Handwriting is deceptively simple. As adults (and parents), we can take for granted the coordination, brain power and practice it takes to write the word C-A-T. But it’s no small feat for children to master the handgrip, letter formation and letter recognition necessarily to spell out primary words like “cat,” “dog” – even “mom” and “dad.”
Confidence boost is key
But is it really that important for young kids to learn to make their letters using downward lines? Or even to stay within the lines as they write? Creating letters properly helps young children build confidence in expressing their ideas on paper, explains Kendra Ross, who taught a popular handwriting camp through Plymouth-Canton Community Education and is trained in the national Handwriting Without Tears program.
“There’s a difference in what children are willing to write if they feel confident about their handwriting,” says Ross, a Canton mother of four. “The more they’re willing to write, the more likely they are not to take short cuts in writing – but instead to take time to express their ideas.”
If your child is struggling with writing – or even if you’re looking to help her boost her handwriting know-how – Ross says handwriting exercises are surprisingly fun.
Strengthening little fingers
A child should practice a variety of exercises to build-up the muscle power in his fingers – and even in his shoulders and back (after all, he’ll need to sit at the table to write!). Ross recommends a variety of drills to build your child’s manipulative dexterity.
As intimidating as that might sound, look no further than the nearest toy bucket for inspiration. Legos, Play-Doh, and other small toys that force children to use their fingers to work with small objects build up their dexterity. Instead of buying the large-sized Legos or thick crayons, choose smaller toys and thinner crayons.
At-home activity: For a tasty exercise in dexterity, buy a pack of pretzels sticks (the small ones) and small-sized marshmallows. Alternatively, you could start with jumbo marshmallows and help your child work toward the smaller ones. Explain that, for a treat, you’re going to make marshmallow lollipops. Your child should poke the pretzels into the marshmallows. Who knew handwriting practice could be so yummy?
Children may understand what the letters are in writing, but they may simply be unable to recreate them on paper. In fact, Ross says some kids are reduced to tears at the thought of pencil and paper. So throw out the paper and help your child create letters in other ways – for instance, with blocks or pipe cleaners. As their confidence builds, they may be more willing to try fashioning letters on the page.
At-home activity: Let your child make a mess while learning his letters. With pudding or shaving cream as his “ink,” have your kid create letters on heavy construction paper.
The ‘write’ grip
Holding a pencil correctly takes skill! Your child may struggle not to hold her pencil full-fisted. Ross has several techniques for kids to learn the right way to grip a pencil.
She likes to give a little story to explain where each finger should be placed. The pencil is the “van,” and the family needs to go on a trip. Mom and dad sit in front while the three kids sit in back. With “dad,” the thumb, in the driver’s seat on one side of the pencil and “mom,” the pointer finger on the other side pointing to the tip, the children then stay behind. “The tall finger is behind the pencil using its side, with only the ring and pinky fingers tucked in towards the palm,” explains Ross. The proper grip will take time and practice to master.
At-home activity: Explain to your child that you want her to play a game with her writing. Give her a bead or marble to hold with her two back fingers (ring and pinky). Says Ross: “You hold the item with the ring and little finger, allowing only the thumb, index and middle finger to be available to hold the pencil.” You can try doing this exercise with a variety of objects, such as a small marshmallow or cotton ball, to keep it interesting.
This post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated for 2016.