child who has started school.

Hand swapping throughout a task is not necessarily a sign that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand.

There are two routes to tackling the hand swapping issue, the one to use depends on your answers to the following questions.

1. Does the child usually start with the one hand and then swap when that hand gets tired?

You can usually tell if this is the case because they may shake out or rub the tired hand and once it is rested go back to using it again. This is probably because their fine motor skills are weak. Through focused games and activities (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-muscles.html#hand ), the muscle strength and dexterity can be gradually built up in the dominant hand, which in turn will build their stamina so that the hand swapping will reduce until they stop it altogether.

Once you are sure of dominance gently discourage swapping hands by taking a break from the activity and coming back to it a couple of minutes later using the preferred hand.

2. Does the child use their left hand if items are presented on their left-hand side and their right hand if they are presented on the right-hand side?

In toddlers and young children this is expected. In older children however it could mean that they have developed a delay in their skill to cross the mid-line point. This developmental bilateral coordination skill is vital to develop and can be addresses through a range of simple games and activities (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-muscles.html#bilat ).

Paper Position & Tilt are Important for Good Handwriting

The paper position and tilt on the desk, for both right and left-handed writers, can make a big difference to a child’s handwriting experience and comfort and yet it is an element which is often neglected.

The correct paper position and tilt enables your child to handwrite comfortably while being able to see what they are writing. It also allows the non-writing hand to move the paper up the table so that the writing hand elbow can stay in the same position. The aim is to have the paper move up the table, rather than the writing hand moving down and eventually off the table.

With the non-writing hand moving the paper up the table the writing line stays in the same place which means eye movements are less, helping to make the writing experience less tiring and stressful.

If the paper is positioned and tilted correctly, with their writing hand under the writing line, they will also be able to see more easily what they have just written and where to place the next letter, word or section of text on the page. This is especially important for left-handed writers.

The most appropriate paper tilt angle is generally suggested as anywhere between 20 to 45 degrees anti-clockwise for right-handed writers and 30 to 45 degrees clockwise for left-handed writers.

For more tips and advice on developing a good paper position and tilt:

For Parents: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/paper-position.html

For Teachers: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/paper-position-for-comfortable-handwriting.html

Why do Children Fidget or Appear Bored When Handwriting?

There are two key elements that can cause a child to fidget or appear bored when handwriting, both relate to being able to sit correctly:

  1. The height of the table and chair.
  2. The child’s physical core strength.

Table and Chair Height

A poor and uncomfortable sitting position that causes a child to fidget and wriggle about affects their ability to concentrate and pay attention; for example, when listening to a teacher, as well as distracting them from the task and breaking their train of thought. It also puts unnecessary strain on the body, making sitting tasks such as handwriting more tiring.

When a child is sitting on a chair too high for them, they may sit swinging their legs, causing the body to rock slightly. They might wrap their legs around the legs of the chair to stop them aching, which is not good for their circulation and can cause them to lean back away from the table top. Some children will sit with their legs underneath their bottom which often causes them to lean too far over the table due to being off balance, once again not good for their circulation or for handwriting and other fine motor skill activities such as eating or drawing.

If a table is too high for a child, they will have their arms raised too high, causing tension in the upper arms and shoulders or they may rest their head on the table. Both have a profound effect on a child’s ability to handwrite with fluidity, comfort and for any period of time. Another result of this is a child fidgets as they try to readjust their position to get comfortable, which in turn distracts them from the task at hand. 

For tips and ideas on how to help a child develop a good sitting posture and position for handwriting check out our FAQ section of the ‘Sitting’ section on the Parent area of our website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/sitting-faq.html

Teachers will find useful information using this link to our website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-sitting-position-desk.html

Sitting and Core Strength

We often see children slouched over a desk, laying their head on the table or with their head propped up by their hand and arm, or fidgeting about while they are sitting at the desk writing. This can look as if they are bored and disinterested in what they are doing. However, this is not generally the case.

A poor posture position is not always due to boredom or incorrect chair and table height. For some children it is a lack of body strength or core muscle tone (the large muscle groups that control shoulder stability and the trunk of the body) that work to enable us to sit and stand upright for sustained periods of time.

We expect our children to sit at a desk for long periods of time at school. To be able to maintain a good sitting position for writing over any length of time requires good core strength. Those who lack strong core strength tend to slouch over the desk, lay their head on the desk, hold their head in their hand or pull their chair in so far that they can rest their tummy on the edge of the table to help them keep a more upright position.

This is bad for them, as it puts unnecessary strain on the body, causing neck or backache and discomfort, which in turn make them fidget as they try to get comfortable. All this can distract them from the task in hand and limit their handwriting ability as it reduces their hand and fingers movements to handwrite freely.

For more information, games and activities on developing a child’s core strengths check out our ‘Play’ section of the Parents area of our website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/games.html

Teachers will find useful information using this link to our website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-difficulties.html