Many educators and parents experience sloppy handwriting from their students and children. Handwriting is a complex task and cannot be “cured” overnight. Many components lead to legible handwriting and sometimes working on even one or two can make a huge improvement.
7 Sloppy Handwriting Solutions, Part 1 addressed the first four components:
- memory of each letter,
- starting each letter at the correct place,
- reversals, and
- placement on the line.
7 Sloppy Handwriting Solutions, Part 2 addressed another component, correcting the size of each letter.
Part 2 addressed the first component in fine tuning handwriting! This article will address the final two components.
Canyoureadthissentenceeasilywithoutspaces? Of course not! Spacing is one of the biggest culprits for poor handwriting legibility. Keep in mind that if a child has poor reading abilities, then spacing may also be difficult. Often we ask our kids to copy sentences from the board. If they are not able to recognize a series of letters as words, they simply just bring down each letter without putting spaces between the words. Spacing is something that needs to be taught. Here are some spacing strategies:
If you are an educator and are writing sentences on a board for the entire class to copy, try over exaggerating the spaces between your words. This will help your students realize that each series of letters is actually a word. You could also put sticky notes between each word to help them remember to put a space.
Clap & Jump
It is always best to teach what spacing is before you expect your students to write. Put several sentences on the board. As you point to each word and space instruct your students to clap for words and jump for spaces. To contain your students a little more, I have even asked them to do a chair pushup from their seat for spaces (instead of jumping). This provides a great sensory motor experience, which will hopefully help their brain remember to insert spaces between words.
Play with Food
When my students are working on writing original sentences or copying sentences I often start teaching spacing with food! Food is a huge motivator for most kids, which is why this technique works great!
Give each student several M&Ms/raisins/chocolate chips/fruit snacks/etc. After each word instruct them to place a piece of food on the line after the word. At the end of their sentence they can then EAT the snack!
You will notice that your students may even start to write longer original sentences with this technique! After a couple of trials and you think they have caught on to the concept they can then use non-food objects such as: pennies/googly eyes/gems/etc. They can keep this small collection at their desk for each time they are asked to write.
If all else fails, you can always buy or make word spacers. I have found that Oriental Trading sells them for the cheapest price. I do not recommend these type of word spacers for lefties because it can be very awkward. You can also make these types of spacers. A silly technique is using fake press-on nails on top of popsicle sticks.
7. Speed and Fluency
Speed and fluency is the final component of handwriting that affects legibility. Most often we have students that write “too fast.” If only they could slow down and concentrate their handwriting would be neater, right? Unfortunately in this case, many of these students have really great ideas and their motor skills cannot catch up to the speed of their brains. If we ask them to slow down, then they often may not write as creatively or as much. Overall, our goal for these kids is to express themselves legibly and efficiently. So what are we supposed to do now? Here are three strategies that can help this issue:
I strongly recommend the Callirobics program. This program uses music and repetitive patterns to help kids increase their fluency. The music tends to relax kids while incorporating rhythm to their handwriting.
Cure with Cursive
Also, many times if we teach a child a new technique instead of trying to correct bad habits, they will have more success. Teaching cursive as a new way of writing often leads to improved legibility! As an Occupational Therapist in a public school setting, I have pushed into full 3rd and 4th grade classrooms to teach cursive once per week. I have seen firsthand how cursive can “cure” a student’s illegible printing.
Separate Thought from Motor
Sometimes we need to separate a child’s thought process from their motor process. Thankfully there are many speech recognition programs that can benefit our children. There are FREE speech recognition programs already installed in most computers (they are usually located in the control panel under “ease of access” or “accessibility”).
You will also need a microphone. If your student has a tablet or smartphone available there are many Apps that address speech recognition. The child would then speak into the device. They can then copy what was written focusing on the handwriting components and not on the content that they already expressed. This is similar to using a “scribe”, however it allows the student to be more independent rather than requiring another human being. Keep in mind that speech recognition can be tricky if the student has poor speech fluency. This is not always an option for every student.
As an Occupational Therapist and a parent of a child with isms, I know that handwriting can not only be frustrating for the child, but for the parent as well. Please remember that our children were not born knowing how to use a pencil. Handwriting should be taught and it should also be fun! Never work on handwriting lessons more than 15 minutes per day. Always make sure each lesson is light hearted and as silly as possible!