School Reports – Handwriting Improvements Needed!
So, the school report has been received and you have been told that your child needs to improve their handwriting.
This is all well and good, but what exactly needs improving?
What are they finding difficult and how on earth do you write a continuous cursive z?
So, you eventually get some handwriting practice sheets home or off the web. But no amount of time spent doing them seems to make much difference. It seemed to take longer to get them started than they spent practising handwriting. In fact they seemed worse because they were unhappy and frustrated with their own progress, so the more you try to push them the more resistant they become. Eventually you think there has to be a better way than this?
Doing more of what you are already struggling with is not always the answer. Handwriting is a complex skill to learn and there are a number of reasons why a child may be struggling.
To check that your child’s handwriting skill base is appropriate for their age, and/or to find where you are best focusing support at home, check out the parent section of our website, I would suggest looking at the following section first:
Supporting your child’s handwriting development can be fun using physical games and activities. To check if your child needs extra physical strength support or has other specific learning needs check out these areas in the parent section of our website:
With the summer holidays coming up it is a great time for you to be able to observe and assess your child’s key physical strengths and skills. Armed with this knowledge you can play games and do activities which then help them to develop the strengths and skills which may be holding them back and making handwriting a difficult task to master.
It is important to check and know which letter formations are being taught in school and that this is what you teach at home. Otherwise you will only be causing more frustration and stress for your child.
Tracing has been an activity frequently presented to encourage young children to learn how to form letter shapes, especially in early years teaching.
However, current research suggests that encouraging young children to free write is a more powerful way of engaging the brain to learn how to form letters when compared to tracing them.
Learning to handwrite requires a child to remember which shape they want to make (visual memory) and how to make it (motor memory).
Here at Teach Handwriting we feel that traditional pencil tracing activities are not a particularly effective way to teach children pre-handwriting patterns and letter formations. This is because children are often so focused on controlling the writing tool around the shape that they do not fully engage their motor memory storage and visual memory skills.
We believe that finger tracing a pre-handwriting pattern or letter shape is more effective than pencil tracing. The greater resistance provided by finger tracing stimulates a child’s nervous system, instantly making them aware of their actions and helping them to focus on the movement by engaging both the motor memory and visual memory. This information is initially stored in their short-term memory but, with continued practise, moves to their long-term memory. Having to think less about how to form the shape, because they can subconsciously recall how to make it, allows a child to then concentrate on controlling the pencil.
Looking at a few different school websites and queries from parents this week we found that some think that Cursive is just short for Continuous Cursive. In fact, they are two different handwriting font styles:
- The letters start at different points (the same as print letters).
- The finishing points for all the letters is at the writing line (with a small exit stroke); except for, o, r, v and w, which have a top exit stroke.
- The single letter formations are taught with just the exit strokes.
- When cursive is joined the first letter in the word does not have an entry stroke for example:
- The starting point for all the letters is the same; on the writing line.
- The finishing points for all the letters is also at the writing line; except for, o, r, v and w, which have a top exit stroke.
- The single letter formations are taught with the entry and exit strokes, this makes the transition from single letter formation to joined handwriting very straightforward and allows it to occur sooner.
- When continuous cursive is joined the first letter in the word has an entry stroke for example:
Be aware, some schools will say they are teaching a Cursive font when in fact they are teaching a Continuous Cursive font.
Poor bilateral coordination skills not only have an impact on handwriting but also many other day to day tasks such as the ability to get dressed quickly, pick up and carry objects as well as the use of a knife and fork and scissors.
It can also affect a child’s sporting abilities, hindering their ability to run, skip, catch, throw and kick effectively. The consequence being that they are put off playing sport and participating in physical activities, which in turn hinders their bilateral coordination development, a kind of ‘Catch 22’ situation.
The impact of this is becoming more wide spread with the popularity of fun and engaging computer gaming and a greater use of touch screen devices as children may not be getting the opportunities they would have had in the past to fully develop their bilateral coordination skills.
Bilateral coordination refers to the use of the left and right sides of the body, needed for coordination and well-balanced movement, including those that require movements such as the left arm moving across the body to the right-hand side (crossing the mid-line point).
These skills are learnt and developed through everyday play and activities and need to be practised.
Learning to cross the mid-line point is one of the stages to developing handedness (hand dominance): http://bit.ly/2VlGfDH
To check your child’s bilateral skills and development try our quick and simple bilateral coordination assessment activities: http://bit.ly/2C7xYwq
For fun physical activities to help build and encourage your child’s bilateral coordination skills check out this section in our gross and fine motor skills page: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7
Often good handwriting is associated with how neat and lovely it looks. Beautiful penmanship is not a guarantee of quality. Some children will spend ages forming their letters so that the piece looks great but have not produced a well composed piece of work.
So, what do we consider the important elements to a good handwriting style:
- a fluid hand movement that is comfortable;
- letters are of a consistent and appropriate size and positioned correctly;
- that the writer can produce and maintain a good handwriting speed;
- that it is completely legible to others.
Here at Teach Handwriting we believe that learning to join letters increases the accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility of handwriting. However, we also recognise that for some SEND children learning to join their handwriting may not be a logical option. However, this does not mean that using a single letter font style stops them from handwriting with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility (though it may never be as fast as a joined font).
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!
Some children find it difficult to space their letters in words correctly and to show spacing between words. There can be a number of reasons for this:
- They may not understand the concept or conventions of spacing words and letters and this needs to be explained.
- Other Physical Skills such as poor spatial awareness skills, eye tracking or general eyesight.
- Poor Key Strengths and/or Key Abilities elements, required for handwriting, such as sitting position, paper position, pencil grip, hand position and letter formation knowledge may also be hindering them.
1. ‘Tips to support letter and word spacing’ will help you to identify if your child is having difficulty in understanding the spacing conventions and how to support them: http://bit.ly/2LynVrn
2. Our ‘Other Physical Skills’ assessment will help you to identify if your child’s spatial awareness or eye tracking skills may be affecting their spacing skills: http://bit.ly/2P5jS44
If you are not sure then book an eye test for your child, just to be on the safe side, it could be they need glasses.
3. Our step by step ‘Overcoming Handwriting Difficulties’ guide will support you in identifying other possible reasons for your child’s letter and spacing issues: http://bit.ly/2C7xYwq
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 more information on how to identify motor memory and visual memory difficulties see our Other Physical Skills Assessment: http://bit.ly/2P5jS44
For games and activities to help support and develop these skills use this links: http://bit.ly/2M350S1
Eye tracking and/or spatial awareness difficulties can have a dramatic effect on a child’s handwriting ability. Weak skills in these key areas make it difficult for children to form letters correctly (curves and lines often not joining to complete the letter shape), as well as being unable to appropriately space letters in words and words in sentences. Other poor presentation skills include being unable to write on lines and often missing lines out when following on with a sentence.
It is also worth pointing out that a child with poor eye tracking and/or spatial awareness skills will also find reading difficult.
For more information on how to identify eye tracking and spatial awareness difficulties as well as activities to help support and develop these skills use these links:
It can be difficult to identify why a child is having trouble learning to handwrite fluidly and with speed. This is because handwriting is a complex skill, requiring both physical skills (Key Strengths) and the knowledge (Key Abilities) of how to form and join letters correctly.
Where do you start?
Follow our step by step guide to identify where the problem may lie and then work with the child using our suggested solutions: http://bit.ly/2uFcUJF
Don’t miss the early steps, even though you think they may not be relevant to an older learner, as the child may be struggling because they have either missed an earlier stage of physical development or teaching.
Sometimes children need to be taken back before they can move forward.