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Developing Children's Handwriting: Strategies and Activities

© Beverley Paine

[an excerpt from Developing Children's Handwriting, a Practical Homeschooling Booklet, by Beverley Paine, available from Always Learning Books.]

There are several ways in which you can help your children develop their handwriting skills. The following are a selection to help you begin thinking about the processes involved. There is never any ‘right’ way of learning. The more strategies you develop to help your children learn the more successful they will be.

Present your young children with as many opportunities for tracing, either with their fingers, arms, pointing sticks, writing utensils, etc. They can trace shapes, pictures, letters, numbers, symbols, straight or curved lines, etc. As children get older and more skilled at writing find more complicated and sophisticated tracing activities, such as maps or mandalas.

You and the child vocalise the movement of the hand, direction, starting place, etc. when writing or scribing, e.g.

  • when I write h, I start at the top, I move the pencil down and then back up, around and down ;
  • to write a c, the pencil starts on the right and moves smoothly up, to the left, around, down, and then curls up as if it were going to return to the starting point.

Using this type of language has the added bonus of developing spatial mathematical understanding. You can also use imaginative language - often how you verbally illustrate the physical processes involved in handwriting will depend on the
individual situation, child or writing purpose.

Encourage your children to discuss and experiment with the feeling and sensation of movement and position when writing, e.g.:

  • write with eyes closed;
  • focus eyes on the movement of the writing instrument;
  • focus eyes on the movement of the arm, hand or fingers;
  • focus eyes on the marks appearing on the writing surface;
  • have another person guide arm movement .

Using all of the senses to learn handwriting skills will promote successful outcomes for all children. Concentrating on visual learning works for some children better than others, but all benefit from using methods which encourage using all senses.

Children discuss the shape and orientation of letters, and discuss similarities and differences discovered, e.g.:

  • n and u
  • f and j
  • b and d

Make a ‘handwriting file’ for each of your children and keep it with writing utensils and different writing media (different colours and grades of paper, card, etc.). You can direct each child to use the file as the need arises, for practice in specific handwriting skills. The file could contain:

  • examples of a particular handwriting style and practice worksheets;
  • pattern cards with basic shapes and patterns for copying;
  • tracing cards with tracing paper (or tracing picture books from supermarkets or newsagents);
  • activities to do with examples to copy, e.g. postcards, shopping lists, birthday and other celebration cards, envelopes for addressing, etc.

Children experiment with different surfaces for writing, e.g.:

  • sand
  • plastic
  • newspaper
  • cardboard
  • wood
  • textured paper
  • material
  • foil

Children experiment with different handwriting implements, e.g.:

  • crayon
  • lead pencils or varying softness or hardness
  • coloured pencils
  • pens, ball point and felt tip
  • texta colour
  • chalk
  • soft rock such as ochre
  • stick or twig
  • feather
  • charcoal
  • brush
  • pen and ink

Children experiment with different handwriting positions, e.g.:

  • at a table
  • lying down
  • standing
  • leaning against a wall
  • handwriting surface on left side of body
  • handwriting surface on right side of body

Children note aspects of handwriting they find particularly difficult and devise their own practice activities and opportunities. This could involve practice worksheets, incorporating words, individual letters, combinations of certain letters, etc. or providing opportunities to practice handwriting in real tasks or playful tasks. Children can be encouraged to concentrate of starting places, sizes and directions, etc. according to purpose and proposed audience.

  • Times to be careful
  • Letters
  • Final drafts
  • Posters
  • Times to use everyday
  • Handwriting style
  • Notes
  • Writing for myself
  • Drafts

Children discuss, and perhaps list, occasions when neatness and presentation are of prime importance. Your children can use this list to make a personal chart for their handwriting file for future reference.

Children make autograph books and collect samples of other people’s handwriting. You could discuss how handwriting styles have changed historically, and compare the different styles taught in schools this century.

Children can make alphabet books using different handwriting styles, or practice calligraphy. You could print various fonts from the computer and let the children practice copying them. Children can add these styles to their charts and suggest and record appropriate times to use them.

Children can research in various ways handwriting styles and alphabets of other countries and cultures. They can also research the origins of these, and our own, alphabet and writing styles.

You can encourage your children to create their own alphabet or code, demonstrating others that have been used in the past or in literature.

You can provide appropriate models of handwriting styles, presentation, format, etc. according to the purpose and audience of the writing, e.g.:

  • labels for displays
  • labels for everyday objects (encourages reading development)
  • labels for cupboards, files and boxes
  • labels for completed children’s work
  • instructions
  • posters
  • letters
  • notes and lists
  • recipes
  • accounting, budgeting, book-keeping
  • completion of forms
  • diary or journal

Encourage your children to proof-read and edit their writing, and ask them to consider the audience and purpose of their writing, especially in relation to:

  • legibility
  • presentation
  • handwriting style

Encourage your children to explore and experiment with the social aspects of handwriting, e.g.:

  • signatures - when and where are they used, developing their own
  • greetings - in letters and cards
  • map printings
  • speed writing for messages and directions
  • block printing for completing forms

Encourage your children to experiment with different handwriting movements and discuss the effects of the different movements on speed, legibility, handwriting style, etc. Children can practice, e.g.:

  • smooth, relaxed movements
  • rigid, jerky movements
  • finger movements
  • hand and arm movements
  • different implement grips
  • different hands.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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