Tips for Supporting #Left-handed Writers

Surprisingly there are few differences when teaching left and right-handed children to handwrite. A left-handed child needs a slightly different pencil grip, and needs to hold the pencil slightly higher up the shaft, as well as a different paper position and tilt. Some left-handed children do find handwriting challenging to start with because they naturally want to draw straight lines right to left rather than left to right.

I would recommend you try the following, if you find your left-handed writers are struggling with learning to handwriting:

Handwriting is a Physical Activity

cartoon pencil hold

Handwriting with fluidity, speed, accuracy and over longer periods of time requires a complex range of whole body and hand strengths and skills. So it is not surprising that many children find handwriting challenging.

For a good handwriting style children need to develop their:

  • Gross Motor Skills – so they can sit correctly for periods of time.
  • Fine Motor Skills – so that they can hold and control the pencil and move the paper up the table as they write.
  • Motor Memory Skills – so they can recall how to form the letters.
  • Visual Memory Skills – so they recall what a particular letter looks like.
  • Spatial Awareness Skills– so they can place the letters correctly on the paper and in relation to one another.
  • Eye Tracking Skills– scanning from left to right so that the letters are formed and placed correctly.

If a child is struggling with handwriting it is important to take a closer look at their physical abilities. If they do not have all the appropriate key physical strengths to support their handwriting development getting them to do more of the paper and pencil activities is not the answer.

Our assessments are simple to complete and do not need any specialist equipment. The important elements are; your knowledge of the child and your observations of them at play and while they are engaged in normal day to day task.

You will find our assessments on the ‘Key Strengths needed for handwriting’ page: http://bit.ly/2D1RKKs

A better understanding of a child’s key skills abilities enables you to focus more effectively, through targeted physical games and activities, to help them build and develop their skills.

You will find ‘Games to build gross and fine motor skills’ here: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7  and ‘Games for the other physical skills’ such as visual memory and eye tracking here: http://bit.ly/2M350S1

Handwriting is such an important skill as it engages the neurological pathways and working memory in a way that pressing a keyboard just doesn’t; so once mastered it helps to open up the doorways to other literacy skills such as phonics, reading, spelling and composition.

Half-term Fun – Clothes Peg Games

Clothes peg games 2

Some fun indoor activities may be the order of the day for this half term as the weather is not so hot.

This is a very simple idea which children love because they can take greater ownership of it. The aim of the activity is to help build up hand and finger strength through using the pegs; however it can have a dual purpose, helping to keep track of the week by using it as a timetable or for learning spellings or maths activities, as well as supporting the development of language skills.

You do not need anything fancy, just some string (for the washing line), clothes pegs and pieces of paper or card to peg onto the washing line. The washing line can be a permanent fixture or you can just pop it up when you need to use it.

The clothes line needs to be at a height suitable for your child to peg things on to (placed against a wall is a safe option so that no-one can walk into it by accident and hurt themselves).

There are a whole range of games that can be played using this simple washing line and pegs concept:

  1. Memory games – Get your child to peg up 5 to 10 different pictures or items on the line. Then give them 1 minute to remember the items. Once the time is up ask them to look away, or close their eyes, and then you remove one or more of the items. Get them to look back at the line. Can they work out what is missing?
    • You could try just moving one or two of the items around. Can they figure out which ones are in the wrong place and put them back in their correct place?
    • Try swapping an item for something new, which your child did not hang up on the line. Can they work out which is the new item on the line?
  1. Odd One Out – Hang pictures on the line that belong together. Can they pick out the odd item on the line and explain why it is the odd one out.
    • They could all be pictures of fruit with a picture of some clothing
    • They could be shapes with straight sides and one with curves
    • They could all be animals but all are wild with only one being domestic
  1. Sorting – Ask your child to sort all the pictures or items from a selection and to hang all the identical things on the washing line. They could all be the same;
    • Colour
    • Shape
    • Type
  1. Pattern Work – Using pictures, different colour and shaped paper or items create different patterns. The patterns can be based on colour, size or type of object. You can create a pattern sequence on the washing line and then ask your child to try and copy the sequence. Can they explain the pattern and create their own for you to copy and explain?
  1. Pairing or What is the Same? – Hang a range of pictures or items on the line, making sure that some of the items can be paired together because they are exactly the same. They could match because;
    • They are exactly the same e.g. a pair of socks
    • Match numbers to a picture with the same number of items on
    • Match capital to lower-case letters
    • Or have items that can be put together because they are both from the same set, for example they are types of fruit or are the same colour.

Tips for Supporting Left-handed Writers

Left Tips 1

Surprisingly there are few differences when teaching left and right-handed children to handwrite. A left-handed child needs a slightly different pencil grip, and needs to hold the pencil slightly higher up the shaft, as well as a different paper position and tilt. Some left-handed children do find handwriting challenging to start with because they naturally want to draw straight lines right to left rather than left to right.

I would recommend you try the following, if you find your left-handed writers are struggling with learning to handwriting:

Why do Children Fidget or Appear Bored When Handwriting?

Boy writng head leaning on handBoy writing with head on table

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 (http://bit.ly/2Oq29nP)
  2. The child’s physical core strength (http://bit.ly/2D1RKKs)

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 ‘Sitting’ section on the website.

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 the Key Strengths section of our website.

Summer Fun – Part 3 – Get Cooking!

Cooking is a great fun way to practise getting both hands to work together. This helps to develop coordination, hand and finger strength and dexterity skills; all skills required for handwriting. However, it is amazing how much talk can come from this as well, not just at the time with you, but when they share the day’s experience with others later on (developing their phonological awareness).

An added benefit at this time of year is that you can do ‘Pick Your Own’. Getting out and about and encouraging your child to pick their own fruit is not only great fun but another sneaky way of working on their hand and finger strength.

There are so many recipes, especially online, for making quick easy great tasting food.

So, if the sun is shining, or it is just not raining, get out there find your local ‘Pick Your Own’ and get cooking!

Summer Fun – Part 2 – Think more Play, Play and Play!!!

Summer Play B1

We are half way through the summer holidays, six weeks may have seemed like a long time but it is amazing how quickly it is passing.

The last thing you and your child probably want to think about right now is handwriting and getting ready for next term; and quite right too!

So, don’t think about it in the conventional way of practise, practise and practise.

Think more play, play and play!!!

Children learn so much through just playing; developing physical and mental strengths and skills, which all support them at school and with learning. Once introduced to a new game or activity children will very often take it and make it their own, making new rules and introducing extra characters or challenges.

The skill as a parent is remembering to let go of your preconceived ideas about how a game should be played and letting your child take the initiative.

If you provide the opportunities it is amazing how they will take on the challenge of inventing a new game or (in their eyes) improving an existing one.

This does not have to cost a penny; use the toys they already have or make games using empty plastic bottles or cardboard tubes.

The following types of play can support and develop the key strengths and skills your child needs for handwriting and you have not had to mention school or homework.

  • The local play park is a fantastic free resource; running, jumping, crawling and climbing can all be encouraged. If your child is a little reluctant then it may well be that they are unsure how to do some of these activities. Explain when jumping that they needed to land on their feet and bend their knees as they land. Start small and as their confidence grows so does the height or distance they jump. Climbing can be scary for some children so again explain how to climb, moving one hand or foot at a time so that there are always three other points of contact.
  • If you are lucky enough to have a garden then mud play is messy but so much fun, it can be contained in a small area and will not only make you a cool adult but, if you join in, it will knock years off you (have a go, it is a great free therapy session).
  • Skittle games are always fun, extend the activity by decorating the skittles (plastic bottles or cardboard tubes) using anything from crayons, paint or even dress them up as people or animals.

Handwriting Letter & Word Spacing Issues

spacing issues 8729

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:

  1. They may not understand the concept or conventions of spacing words and letters and this needs to be explained.
  2. Other Physical Skills such as poor spatial awareness skills, eye tracking or general eyesight.
  3. 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

Why is it so important to correct a poor body posture for handwriting tasks?

Boy head on desk 2

We expect our children to sit and write at a desk for longer periods of time at school and this can become very challenging for some children. Handwriting is a very physical task requiring good gross and fine motor skills. A weakness in either, or both, of these areas can be why a child struggles with longer handwriting tasks.

Children with a poor body posture often slouched over a desk, laying their head on the table or with their head propped up by their hand and arm 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 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 many 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).

This is bad for them, as it puts unnecessary strain on the body, causing neck or backache and discomfort, which in turn makes 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 finger movements.

You can use our simple online Key Strengths assessment to check your child’s core strength (gross motors skills): http://bit.ly/2C7xYwq or use our core strength development games and activities to support your child: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7

Identifying Poor Eye Tracking and Spatial Awareness Skills in Handwriting

Eyes

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: