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Advice about Handwriting

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > School & Preschool > Advice about Handwriting


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Teaching Kindergarteners How To Hold A Pencil

April 2011

I am curious to find out what kind of handwriting instruction your Kindergartner receives. Does their teacher show them how to hold a pencil and proper letter formation? If so, are these skills taught throughout the whole school year? If not, what is the teacher's philosophy about why they do not teach pencil grip and letter formation? -anon


Our son is Kinder at Thousand Oaks in Berkeley. The first thing they were taught was how to properly hold a pencil. ''Pinch it, flip it & got it.'' was the saying they used. For learning letters, one method used is Handwriting Without Tears. Also they use phrases to learn to write each letter. I think it's call SFA (Success For All) Alphabet Phrases. Example, for a lower case ''a'' they would trace and/or write an ''a'' while saying ''around the apple and down the leaf/stem''. Writing letters correct is practiced throughout the year and we're also given homework to reinforce what's being taught at school. Mommy of a 2nd Grader & Kinder
My daughters go to Emerson Elementary in Berkeley. Two weeks into kindergarten, my younger one got taught the proper grip, and her handwriting as well as her drawing changed instantly from the worst in her preschool to among the best in K. It was simply amazing. There is a lot of work on handwriting, and I think they will even learn cursive before too long! Heidi

10 year old with handwriting difficulties

Sept 2010

I know there was a similar posting a few weeks ago but I didn't catch the advice offered. My 10 year old 5th grade son has always had a difficult time with handwriting and drawing. His penman ship is now legible but far from neat, he still mixes lower and uppercase letters and really only draws stick figures and very simple objects (his work looks more like that of a 6 year old) He is dexterous with other fine motor skills like working with tools or beads, his hands are very strong and he grips the pencil normally. He has no problem with spelling,vocabulary, comprehension or sentence structure but writing is VERY slow and exhausting. His hand can't keep up with the thoughts so he despises writing and generally writes just enough to get by. He has always complained about hand fatigue and that it is physcially painful to write despite holding the pencil correctly and sitting with good posture. We do plan to work more on touchtyping but at this age writing by hand is crutial for school. Any advice on how to make this less painful would be much appreciated.


What you describe is pretty classic dysgraphia. How are his other language skills (reading, writing, spelling)? If it is only the handwriting, you can work with an occupational therapist or an educational therapist who handles dysgraphia. If he works well with you, you could also use the Handwriting Without Tears program, which is available online (HWTears.com), and designed for either classroom or home use. It's pretty great.My own kids learned with it in public school, and I wish all schools used it. If you want to go with a professional, you can call Michelle Ross, E.T., at the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland, who uses HWT, and I'm sure there are plenty of others around who do too. Tell her I sent you, and good luck whatever you choose. If you think there are other issues in play (spelling, reading etc.), I would be happy to talk with you. I'm not a handwriting specialist, but I do work with language-based learning differences, and handwriting is often a piece of that. CK
Get the workbook, ''Handwriting Without Tears''. My son has sensory integration disorder and his OT has him work on handwriting with this book. My son is never excited to do ''homework'' so I would have to say that the title may be a bit misleading as they still have to do the work, but his penmanship has improved. Lisa
I would have him tested or seen by an Occupational Therapist or Learning Specialist. Maybe even look into a Developmental Pediatrician. There is something called Dysgraphia, which I don't know much about, but just list it to let you know that there are diagnoses out there that may apply to your son. Once you know what the problem is you can get OT or other help for him as well as looking into a 504 plan with the school which would allow him ''accomodations'' like extra time for writing, less writing, or the use of a computer, to assist him. Re the 504, typically the schools are reluctant to do them and you may need an advocate to come in with you to get it. This is someone who does this as part of their job and you would hire them on your behalf. Good luck. Greenzebra
I recommend that you see a pediatric occupational therapist. They will work with your child on a series of hierarchical exercises to enable her to hold the pen properly. In Orinda, I recommend Lee Ann Williams, Gail Gordon, and Kristine Hubner-Lavin. I'm sure you'll find others nearer to you. The public school districts also have OTs. You can request an evaluation to see if she would qualify for school services. JC
Least expensive option: Crayon Rocks (soy based tiny crayons that are shaped so you have to hold them in the elusive ''tripod'' grip). More expensive option: Pediatric Occupational Therapy. That's what they do. Good luck. Carey

3rd grader has great difficulty writing

May 2010

My son is in 3rd grade, and has never been a happy writer. He has a long history of staring at a blank page and being completely unable to come up with anything to write. Even if he's given prompts, pictures, ideas, questions... he can't get himself to start. It creates a lot of stress at our house, as his schoolwork is increasingly report-oriented.

His handwriting, which has always been quite poor, is getting a bit better, but he still needs constant reminders to put spaces between his words. If he tells me the words, I can take dictation for him, and he can copy it over, but he still doesn't like that. At least he gets the words on paper. And he often has quite a lot to say, although sometimes his wonderful verbage will get cut short because he doesn't want to have to write it all.

Everything else he does is above grade level, but that one thing is not only nowhere near grade level, it's also just going to get harder as he goes into 4th grade. His 2nd grade teachers gave him 'handwriting without tears' which actually did cause quite a few tears and not much improvement, and his 3rd grade teacher has been giving him extra time, extra help, and visits to the language specialist [that's recent]. Finally, he also gets extremely frustrated with his inability to type quickly - not that it helps transfer his thoughts to the page either.

What is this? What else should we do? -frustrated kid, frustrated parent!


Just wanted to let you know- you're not alone. You just described my 9 year old son EXACTLY! Unfortunately I don't have any advice but we have had the same struggles and same advice/interventions from teachers. We've tried it all but his writing is still sloppy, the process is still torturous and he always underachieves in writing because the process of putting thoughts on paper is so frustrating. And just as you describe typing is only slightly easier for him than handwriting. I too have had the most success with letting him dictate to me and then copy over my handwriting (otherwise he will write less just to be done with it). The best advice I have received is to have him really learn to touchtype. It seems that many teachers in the upper grades allow kids with handwriting difficulties to use computers if it improves their work. Still hoping it's a phase
Hi - My son is 14 but had similar experiences. My advice is to get a good tutor to help him with writing, and get him evaluated ASAP for learning disabilities.

My son learned to read but never liked it and had a lot of trouble writing. We had him evaluated by the school district and Caroline Johnson (neuropsych and one of the best). He was diagnosed with AD/HD and a mild/moderate language processing issue (dyslexia). He also has issues with handwriting (dysgraphia) and started keyboarding in 3rd grade. Problems with writing are common with learning disabilities, but can be missed if kids learn to read without extra help. Schools don't want to evaluate kids, you should make a request in writing for an evaluation under IDEA and/or a 504 plan to get special services at school. You can do a private evaluation and either pay or see if insurance will cover the expense. You will need to be aggressive to get real help from public schools, and outside services are often of better quality.

My son has worked with Pam Marquardt at Grasshopper Tutoring for six years now. She's a former elementary teacher who understands learning disabilities. She is competent, compassionate and respectful of kids with learning issues - the kind of teacher we all pray our kids encounter in their life. You can google her web site. Having a tutor makes it easier for kids, who are less likely to act out with a third party and you can have a less charged relationship with your child.

My son is doing basically very well, but still struggles with some issues at school. He is happy, and self- confident, and learning to develop his skills in areas outside of academics. For these kids the real challenge is surviving school with their sense of self intact, and not letting their academic issues define who they are as human beings.

By the way, the best advice I got was to bolster your kids areas of strength, even at the expense of spending time and energy reinforcing their weaknesses. They are more likely to spend their life doing the things they are good at then the things they struggle with. We all hopefully, play to our strengths when choosing a career. For my son it's art, music, friends, outdoor skills. I think the best book in this area, if you are into reading is Mel Levine's ''The Myth of Laziness'' (the title may not be exact). Good luck. anonymous


typing may be your long-term solution. i believe that having read-able handwriting is a life skill (how 20th century!), so I've been holding off on encouraging typing.

In terms of writing as a skill, I'm pretty convinced it's something you have to do to improve. It depends on your son's temperament and whether your relationship could handle it, but why not have him write every day over the summer? Attach it to something he wants that he can earn. Or, just say it's the price of all the summer fun. The fall-back topic is always what he did yesterday. Get a notebook, and he will be able to see the progress he made by the end of the summer. My mother made me write much more than the school required and (only in retrospect) I realize how much it helped. I do it now with my son (who is another stare-into-space-guy because he doesn't know what to write).

Other people will recommend learning to type programs, but even then I still argue for daily writing on the computer. And, turn off spell-check so he learns to spell.

My motivation is simple. I'd love to have other kids forced to write so my son can't say ''everyone else doesn't write over the summer...'' wielding a whip


Hi, Our son had difficulty with hand writing and it got in the way of his writing for content. We used the summer to teach him typing skills. We got the teacher to agree that if the assignment was handwriting (letter formation with a pencil or pen) he would use a pen or pencil. If the assignment was ''brainwriting'' (writing for content) he would use the computer.

Getting the letter formation out of the way made it much easier for our son to express himself. There is a tool called an AlphaSmart. Most schools have some. It looks like a keyboard with a small screen. The alpahsmart can plug into any computer so your son can write his home work on it using it and then plug it into the computer at school to print out the finished work or to continue working on it at school. Tyler


Hi, I've been a writing tutor and also have a son in third grade with messy handwriting. For some people, the act of writing itself is anxiety-producing. I've found that if you ask the topic question of someone, then write down the response YOURSELF, the spell of anxiety is released. This way the person can concentrate on the content of what he or she has to say, rather than getting it neat or ''right.'' You mentioned that your son has a lot to say so I think this might be true in his case. In my opinion it's much more important to feel confident about writing and to concentrate on the what (the content) than the actual physical act of writing. If your son's teacher feels strongly that he practice handwriting or typing, he can always take what you've written down (of his words) and write it or type it again. Substance Over Form
You are describing my child. He has had the same problem all of his school years (he's in 3rd grade also) -- but with us, we knew what was happening because his father had the exact same problem. Your child most likely has a learning disability. Sometimes it's referred to as dysgraphia.

But the problem seems to be that the act of writing takes up so much of the child's working memory that there's no room left for what they are going to write. Typing is a similar problem, though it can be less severe.

We have done several things for my son:

1) we got him classified with an IEP, so that he can have extra time, and time in the resource room (and help from the lovely resource teacher) with fewer distractions, to complete more complex assignments. They also provided some occupational therapy for him.

2) I do exactly as you say with what we call ''composition'' assignments (i.e. where he has to write a paragraph about something) -- he dictates, I write down, he copies. That way he can learn the skill of composition uninhibited by the physical act of writing

3) We did a series of writing exercises, every single morning before school, for over a year. They came from the Handwriting without Tears book. Every day he did a page, and for a week's worth of pages, no muss no fuss, he got a reward (in his case a pack of Pokemon cards). If you would like to contact me, you can email me with your phone # and we can talk more about this. K


I was a career elementary school teacher at the same time a mother of a young son. My son like many boys had terrible handwriting in elementary school. Once he learned to decode the words he became an avid reader, but the decoidng part was a challenge. (He learned to read in second grade, rather than first). He is now an adult, with a background in the building trades, and has acquired the writing of buildters and architects which is - printing. Boys' fine motor coordination may come later than that of grilds, and expecting him to have the neat penmanship of a girl may be too stressful. I opt for the dictation option. Query-does typing demand the same fine motor coordination that he seems to be lacking right now? Lynn Mother of 45-year-old son who had handwriting issues
Son had similar struggles with handwriting and with writing output, ie extreme difficulty writing in English and later history, etc. We did not think to have him tested until 8th grade. Didn't know that public schools will test,upon request. The tests were not conclusive and we had him privately tested in 9th grade. There were a number of issues including ADD, dysgraphia and expressive language issues. It went undetected for so long that he also became anxious and depressed. I encourage you to request that your school test your son. The sooner you figure out if your son has any LD, the sooner you can get a 504, IEP, and get him the accommodations he needs to succeed. Don't delay. -Been there

4-year-old can't write his name

Jan 2010

My daughter's oldest child just turned 4 last month. She also has a 2 year old. The 4 year old was very slow learning how to talk; Wisconsin (where she lives) sent out a therapist once a week to teach him sign language but then he started talking, esp. when she put him in a nice day care last year half day. Now, he can write and read ''H'' and likes to proclaim ''H is for Harris!'' (his name) but my daughter is concerned because he can't write his entire name. She says the other kids in his class do. I know nothing about any of this, but told her that kids ''get it'' at different ages, and he will get it, just be patient.

I wonder if there is a correlation between learning to talk and learning to write? Also, is this variation in learning amongst kids in this age normal? Meaning, it's normal for some kids to be writing their name at 4, and others to not be?

I might add that the 2 year old is completely different: he is babbling words (single and double syllables) trying to put sentences together (and is SO CUTE!!! with his soft baby voice!!!). The contrast with the 4 year old is striking. We are unsure if it's because he has an older brother to talk with and the day care, to stimulate language, or something innate in him. anonymous Nanni


Dear Nanni, I think you are right that kids ''get it'' at different times. Not all kids can write their name at 4. My very bright daughter was an early and precocious talker, but didn't learn to write her name until age 5, and often got the letters out of order or backwards. Or added extra letters. It was adorable! She started reading and writing pretty well in a very short period of time when she was almost 6. Zoe's mom
Talking late is correlated with dyslexia. Dyslexic kids struggle with writing and spelling as well as reading. Early intervention can make a big difference. You could read the book Overcoming Dyslexia.

It has two charts, one of development of speech, language, prereading and reading skills for typically developing kids and one for dyslexic kids that can help you decide whether what you are seeing is cause for concern. You may want to encourage your daughter to have her son evaluated through the local school district.

He may be young to get a diagnosis of dyslexia, but he is not too young to play lots of rhyming games and work on identifying initial and final sounds in short words.

Your grandson is lucky to have a grandma on the lookout. Good luck


It is VERY normal for a 4 year old not to write yet. While there is sometimes a correlation between late speech development and hitting expected writing and reading milestones, if he is learning his letters, and their sounds, that is perfectly age appropriate. Please don't let him be pressured to write his name now, this early kind of well-intentioned academic pressure easily backfires, and causes a lot of frustration for kids. If he can't write his name at 6, that would be more significant. anon

Cursive handwriting in K or 1?

Jan 2006

We came from cultures where cursive handwriting is taught before manuscript. We have been visiting some schools (public and private) for our prospective kindergartner and we noticed that the emphasis is given to manuscript writing and reading instead of cursive. We also realized that the transition from manuscript to cursive in the second or third grade is harder than beginning in K or first grade with the cursive handwriting. That is a cultural value that wed like to preserve in our family, and for that reason were looking for a school (public/private) where the kids learn first to write/read in manuscript. Unfortunately, homeschooling is not an option. We live in Berkeley, so we are open to Berkeley, Oakland, Albany and El Cerrito areas.
Thanks,
Cristina


I know that the East Bay French American School (Ecole Bilingue) starts kids out learning cursive handwriting before printing. I was quite amazed to learn that this is actually easier for children to do. Fran
My three girls attended the same Montessori school starting at age 2 and into the elementary years (the Renaissance School in Dimond District of Oakland). The first two learned block lettering first and then moved to cursive which was a hurdle (but not insurmountable, and their cursive over time has improved). The third child learned cursive first in preschool/K and at 6 years old, her cursive is beautiful. The children still end up learning block because most reading books are in block, but our school has been trying to locate more early reader books in cursive to reinforce that lettering a t the young age. In the long run, my children did recognize both and my 6 y.o. can write in block as well (it is also improving). A parent of one of her classmates says her son's cursive isn't so great, so there is probably an element of fine motor control, but I suppose that affects both cursive and block writing.

When the school said that my youngest would learn cursive first, I was concerned that it would affect her reading ''block'' books, but the school mentioned some evidence about a more natural progression from cursive to block (I can't remember the details anymore and it is probably similar to your cultural philosophy). In the end, I have observed with my child that learning to write cursive first was NOT a problem in terms of reading ''block'' books... in case anyone is wondering. Janna


1st grader with poor handwriting skills

2001

Hello to all, My 6 1/2 year old is in a two-way English/Spanish curricula embedded in Cragmont Elementary School's regular school year. Her primary language is English, but she does seem to be acquiring Spanish along with most of the tasks required of 1st graders. Problem is this, her handwriting is poor. She has never liked to color, is better but still resistant to writing assignments. Her fine motor skills for writing/art/painting seem to be slow in coming. She also struggles to tie shoes. Otherwise she can and does everything else within the scope of fine motor just fine or better. Any suggestions on games, tricks, exercises, etc. on improving handwriting? Thanks in advance. Lu


My son, now a secondgrader, also struggles with his handwriting. He writes like a three year old. He also never colored as a preschooler and avoids writing whenever possible. He is 7 and just learned to tie his shoes last week. The resource teacher at his school suggested activities to build large motor skills and upper body strength (such as karate) so that he would be better able to develop his fine motor skills and suggested activities such as using his fingers to draw in the sand (for better tactile understanding of the relationship between hand and page), but because his academic performance was excellent in all other aspects, he was not eligible for the resource teacher's ongoing help. We then had him assessed by a developmental pediatrician (after getting a referral to one by our Health Net pediatrician) who then referred us to an occupational therapist. He has several activities that he does with his therapist: theraputty squeezes to strengthen his hands; bead stringing and pin pushes to develop his fine motor skills; drawing curves and circles for better control. In school he uses a special pencil grip (called Smart Start, I think) and a band that goes over the pencil and his finger to give him better form and control.

I highly recommend occupational therapy because as your child progresses in school, and writing becomes more and more important, there is going to be a real gap in how your child performs, and it can take forever to get resource help for your child. We have been trying to get the school to provide resource help since he was in kindergarten and haven't been successful so we went the private therapy route. Yvette


I have an eight year old with very poor handwriting, an issue we have been dealing with since kindergarten. I can suggest a few things.

We did occupational therapy in kindergarten with Gail Gordon,an occupational therapist, who worked with him on writing and other fine motor skills. We reinforced this at home.

Many of his issues have to do with how he holds a pencil, which usually can be corrected with a pencil grip. These are readily available at teacherparent stores (Lakeshore Learning in San Leandro, the Oakland Parent Teacher store, and also on the web at: http://www.thepencilgrip.com/thegrip.htm ). When we bought them we bought LOTS of them for all of the kids in his classroom. His pencil grip remains problematic. We are in the Oakland Public Schools, and while OT is available in the schools, our child didn't qualify (not bad enough, yet). We didn't deal with it much during second grade.

Now in third grade, where there is so much more writing, it's started to make life very complicated for him. We've decided to get what is called a 504 plan for him for dysgraphia. This is a disability designation. What Gail Gordon and Dr. Brad Berman told us is that the earlier he gets this in his file, the better it is for him. Because of the ADA, it compels the school to accomodate his disability. They are going to provide some OT, but more importantly make some accomodations in the classroom. Among these accomodations, he will be given a keyboard to use, longer time for written tests. Since it's in his file, these accommodations will follow him to middle and high school where it so much more of an issue.

Note that health insurance will in all likelihood not pay for your child's OT unless prescribed by your child's pediatrician, and even then, if you are in Pacificare/ABMG most likely still won't since it's not a medical issue according to them. I tried to get them to pay, or to give me an example of what they would pay and the only example of one that they would pay was for a downs syndrome child with tone problems.

In any case, they only refer to the group at AB/Herrick, and Gail was recommended by Dr. Berman whom we trust, so we paid out of pocket. This is not an inexpensive option ($65 a session) and probably not a choice for everyone.

Most likely, this is more than your child will need. If you'd like to discuss this further, I'd be happy to. Myriam


Someone wanted recommendations for her child who was having trouble with writing. These activities develop the muscles and the coordination that is needed. Some fun fine motor activities are: stringing beads, clay (spongy modelling clay is easy to work and can be used in small pieces), legos (also builds spatial reasoning), bristle blocks, making collages, sewing and lacing. Most of this you can make on your own, but Amsterdam Art has a selection of kits, and there's a company "Lauri" 8004510520 that has attractive lacing projects (Lakeshore Teacher's Supply carries some of their products). CDorf
My 6 year old, in first grade, hates to write. He's doing fine with reading skills. He loves art projects, puzzles, building things, etc, but has never liked coloring. I think some children develop this skill later than others. My 10 year old also hated to write and eventually he got better at it and it wasn't an issue. Their little muscles aren't used to holding pencils and doing this fine motor skill. It takes practice which can be frustrating. Now that Kobi can sound out words he enjoys filling in the missing letter of 3 letter words (and drawing the picture of it) ie: If the given letters are P E ___he might fill in a "T" and draw a picture (very basic pencil drawing) of a cat or dog. He loves connect the dots, which improves his number reading. This works for us. Fighting with him did not work. My suggestion to you is not to worry about it and let her progress at her own speed, with encouragement but not pushing. Good luck. June
My daughter faced all the challenges you describe. My advice is to immediately request an evaluation by your school districts Special Education Department. Your request must be in writing and send a courtesy copy to your child's Principal. If possible, hand deliver your letter and ask for a dated receipt. The district must respond to your request within 15 days. I also suggest asking your pediatrician for an occupational therapy evaluation referral. The school district will do it's own evaluation. If you private evaluation supports the need for the school to provide services, the school is more likely to do so. The School District should provide occupational therapy as well as classroom support if her fine motor abilities are interfering with her abilities as a student.
I recommend you contact your district's special education dept. We live in Albany, and my son has been in speech therapy for two years (he'll be starting kindergarten next fall, but will be five this month). Last week, the speech therapist brought in an occupational therapist to work with him on his handwriting and other related skills, like painting and scissors. Apparently, these two are related (speech and fine motor skills). In his case, his neurological functioning is either delayed or different, but it's subtle, and is just enough to make such tasks very frustrating (resulting in avoidance behavior and alot of reluctance). The O.T. was able to figure out a better way for my son to hold the pencil than the usual, "correct," way that seems to allow him to write much smaller and more comfortably. The school should be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist, and as it's public school, it should be free (it's actually covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act). Maybe even one time would be enough to get a feel for what's going on with your daughter. Best luck!Roxane W.
First let me tell you that a lot of first graders are struggling with this issue. It is good that you're taking notice and trying to help, especially since children will have to do increasingly more writing and you don't want your child to become frustrated. The finemotor skills can often impede the flow of ideas and make writing a painful experience. I have had much success with a program called "handwriting without tears." They are on the web. Also, buy as many different pens as you can: different sizes, shapes, colors etc. will make drawing more enticing. Playdough, chalk, writing in the sand, fingerpainting in the bathtub: all this is good. A keyboarding class would also be helpful for writing assignments in the meantime. Get dolls or other toys that teach how to tie shoelaces, zip zippers etc. Finally, you may get advice from an occupational therapist. A good one to call would be Liz Isono at 9252530788. Most importantly, keep praising your child and don't make this a big issue. You don't want her to become selfconscious and start comparing herself to her peers or worse, start to dislike school. Petra

2nd grader's trouble writing and drawing

March 2004

My second grade son has had trouble with writing and drawing all along. His written work has consistently been the messiest and his drawing the least developed in his class. He is also very intelligent, verbally adept, and athletically gifted. He's reading about at grade level but has some fluency issues. His (private) school has recommended that he work with an educational therapist over the summer on the writing and reading fluency. I spoke with the therapist and she charges quite a bit...in fact if we did what was recommended it would cost around $1000. That's a lot for us, we are really stretching to afford his school. On the other hand we want him to get the support he needs. Has anyone else had experience with this? Did you get the extra support and feel it was money well spent or did you wait it out and just teach him to type or some other solution? Thanks for your help! anon


Hello, When my son was in first grade he had trouble with his writing skills. Fortunately, he went to a wonderful montessori school and we were instructed by his teacher to teach him to cross stitch. Since I knew how, I easily taught him, and he would spend hours doing simple projects. It did improve his fine motor skills (writing/drawing). As for the reading issue--I would spend more time reading with him (both you reading to him and him to you). Hope the advice helps. mother who has been there
Our son, now in second grade, has had similar writing difficulties since kindergarten, as well as other fine motor issues, and still does. Two years ago, we signed him up for some OT (occupational therapy) at a local hospital and they spent LOTS of time, much to our surprise, on improving handwriting. They use a pencil grip and his handwriting did improve to some extent, although the spacing is still a problem, and he is not yet writing cursive. You might check this out, as many health plans will pay for OT services. anon
Perhaps you could investigate some alternative rather than traditional methods. My son, too, is sloppy with his writing, not that advanced in his drawing (although he loves and is very expressive in water colors), and performing well above average in math and reading. We created a project last summer where we had a journal conversation. I expected his neatest writing and we had a great deal of fun with this. And again, you can also let him find other ways to express himself artistically (painting, sculpture, legos?). Also, my kids godmother has done some very interesting and non-traditional tutoring work where she just helps kids relax with what they are doing. It isn't always necessary for kids to be on par with some expected average at that age, so if you do work with him, I suggest that it be in a very relaxed way so he doesn't feel some pressure to perform. Good Luck! Beth
Sounds like your child may need Occupational therapy in particular, rather than general educational therapist. Among other things, Occupational therapists teach handwriting and drawing in systematic way to kids who don't acquire it from the mainstream class/ life route. Last I looked, private OTs were $80 per session (45 min or one hour I can't recall which -- so once a week for a 10 week summer would be like $800). You should ask your pediatrician/ look into your health insurance, it's possible to get it through insurance although that could be limited to kids with more overarching disabilities (I have no idea). In any case, insurance might pay for an evaluation if your pediatrician recommends it. Another cheaper route would be to get materials from Handwriting Without Tears (www.hwt.com I think) and do it yourself at home. But, I think HWT is just handwriting (so won't address drawing skills), and without professional intervention you won't address or areas that might require expertise such pencil grip or arm movement. anon

Can 8-year-old's illegible handwriting be corrected?

January 2007

My teacher was told by an OT that my eight year old's sons illegible handwriting cannot be corrected because it is habitual. My husband and I started taking him to a speech therapist and an occupational therapist and there has been some major improvements. He is doing well in school--except delayed reading--now we know--because we went for outside help that he has visual and processing issues. His math scores are high. He is fine. I wondered if the school's occupational therapist overloaded or uninformed? morning


I had poor handwriting until about the age of 10. At that point, my mother sat me down and made me practice out of a handbook every night for about 15 minutes before dinner. I'm now in my thirties and still get compliments on my handwriting. I did not have reading set-backs or anything, though, so I don't know if that makes a big difference. The point is that my mother helped me to change the ''habit'' of poor penmanship into excellent handwriting. I hope that's encouraging. helpful handwriter
Talk to Liz Isono (510-717-1300). She is an expert on children with handwriting problems. -
My son is only 5, not 8, but we've seen enormous improvement with a program called Handwriting Without Tears. Check it out on the web--perhaps you can order some workbooks and supplies yourself, or work with an O.T. (We found the program through our O.T.). There are separate programs for printing and cursive. cstalmann
You can purchase a book on how to write in calligraphy and make a pursuit of this yourself. Your son will be interested in what you are doing. He is pretty young for creating repeating forms but if he sees you doing it he will be interested. In addition if you write down in pencil what you would like him to learn and have him trace it with a felt tip pen he will learn to guide his hand in better formations. Also in Walgreens they have books for kids to form their printing letters correctly. You can get one of those and spend some time with him. In time he will retrain. show a love for doing these things and he will respond. Suzanne
When I hear any professional saying there's nothing that can be done, I think what they often really mean is THEY don't know what to do. If your son has shown improvement with outside help, you are on the right track. continue in that vein and is someone tells you something is hopeless, seek another opinion. good luck
Handwriting can often be corrected, and it is especially likely that you could do it with an eight-year-old. Talk to your pedeatrician, who can reccomend a specialist. Julian
Your kid sounds VERY much like mine -- my boy is now 12. He also has had somewhat ''global'' problems but at a fairly low level -- speech, visual processing, fine and gross motor (fine motor is the handwriting). And like your son, he was very smart and good at math. I'll bet your kid has a very highly developed memory, to compensate for his struggles at getting information down on paper or out through speech.

My experience is that a good OT and lots of work can help with the handwriting, but at around age 8 I bought my son an Alphasmart -- small word-processing computer, see http://alphasmart.com/ and sent him to typing classes at the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley, see http://www.cforat.org/.

What we found is that the process of producing words on page with a pencil/pen was so agonizingly difficult that all the cognitive stuff would just fall by the wayside. Typing overcame that to an enormous extent. He is now an avid creative writer, on the Alphasmart.

Keep working on the handwriting -- have you seen ''Handwriting Without Tears''? Again: http://www.hwtears.com/. Because there will always be times when he must write things down (math, for example). But let go of the idea that his handwriting will ever be beautiful. Good luck to you -- Letitia


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