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Improving Handwriting Skills

Child holding pencil while writing at desk.

Good handwriting will help your child learn more and be more confident.

Children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other serious illnesses may have problems with handwriting. Some children do not develop the skills they need to write clearly. Other children and teens may lose the ability to write because of their disease or its treatment.

It is important for children and teens to learn to write clearly. The ability to write can affect how well a child does in school. Children who have problems writing by hand may not be able to keep up with their schoolwork. If they have to think about how to form letters, they may not focus on what is being taught.

Good handwriting will help your child learn more and be more confident.

To write well, children must move their eyes, arms, hands, and fingers at the same time. The child must have:

  • Perceptual skills: The ability to identify shapes and letters
  • Motor skills: The strength and body control to move a pencil

These skills are affected by:

  • How well a child can see
  • How they think
  • How strong they are
  • How well they can move their fingers or wrists

The following instructions and activities can help your child’s handwriting skills improve.

How to sit

When writing, your child should:

  • Keep legs and hips at 90-degree angles.
  • Place feet flat on the floor. Put cushions or telephone books under the feet if needed.
  • Keep a straight back with the child’s bottom touching the back of the chair.
  • Place the paper at a 45-degree angle. Here is how you do this:
    • Lay the paper straight up and down on the table.
    • Tilt the top left corner down 45 degrees for a right-handed person.
    • Tilt the top left corner up 45 degrees for a left-handed person.

Grasping skills

Your child can get better at grasping things by using these items:

  • Tongs or tweezers: Have your child hold tongs or tweezers with the first and middle fingers and thumb. As a game, have your child pick up items such as marbles and beads.
  • An eye dropper: Have your child squeeze an eye dropper with the first finger, middle finger, and thumb.
  • A top: Have your child spin a top only using the first finger and thumb.

Pre-writing skills

The following activities will help your child get used to using a pencil and making shapes:

  • Copy basic lines and shapes
  • Connect-the-dots
  • Solve simple mazes
  • Trace shapes with a finger or a stick
  • Draw shapes into dry or wet sand, rice, or shaving cream
  • Place a piece of paper over templates or textured materials and use crayons to color the textures

Fun writing activities

The more a child practices, the better they can write. Help make it fun for your child with the games below:

  • Trace or copy letters.
  • Trace letters with a finger or a larger stick.
  • “Draw” letters in the air with finger, pencil, or favorite toy.
  • Write letters in dry or wet sand, rice, or shaving cream.
  • Write with many different tools: colored pencils, markers, chalk, felt-tip pens, mechanical pencils, crayons, or vibrating squiggle pens.
  • Write for fun: make cards, write letters and postcards, make books.
  • Cut out letters with scissors.
  • Practice writing letters on a magnetic drawing toy or dry-erase board.

If a child does not excel in school because of poor writing skills, an occupational therapist may help.

Key points about improving handwriting skills

  • Handwriting skills help children in school and in life.
  • Simple activities can help a child improve writing skills.
  • An occupational therapist can provide extra help, if needed.

Reviewed: June 2024

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