* Left-Handed Writing
* Pencil Grip
* Illegible Writing
* Poor Fine Motor Skills
* Cursive Writing
Teaching Handwriting
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Lisa Marnell holds a Master of Science degree in Occupational Therapy. Pediatric experience includes treatment and consultation in preschool Headstart programs, public school systems and outpatient clinics.

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QUESTION: (Left-Handed Writing)

My son is left handed and he looks very awkward and uncomfortable when he tries to write. His writing is pretty illegible as well.
Is there anything that I can do to make writing easier for him to master?


Writing from left to right, as we do in English, allows a right handed person to look at his writing as it progresses. A "lefty", however, has difficulty visually monitoring handwriting since his hand covers his writing. Because of this, "Lefties" can develop some bad habits.
These include:

1- A hooked grasp - the wrist bends forward (this positions a child's fingers above his writing and allows him to see what he is writing). This is a very bad position for writing since it does not allow efficient finger control for good letter formation.

2- An "ulnar" grasp - the child holds the pencil between his thumb with all four fingers along the shaft. The pinky finger is closest to the pencil tip. This grasp is undesirable because the pinky must guide pencil movements and the hand is unstable.

Tips For Teaching "Lefties" to Write:

Position the paper on the desk so it is completely left of the child's midline. Never in the writing process should a the left handed child cross over the midline.

Angle the paper so that it lies parallel to the child's forearm. This is likely to be close to a 45 degree angle which is a greater angle than "righties" use. Encourage kids to learn how to position paper themselves. To ensure correct positioning, affix tape to the desk to provide an outline of the position in which a paper should lie.

Lisa Marnell MS, OTR/L

Back to the top QUESTION: (Pencil Grip)

My son holds his pencil far too tightly.
He breaks pencils all the time and even pokes holes through the paper. Telling him to change this makes little difference.
What can I do?


Your son seems to exhibit a difficulty with force modulation (the ability to regulate pressure exerted during fine motor tasks). One reason may be poor upper body strength and stability, causing him to compensate for shoulder weakness by gripping his pencil tightly. Seek out professional advice from a registered Occupational Therapist in your area. Activities to improve upper extremity strength and stability such as animal walks and working on a vertical surface, such as an easel may be helpful.

Another cause of poor force modulation arises from difficulty processing sensory feedback from his fingers. Some children can improve in this area by playing games that improve their attention to fingertips. If this is an issue with your son, then have him try to identify objects through touch alone (not relying on vision).

Games such as "Topple", "Don't Spill the Beans", "Chairs", "Jenga" and building block towers help a child to develop a delicate touch

Lisa Marnell MS, OTR/L

Click Here to ask a handwriting question. QUESTION: (Illegible writing)

Hi, I am a middle school teacher and I have several students with barely legible handwriting. How do I teach them handwriting skills at this age without embarrassing them in front of their peers. Many times I have them type up their assignments, but this too causes a problem due to time constraints. Any suggestions???


I suggest introducing the subject of handwriting to the class as a whole. Convey to them that people have all different styles, strengths and weaknesses. Offer the opportunity to students to improve their handwriting. Often, of course, the ones who NEED the help will not volunteer so perhaps take them aside and suggest they would benefit.

Your objective at this stage is to have the kids learn to analyze their own writing to help them understand how they can improve. Provide a weekly sample of writing yourself with clear errors in it (such as poor letter formation, letter size, not aligning the letters on the line or not spacing words appropriately). Just one sentence is plenty. Have each child rewrite it.

Addressing handwriting difficulties can make kids feel frustrated. As they develop insight regarding their areas of weakness, we want to help them focus on specific skills they can improve. In regards to not embarrassing them, try a short class on writing, explaining the four elements of legible writing (letter formation, sizing, alignment on the line and spacing between words). Explain that writing can look much better when a child improves even in one of these areas.

Lisa Marnell MS, OTR/L

Click Here to ask a handwriting question. QUESTION: (Fine Motor Skills)

I have a little boy who has never been very interested in coloring, or writing. He started out by holding his pencil like a dagger, and now he almost always holds the pencil like everyone else. He's a really bright boy who can read well and do math well, but he has a problem finishing handwriting. I welcome your help.


As an Occupational Therapist, I have often found that some of the most engaging and intelligent children are challenged with handwriting and fine motor tasks. So often I have seen boys have a hard time.

You mentioned that he has never been very interested in coloring so I would recommend pursuing an evaluation of his fine motor skills, upper body strength and stability.

At your school or through an outpatient therapy site (with a pediatrician referral) you should have an occupational therapist (OTR) complete an evaluation. The reason I recommend this is because there may be a variety of causes of difficulty with handwriting.

An OT will be able to identify any problem area (ie: upper body weakness, low tone/floppy muscles, poor tactile discrimination /awareness of what fingers are doing without looking at them, poor visual perception skills...).

Once you understand where your child's weakness is, then you can better understand and address any problem areas.

Lisa Marnell MS, OTR/L

Click Here to ask a handwriting question. QUESTION: (Cursive Writing)

Please help me!
My daughter is very bright and inquisitive. She loved kindergarten, first and second grade. Now they have started teaching cursive at school and she hates it!
I am concerned that she is going to start to hate school as well.
Please help me with any suggestions you may have motivate her to try cursive.
Thank you in advance for your response.


Good for you in addressing this handwriting difficulty right away!

My answer to your question is twofold:
1- Get involved at home and approach teaching cursive in a systematic, well thought out manner.
2- Try to make it fun!

1- I have provided occupational therapy to help children in grades 3 through 8 master cursive writing. I find that success comes most easily when letters are grouped according to the way they are formed. For example, once you have mastered "i" in cursive, you are just a step away from mastering "t". Likewise for a and c.

Please Click Here for information regarding the Cursive Writing Workbook I developed and offer for sale through this website.

2- Try some fun writing activities at home. Write letters in shaving cream or jello, focusing on forming letters correctly and consistently to help her develop a feel for each letter and improve letter formation.
As she becomes more confident with writing letters, think of activities to start writing words.

Make a weekly grocery list. Start by looking around the kitchen and writing down the names of common items you buy (milk, eggs, bread etc). It can become her responsibility to do an inventory and keep a grocery list (in cursive of course).
Plan an outing.Ask your daughter to think of all the things you may need. You can help her write them out one time and then ask her to copy it out as neatly as she can. have her circle the letters that she feels are her very best handwriting.

Remember, encouragement is key!

Lisa Marnell MS, OTR/L

Handwriting Help For Kids Disclaimer:
The information presented in this web site is provided as a source for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for physician or therapist evaluation or treatment by a healthcare professional. It is not intended to provide or confirm a diagnosis nor is any claim made as to therapeutic efficiency. Users are adviced to seek the advice of a trained and registered healthcare professional. There is some risk inherent in the performance of any treatment activities. Please be advised that this disclaimer absolves the web site designers and writers of any and all losses or claims for any injuries or other damages occuring to any children or belongings from the performance of suggested activities listed above.