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by Jan Z. Olsen


In today’s fast-paced computer age, handwriting seems like a forgotten art.  But the truth is that mastering handwriting sets children up for other learning successes. Handwriting builds confidence, teaches children to have an organized approach, and enhances their ability to communicate.
   Several studies show that children with good handwriting feel more confident and proud of their work, and other studies demonstrate that legible papers receive higher grades than do illegible ones. Students who don't master neat letter formation are at a disadvantage, which can impact grades on spelling tests, math quizzes, and essays. A student’s poor handwriting can be particularly detrimental during the new SAT and the standardized tests in many states that now require a handwritten essay section. While these exams aim to measure a child or teen's ability to clearly express oneself, it is imperative that the handwriting be legible and automatic in order to maximize thinking time and creative writing skills. 

   While there are new reasons to learn to handwrite, there are also improved methods of teaching this important skill.  Gone are the days of tediously practicing each letter starting with A and going through Z. The focus of today’s handwriting lessons is on developing good habits that make students legible, fluent writers. Here are some…


1. Do it correctly yourself: Remember that children learn by imitating, so make sure that YOU are holding your pencil and forming your letters correctly.

2. Sit up straight: Make sure your child can sit with her feet on the floor and her arm can move freely wherever she writes, at home or school.

3. Read: Show your children the importance of communicating through words.

4. Sing: When you sing the alphabet song, show your children the letters as you sing. Sing songs that use their fingers, like the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, and “The Crayon Song” on the Get Set For School Sing-Along CD.

5. Draw: Children who draw often, write better. For young draw-ers, give them broken pieces of chalk or crayons to use. They will have no choice but to hold these small pieces correctly!

6. Move: Teach spatial words, like under, over, top, middle, and bottom by using visual representations.  Put one hand under another,  etc.

7. Go “Top Left”: Get children in the habit of going from top to bottom and left to right.

8. Give them little bites: Encourage children, even those as young as 9 months, to pick up small objects, like tiny pieces of food, with their fingers.  It will help to develop writing muscles and good coordination.
9. Play: Encourage preschoolers to use finger paints and sponges to strengthen writing muscles and reinforce coordination.

10. Ask: Discuss with your child’s teacher what resources are available to help develop their skills.

Fun Activities Parents Can Do At Home With Kids

—Make cookie letters. Have your child form the letters by rolling the dough and putting the pieces together.

—Form letters out of French Fries.

—Use a flashlight and make letters on the wall. You or your child has to guess the letter that was made. You can also cut out letter templates to place in front of the flashlight.

—While your child is in the bathtub, have him draw letters on the wall of the tub in shaving cream or soap paint. Ceramic tiles work well as slates/gray blocks!

— Put letters on a die and have your child roll the dice. They then have to write a word that starts with the letter.

—Fish for words. Place cut out fish in a shoebox. Write words or letters on the fish. Attach paper clips to the fish and adapt a small pole with a magnet. Whichever fish the child gets, they have to come up with a word or sentence using the letter or word.

—Trace a letter on your child's back and have them guess and write the letter on a piece of paper. Take turns and have them trace a letter on your back.

—Finger paint letters.

—Write letters on the sidewalk with chalk.

—Trace letters in the snow or sand.

—Form letters out of play dough or clay.

—Make letters with pipe cleaners.

—Draw letters with your finger on the carpet.

—Decorate a letter collage using glitter, puffy paint, and markers.

—Use different types of pencils for writing practice (gel pens, colored pencils, scented markers, crayons, etc.)

—Have your children write your shopping lists.

—Have children write with icing tubes.

JAN Z. OLSEN is a pediatric occupational therapist and founder and creator of “Handwriting Without Tears”, a multi-sensory handwriting curriculum that taps the skills children master at various developmental stages and encourages a natural form of handwriting.  The pre-K readiness program won the 2004 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Educational Publishers. Olsen has specialized in child development and its application to handwriting for nearly 30 years.  

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