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Five Steps to Better Handwriting

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You've been writing since you were a little kid. It started with scribbles and crayons and now it's pens, pencils, and cursive with all those swooping, swirling letters. Some kids love handwriting and others hate when it's time to put pencil to paper. Why?

Maybe a parent or teacher has complained about your handwriting: "Be neater!" "Too messy!" "I can't read this!" Oh, dear, that's no fun. You're trying to get it right, but you can't get your thoughts down neatly.

The good news is that just about everyone can improve their handwriting. But first, let's take a moment to think about just how complicated writing really is. It's not like sneezing or breathing, which your body does for you without you even thinking about it.

How Handwriting Works

With handwriting, your body and mind need to do many different things all together and in the right order. Your shoulder needs to stay steady while your wrist and elbow move in just the right way. Did we mention your eyes have to follow what your hand is doing? And that's not all. You need the brainpower to know how words and letters are supposed to look and make decisions about what you want to write — Is the answer to Question 4 "flipper" or "flapper"?

So with all that going on, you can imagine that different kids have different problems when it comes to handwriting. Sometimes a medical problem is a reason that kids struggle with writing. For example, kids who have attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) find it hard to sit still and focus on what they need to do. They might write too fast or start answering a question and forget to finish it. Kids who have trouble with their muscles, like those with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy, also could have difficulty writing.

But lots of other kids have writing woes, too. Are you one of them? Or maybe you would just like to make your already-OK handwriting a little bit better.

The Five Steps

Here are five steps that really work!

1. Get a Great Grasp
handwriting Try this — hold your pencil at the top near the eraser and try to write your name. Pretty tough, huh? But when you hold your pencil the correct way, writing is much easier. The best way to hold a pen or pencil is to let it rest next to the base of your thumb. Hold it in place with your thumb, and your index and middle fingers. See the photo below.

2. Let the Lines Be Your Guide
Lined paper is your friend! Those lines can help you create letters that are the right size and proportion. Proportion means that one thing is the right size compared with the other. So your lowercase "a" should be half the height of a capital "A."

Be sure to fill up the lined space completely. Those capital letters should stretch from the bottom line to the top one. Lines also can keep you writing straight instead of uphill or downhill. When you don't have lines, like when you're creating a poster, you can use a ruler and draw light pencil lines so your title will be the right size and look perfectly straight.

3. Slow Down
If your writing is hard to read or you erase a lot, try slowing down a little. For some kids, going slower solves the problem. If you rush, it's hard to control where you stop and start your letters, and you end up making more mistakes. Did you ever erase so hard it ripped a hole in the paper? We hate that!

4. Lower the Pressure
Some kids press down really hard when they write. That makes it harder to make the smooth lines needed for writing, especially cursive. Try easing up, don't grip the pencil as tightly, and let your pencil mark the paper without going all the way through. You'll break fewer pencil points, too!

5. Play Games
Say what? You heard us right. Games can improve your handwriting. Lots of games require you to write or draw pictures. So even though it's not official schoolwork, you're still using the skills you need to control your pencil better. To have better control of how your hands move, try games like Jenga or Don't Spill the Beans.

And if you want to strengthen the muscles you need for writing, you can also do that while you're playing board games. How? Use a clothespin instead of your fingers to pick up your game piece and move it around the board.

After a long board game, how about some imaginative play? Pretend you're a movie star or famous athlete. Now, what do you do when your fans rush up to meet you? Give them your autograph, of course!

You Might Need Extra Help

If you try these tips and still aren't seeing improvement, you can always ask for help. Tell your teacher and your mom or dad that you're having trouble. Some kids have occupational therapy to help them with handwriting skills. But many kids can improve their handwriting if they work at it with the help of a grownup.

Adults can encourage you and give you fun ways to practice, practice, practice. Your parent or teacher can be a kind of coach, cheering you on. And when you notice your handwriting is getting better, what should you do? Use that wonderful writing to write your coach a thank-you note!

Reviewed by: Wendy Harron, BS, OTR/L
Date reviewed: March 2014

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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