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Improving handwriting skills


Why is handwriting important?

The ability to write clearly is a key part of how well your child does in school. Writing lets us share our thoughts and ideas with others. Besides helping your child do well in school, good handwriting will help them do well in life. Children who have problems writing by hand may not be able to keep up with their schoolwork. If they are taking time to think about how to form letters, they cannot focus on what is being taught. Good handwriting will help your child learn more and be more confident.

What basic skills help your child write well?

To write well, your child needs to have many basic skills. She needs to be able to move her eyes, arms, hands, and fingers at the same time. Your child also needs to be able to sit up straight and think about how to write the letters. Before your child learns to write letters, she will do pre-writing. First, she will learn how to hold and move a pencil. Then, she will learn how to draw lines going up and down, lines going across, and circles.

Soon she will be able to draw a stick person. After learning all this, your child will be ready to learn how to write the letters of her name.

To write well, a child must have the following:

  • Perceptual skills – The ability to identify shapes and letters
  • Motor skills – The strength and body control to move a pencil

These skills are affected by how well children see, how they think, how strong they are, and how well they can move their fingers or wrists.


How can parents and families help?

If your child has a hard time writing well, you can do a lot to help. You can teach your child the best way to sit, and several activities that will help her improve.

How to sit

When writing, your child should do the following:

  • Keep legs and hips at 90 degrees with feet flat on the floor. Cushions or telephone books can be put under the feet, if needed.
  • Keep her back straight, with her bottom touching the back of the chair.
  • Lay the paper at a 45-degree angle toward her writing hand. To do this, place the paper straight up and down on the table. Gently tilt the top left corner down 45 degrees for a right-handed person (shown) or up for a left-handed person.

Grasping skills

The drawing at the right shows the correct way to hold a pencil.

Your child can get better at grasping things by doing the following:

  • Tongs and tweezers. Have your child hold tongs or tweezers with the first and middle fingers and thumb. As a game, have your child pick up different items such as marbles and beads. 
  • Eye droppers. Have your child squeeze an eye dropper with the first finger, middle finger, and thumb. 
  • Tops. Have your child spin a top only using the first finger and thumb.

Pre-writing skills

The following activities will help your child get used to using a pencil and making shapes:

  • Copy basic lines and shapes
  • Connect-the-dots
  • Solve simple mazes
  • Trace shapes with a finger or a larger stick
  • Draw shapes into dry or wet sand, rice, or shaving cream
  • Place a piece of paper over templates or textured materials and use crayons to color the textures

Fun writing activities

The more your child practices, the better she will be able to write. Help make it fun for your child by showing her the games below:

  • Trace or copy letters
  • Trace letters with a finger or a larger stick
  • “Draw” letters in the air with finger, pencil, or favorite toy
  • Write letters in dry or wet sand, rice, or shaving cream
  • Write with many different tools: colored pencils, markers, chalk, felt-tip pens, mechanical pencils, crayons, or vibrating squiggle pens
  • Write for fun: make cards, write letters and postcards, make books
  • Cut out letters with scissors
  • Practice writing letters on Magna-doodles or dry-erase boards

What can an occupational therapist do?

When a child does not do well in school because of poor writing skills, meeting with an occupational therapist can help. An occupational therapist can do the following:

  • Check your child’s motor skills, posture, strength, and endurance
  • Check how well she sees and identifies things, and how she thinks
  • Give you ideas to strengthen any skills your child needs to develop
  • Suggest activities your child can do at home to improve writing skills
  • Talk to your child’s teacher about any handwriting problems
  • Talk to your child’s teacher about special needs your child might have related to handwriting, such as more time for writing activities or offering more multiple choice questions rather than fill-in-the-blank
  • Decide the best way for your child to write at school, like typing on a keyboard instead of writing by hand
  • Help school staff and your family understand your child’s needs


If you have questions or concerns about your child’s handwriting, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis Area, call toll-free 1-866-2STJUDE (1-278-866-5833), extension 3621.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).