Parenting: 6 Tips for improving kids handwriting

6 Tips for improving your child's handwriting

Four years ago I was a massively frustrated parent. My then 7-year-old daughter was learning to write, and was equally frustrated. So was her teacher. All three of us were struggling, but each with a different problem. I wanted her handwriting to be neater, more legible. Her Year 2 teacher thought she was capable of better content, more description and depth in her writing. My daughter just wanted to be left alone and given an easy life.

I was tough on her, knowing she was capable of more, aware that she rushed through her work because she didn’t enjoy it. Her teachers were tough on her, losing patience with her in class when she didn’t try to produce the work they knew she could. She was tough on herself, taking out her frustration in tantrums and scribbles.

So when her brother came to the same stage, and declared himself “rubbish at writing,” I was determined to change things as soon as possible.

Oh, he’s a boy” they said. “Don’t worry, he’ll catch up eventually. He’s young for his year, isn’t he? He’s doing really well to be middle of the class then!”

But I knew my child, and I knew he was frustrated with not being able to get the words in his head out onto the paper in the allotted time in class. He compared himself to the girl he sat next to, who managed 3 sides of neatly-written A4 to his 10 lines of illegible scrawl.

He had decided he was good at science, but bad at literacy, so he had low expectations of himself before he even began. For me, attitude is so important to achieving anything. As a runner, I know that the minute I tell myself I can’t go on, I will stop, and that will be the end of my run. When I focus on going that little bit further, I always surprise myself with how far I can run.

So I persevered. I went to see his headteacher and insisted. In his next literacy session, his teacher sat with him and ‘scribed.’ This means that instead of writing, the child tells the story that is in his head, while someone else puts it onto paper. That afternoon I walked into school to find 2 pages of fabulous descriptive writing up on the wall, with my son’s name underneath it.

He has the best vocabulary in the class – probably even in the year group!” the teacher declared. “No wonder he’s so frustrated.”

And suddenly it dawned on me that learning to write is not just about forming the letters. I started asking him to tell me stories that I could write down for him. I pointed out brilliant descriptive passages in texts whenever I read to him. I talked about the different styles of writing we came across in The Hobbit, compared to his favourite David Walliams books. And I would ask him to give me his best adjectives for things we came across in everyday life.

Still, though, he struggled with handwriting, and the frustration continued. Eventually I decided we needed some outside help, and I booked him a tutor for 6 sessions, hoping it would get him over a hurdle, and make the process of getting thoughts onto paper a little easier for him. These were some of the tips we picked up from her.

6 Tips for improving kids handwriting

5 tips for improving kids handwriting

  • Pencil grasp is crucial, and needs to be nailed when young, before a bad habit sets in. The Bug doesn’t have the perfect grasp, so we’re hoping the Stabilo pens we were given recently will help retrain his fingers. They have comfortable grip positions for each finger, to encourage the correct position.
  • Try to get hold of a school-style exercise book (pictured above). It helps children to know where the letters should sit in relation to each other.
  • If children get bored of actually writing, get them to trace shapes. They don’t need to be tricky – in fact, a circle is probably the best practice, as it’s all about following a smooth but transitioning line. There are plenty of books to practice letter tracing for different ages.
  • Remind children about spelling, especially if it’s an often-used word, but don’t let spelling detail interrupt flow. Focus on spellings in a different session, when the writing is not about descriptive and creative processes.
  • When small hands get tired, take a break and focus on literacy – ask the child to come up with some brilliant descriptors and talk about adjectives or adverbs.
  • Ask children to fill in missing words in a story you’ve made, to get them thinking about different adjectives and nouns. We got this idea from National Geographic Kids magazine, who provide a challenge in each issue.

It took six weekly sessions for the penny to drop with my son, for him to believe in himself when it came to his writing. Although he still gets frustrated about the time it takes him, he perseveres more these days, and tries hard to be neater. Recently he achieved a Rainbow award at school for the first time in literacy. (It’s a standing joke in our house that he normally gets awards for ‘sitting nicely on the carpet’)!

And what of that frustrated girl? Last year, aged 9, she produced this. Just this week she received 3 house points for her poetry. I can’t wait to read it!

Child's writing at KS2 Year 4

* We were sent an EASYgraph pencil from Stabilo to help with The Bug’s writing. All opinion and editorial is our own. Some links may be affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy. 

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25 thoughts on “Parenting: 6 Tips for improving kids handwriting”

  1. I just had to read this as my 13yo son has the worst writing imaginable! Teachers have been on his case since year 1 and he still hasn’t got it sorted. It’s a worry as he starts his GCSE courses next year and he’s going to let himself down massively. Like your kids, there is so much more going on in his head that he his capable of, but that isn’t reflected by what is on the paper. His best weeks ever at school were when he was in year 4, aged 8, and had a broken arm. For two lovely weeks, a TA scribed for him!

    Reply
    • Oh goodness it’s hard for them isn’t it? Maybe he’ll be better as a typist? My brother has the most awful writing, but he has an incredibly well-paid job as a lawyer, so it’s not all bad. And then there are doctors – notorious…

      Reply
  2. I’ve used the Stabilo pens and pencils with my children. My 6 year old doesn’t have the best writing, but he will happily write all day, I’m really hoping his little brother follows a similar path.
    Your daughter’s writing is lovely. She’s clearly also a writer x

    Reply
  3. Some nice tips, I hate trying to teach my kids handwriting as mine is so awful! I think sometimes we can place too much emphasis on handwriting, what matters in my eyes (I’m sure not everyone’s) is the content.

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  4. This is great Helen, so handy. It really is so much more than forming letters. Ozzy’s speech problems effect his handwriting and spelling at the moment, and his speech therapy continues. Although I’m not worried I do feel his frustration at not being able to get down what he wants x

    Reply
    • Exactly! I know his writing will be great in time, but it’s hard when it’s making him frustrated to sit by and just wait. Hope Ozzy makes good progress x

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  5. That’s really useful info. My little ones aren’t at school age yet, but we are trying to teach the oldest letter recognition and forming letters. She holds a pen well so I’m hoping that will help. I’m going to try to bear in mind the extra confidence that tutoring can give children so that I get them some extra help if they’re struggling with anything.x

    Reply
  6. This is great advice! My oldest is almost 3 and he loves to color. He also loves his letters, so I really want to creatively teach him to write before he gets to school age. Thanks for the motivation!

    Melissa –

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  7. What beautiful writing.
    I think writing is an important skill but I do hate that children are forced to learn joined up writing to only go and move onto using computers most of the time at secondary (my 11 year old has a school laptop and hardly uses paper at all). My youngest is struggling with writing (they even tried a tablet at school) so this was a very useful post – thank you.

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    • Ah I have this debate with friends and family all the time. I’m a bit old-fashioned and think that handwriting is important, but so many believe it will become completely unnecessary over time. Shame!

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  8. Amazing! Like mother like son! “He has the best vocabulary in the class – probably even in the year group!”

    I bet there are so many gifted children out there but the parents and teacher give up too soon, the children become frustrated and start telling themselves they are bad at something. When you believe you are bad at something you become bad at something. And when you have supportive, encouraging parents that have high expectations you tend to achieve a lot. Even Einstein was once thought to be academically useless 🙂

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    • I always forget that about Einstein, but you’re right! Kids just need time, inspiration, and sometimes to hit on their particular thing. Thanks for the comment.

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  9. I fear that poor handwriting runs in my family.

    There’s a much bigger focus on handwriting in the new curriculum… let’s hope it breaks my family curse!

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  10. It was really interesting to read your article. I was a primary school teacher and often had parents expressing similar concerns and frustrations about their child’s handwriting. I’m also a parent and naturally wanted my children’s writing to be legible and neat as well as having good content and spelling.

    Most schools have a handwriting policy. In order that it be successful however, it should be taught consistently and regularly throughout every year group in school. Beginning young is important in order that the correct skills can be developed. Handwriting, and being able to achieve a flow of pencil across paper, also helps children with spelling.

    Some children find developing their handwriting more difficult than others. Some naturally have better co-ordination and fine motor skills. With those children who struggle we need to give them extra support and always praise and build upon any small improvements they make (finger spaces, words sitting on the line, ascenders below the line and so on).

    As in your 6 Tips – holding a pencil correctly is crucial. Once a child is in the habit of holding a pencil incorrectly it is almost impossible to change. Pencils are thin and have bevelled sides making them difficult for young children to grip sufficiently well. As a result, they find manipulating them and applying sufficient pressure on the paper, difficult. A good tip is to allow children to write using felt tips. These are easier for them to hold, as the shaft is thicker and more rounded than a pencil. Also, the nib is thicker than the point of a pencil. I found that pencil grips worked for some children but not for others.

    It’s important when encouraging young children to be confident, independent writers that we don’t get bogged down with handwriting and make them “afraid” to put pencil to paper. Balance is the key. Spelling and handwriting as well as good vocabulary are intrinsic in becoming a successful writer. When I discussed a child’s piece of writing with them, I would feedback on elements of content, spelling and handwriting that I thought they could try and improve on next time. In regards to handwriting, I would perhaps demonstrate writing a particular letter they needed to practice, as I would a spelling, and then ask them to spend a few minutes practising.

    As you say, perseverance is the key, not only in terms of the child but the parent and teacher too. We should have high expectations of all children. They all have the ability to succeed given the right support.

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  11. Hi my 6yo boy has just returned to senior infants in Sept. At pickup today I got the…… can you pop in to me to talk about his writing…….
    To be honest , part of me thinks he’s 6 and it more important that he’s enjoying school and being active….
    Meeting her next Monday, and thanks for all the tips!

    Reply
    • Although…. I would be grateful for that input from the school tbh. With my girl it clicked around year 4, but my son has been a different matter. He’s now in year 5 and it hasn’t really clicked yet. It will, but he’s reached the stage where it’s starting to frustrate him, and I wish the infant school had taken it more seriously at the time. I did ask for help because I knew he was finding it hard, but they didn’t really want to go there, as he wasn’t a priority at the time. It’s all so difficult to balance, isn’t it? But I totally agree, at that age, the most important thing is that they find learning fun. Good luck with the teachers 🙂

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  12. Oh my goodness, I know this is an old article, but in frustration with my son, I have turned to Google to help him with his writing, and his reluctance to even pick up a pencil; your article was the first one to pop up.

    It’s like I’m reading my own frustrations, I could have written every word, and can totally understand everything you’ve said!

    I’m going to the shops tonight and will see what grippy pencils I can find, and will dig out an old exercise book.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you – I’m not the only one!

    Reply
    • Ahh thanks so much for commenting Rebecca. I really hope hope the tips help. If you can’t find the ergonomic pens and pencils, you can get slide-on grips that will fit most standard pencils. And to offer further hope, I can tell you that I no longer worry about my son’s writing. He’s just about to go into year 6, and he’s been writing neatly for a while now (though it’s still not his favourite thing to do 🙂 ). Good luck!

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  13. My son is in 5 the std. His handwriting is bad I. e. not understood properly. I try mostly but invain. So pls suggest for good handwriting.

    Reply
    • Hi Netram, sorry to hear this – I know how frustrating it is. How old is your son? I really have found that having the correct pencil grip makes the biggest difference. So keep correcting his grip, and keep him practising, little and often, with something that he finds fun. How about a crossword puzzle, or a wishlist for his next birthday? Often children will write if they can see it has some other purpose that they buy into! I also was recommended an occupational therapist, to assess whether there was an underlying problem like dyslexia, or hypermobility. Often once these issues are discovered and treated properly, handwriting improves. Good luck!

      Reply

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