Is your child's writing messy?
Has the teacher mentioned that your child is struggling to write in a legible and neat fashion?
Don’t worry. You are not alone.
It is thought that 10-34% of school-aged children fail to master handwriting (1), and research by UK government have shown that the worst performing subject in Key Stage 1 and 2 is writing. Especially when compared to reading, maths, and science (2).
That said, the same research by the government shows that a quarter of pupils thought that being able to write is cool and that it improves with plenty of practice.
So, what do we think about this?
The reasons behind messy writing
We know that issues with being able to write as well as being able to draw is all down to pencil control. It is not a reflection of how much that child cares about their work and certainly isn’t a reflection of their personality.
Children who have messy handwriting are not less intelligent, nor should it be used to judged how creative they are. It is subjective and down to how well the person reading the text can understand what has been written.
Messy handwriting can be down to how heavily someone presses on their paper to write, how many crossings out they make on the page and the size of the letters (3).
Can it be improved?
The short answer is yes. Motor learning theory says that with repeated practice, handwriting can be improved. For many children, the struggle to form letters comes because they have not completed the foundation levels of being able to write.
A great example of this is that children may be asked to write the letters W or V, however they have not been taught how to control the pencil to make a zigzag pattern.
By encouraging them to practice these particular patterns, they soon will get the hang of even the trickiest letters. Encourage the child to go back and check their own handwriting patterns, seeing if they can recognise where they have formed the letters well and where they may not be looking their best.
The paper that is used is another big factor on the neatness of your child’s handwriting. If they are not using lined paper, then there is a good chance that their sentences will weave up and down the page. Lined paper gives them something to aim for and make sure that the sentences are neater.
If letter sizing is their issue, then you may want to consider graph paper. Graph paper encourages them to size their letters evenly.
Just like many things, messy handwriting can be improved with some careful practice. If you are concerned about the level of your child’s handwriting, then spend some time with them to see if you can improve their pencil control and help them write the letters that you know they can!
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Read Dylan’s story…
Dylan was a clever 7-year-old boy who was frustrated with his own handwriting.
His Mum had asked for an assessment to see what could be done to help him with his writing. A handwriting assessment was completed by myself and I identified that Dylan had hypermobility in his fingertips. This is where the joints in the fingers can have greater flexibility causing people to grip tighter on when writing. As a result, he took his time to write, pressed heavily and often crossed his work out.
The aim was to help him become less frustrated with his own handwriting.
A variety of pen styles and pencil grips were trialed. A pencil grip called the ultra-pen grip helped Dylan not grip the paper so tightly. Both Dylan and his school were explained about his hypermobility and how by him pressing heavily when writing it would cause him to tire easily. Dylan was also suggested to use ‘light up’ pens for non-school based handwriting activities so that he could learn the difference in how much pressure he was placing through his hand when writing. (These pens will light up at the end of the pen if a lot of pressure is used). It was also suggested that in the future Dylan may benefit from access arrangements in school exams to allow him extra time to write.
Schwellnus, H., Carnahan, H., Kushki, A., Polatajko, H., Missiuna, C., & Chau, T. (2012). Effect of pencil grasp on the speed and legibility of handwriting in children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66, 718–726.
Department of Education (2012). What is the research evidence on writing?. Education Standards Research Team, Department for Education. Research Report DFE-RR238
Hammerschmidt S et al (2004) Teachers’ Survey on Problems With Handwriting: Referral, Evaluation, and Outcomes. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58, 185-192.