Handwriting Teaching Strategies. 7 Critical Principles

The teaching of handwriting is a vast topic.  After over 30 years of exploring the subject I am still learning more every day.  But not everyone wants to spend 30 years immersing themselves in the different aspects of handwriting!  If you want to find the most important handwriting teaching strategies in one place so you can get going knowing you are doing it the right way the first time, this is the place to be. Your question: how do I start teaching handwriting will be answered, and we have a handwriting teaching strategies checklist for you.

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How do I start teaching handwriting?  Curriculum choice

The first thing you need to do is to choose the handwriting style you are going to use. There are so many options out there but there is an overriding principle to apply when choosing your handwriting style. I believe we need to choose our style with the motor abilities of our children in mind. But most specifically, with the bottom two thirds of the class in mind. The truth is that the top third of the class will probably achieve a legible and fluid handwriting no matter what style you use.  Handwriting teaching strategies are important for all, but most critically for the middle and bottom two thirds of the class.

However, those at the bottom are going to really struggle if the motor demands of the chosen style are way beyond theirs. And the middle third may well fall into the bottom third if there is a mismatch between their motor skills and the motor demands of the handwriting style.

In general, our techno kids do not have well-developed refined motor skills and pencil control and we need to bear this in mind when choosing their handwriting style.  Read more about choosing a handwriting curriculum here.

Seating position

This is probably one of the most difficult challenges when it comes to handwriting teaching strategies. We know the theory that improved seating position means improved handwriting. However, it is so difficult to achieve. While school furniture comes in standard sizes, our children do not. We need seat cushions and foot blocks to help those children who are small in stature achieve a good sitting position.

Flexible seating has become more prevalent in schools. However, it provides its own challenges when it comes to achieving good posture for handwriting. Like all things there is best practise at both ends. We need to find the middle ground to ensure our children’s path to the mastery of handwriting is not compromised. So, I end with: try and get your children sitting as well as you can for handwriting and writing tasks.

Page positioning

This is one of my high priorities for teaching handwriting to young children. It is so easy to implement, and yet so easily forgotten.  When looking at how do I start teaching handwriting, this is an critical strategy to include.  If we ensure the child’s page is correctly positioned then they have a better chance of achieving fluidity and flow of handwriting.

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Handwriting teaching strategies: letter formation teaching order

This one is a bit of a hot potato! It seems logical to teach the letter sound together with letter formations.  However, by teaching letter formations by grouping those with the same formation patterns together, is going make it easier for your children to master the correct formation patterns.  Mastering correct formation patterns will reduce letter reversals and develop the foundation for a legible and fluid handwriting script.  If we want our children to achieve legible and automatic handwriting, we need to teach them in the best way.  And teaching in letter formation groupings is the best way.  Each letter builds on the motor pattern of the previous one and this promotes the laying down of the motor maps for letter formation in the brain.  Get your letter formation teaching order download here.

Verbalising the formation directions of letters

This is the one of the handwriting teaching strategies you really can add without much disruption at all. The research has shown that verbalizing the formation directions has an enormous impact on the mastery of acquisition of letter formation. We can add this to a handwriting lesson without any fuss. Traditionally verbalisation of the formation directions has been put in place by our teachers in their handwriting lessons.  We have a catchy tune for our letter and number formation songs which you can get here.

Teaching handwriting activities: multisensory all the way!

Along with the letter formation songs, this is a must.  I recommend using a textured overlay to add textural input.  This ensures the correct formation patterns are followed while keeping the mess at bay.  We know we need multisensory input but who wants all that mess in their classroom?  Use of a transparent texture board, as shown in the image below, makes this possible in every classroom.  Place the board over the letter form and sing the song while the children form the letters and numbers.  Or, place it under the page and write over it with your twisty crayons for extra tactile feedback.  You can also achieve this textural input using a piece of rough sandpaper placed under the page.

multi-sensory approach to writing

Multisensory teaching strategies

Understood.org has some lovely multi-sensory handwriting ideas.

Letter Size

Our letters come in 3 different sizes and our children need to know which is which. Correctly positioning the letters on the lines goes a long way to improving legibility.  We use the head, tummy, tail method with our delightful monkey.

In closing about the 7 critical principles for handwriting teaching strategies

There is a lot we need to consider when teaching handwriting but if we put these 7 strategies in place there is a better chance that our children will achieve a legible, fluid and flowing handwriting which will support them through school and beyond.

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

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