Left-handed writers can be a menacing force in the classroom when it comes to handwriting instruction! Their struggles are confusing for teachers and parents and can result in a great deal of stress for the students. A search of the web can offer some help, but most often very few of the tips or adaptations are easy to use both in school and at home. With nearly 15% of the population being left-handed, it makes sense to share some of the simple strategies that can turn handwriting groans into grins.
Hand Preference and Handwriting Mastery
The preference we develop for one hand allows us to use that hand efficiently as a “tool” in our daily activities. As we develop our fine motor skills, it becomes “second nature” to use our two hands together, with our dominant hand being supported by our non-dominant one for dressing, hobbies, or handwriting. This is an important skill for the development of a legible and fluid handwriting style. As students begin to master handwriting, it also becomes a skill that is automatic, no longer needing to think about it as they do it. For mastery, however, they also must develop speed. Speed with handwriting allows them to use their skills to complete their work in a timely manner, to keep up with their peers, and to enhance their educational success.
Resources for Left-Handed Writers
Handwriting mastery depends upon a student’s ability to “get it right the first time.” Left-handed writers will find it easier to do this if they receive handwriting instruction that is designed for their specific needs. Let’s take a look at some simple handwriting instruction tips that will help our left-handed writers to “get it right!”
Tip 1: Posture Comes First
- With 30-60% of classroom time spent on fine motor skills (predominantly handwriting), the head, eyes, and body positioning play key roles in handwriting success for ALL writers. A proper seated posture provides this support and begins with appropriate chair height.
- The secret for success for an efficient seated position is the 90-degree-angle rule: hips, knees, and ankles all at 90 degrees!
- Chairs too high? A book under the student’s feet is an easy fix. Chairs that are too low or desks that are too high? A sturdy cushion (e.g., balance cushions or wedges) on the seat will raise the child up and appropriately position the hips, knees, and ankles. (In a pinch, you can use that book, as well!)
Tip 2: Proper Paper Position
- Both left- and right-handed writers benefit from a slanted paper to encourage smooth movement across the midline.
- The difference for left-handed writers is that they NEED this to have a clear view of their writing and to avoid smudging their work. A slanted page “affords the writer with the most efficient and comfortable position for the wrist, elbow, and shoulder.” (1)
- For left-handed writers, “the top of the page should be rotated clock-wise by 20-30 degrees” (2), depending upon the writer’s preference. For right-handed writers, the paper should be rotated counter-clockwise in the same manner.
- Practicing handwriting movements on a vertical surface (e.g., chalkboard) allows free arm movement, with the wrist in an appropriate writing position.
Tip 3: Next Up is Pencil Grip
- An appropriate pencil grip is defined as one that allows for efficient handwriting skills. Smooth movements + legibility + speed = efficient handwriting skills. A “not-so-pretty” pencil grasp is a functional one if it is not interfering with handwriting mastery!
- Left-handed writers should hold their pencil about “1 to 1.5 inches above” (3) the tip of the pencil to provides a clear view and to prevent smudging.
- Special pencil grips or pencils are not necessary. For a too tight or loose grip that causes hand and finger fatigue or results in poor legibility, the focus should be on “hand and finger strength” (4).
Tip 4: Lefties Do It Differently
- Left-handed writers form some letters from a different direction than right handers.
- It is much more efficient for them to “pull from right to left than to push the pencil across the letter from left to right” (3) to form the “f and t” and “A, E, F, H, J and T.”
- A slightly slanted and/or raised writing surface (e.g., 3-ring binder) allows smoother arm movements for both left- and right-handed writers.
Left-handed writers CAN master handwriting skills if they are provided with the appropriate tools for learning!
(1) Holder, M. K., Ph.D. “Teaching Left-Handers to Write.” Handedness Research Institute. Handedness Research Institute, n.d. Web. 21 June 2014.
(2) “Left-Handed Writing.” Left-Handed Writing. Ed. Lefty’s. Lefty’s, n.d. Web. 21 June 2014.
(3) Christie. “Tips for Teaching Left Handed Children to Write.” Mama OT. N.p., 30 June 2013. Web. 21 June 2014.
(4) “Fine Motor Strength.” Therapy Street for Kids. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2014.