Q. Could you share some of your tips for getting children to write well? My son's handwriting is terrible, I know this. He is sloppy and all the other kids' writing was so much nicer at Back to School Night. It is embarrassing. He hates it when I correct him, but I need him to work on it. His teacher says so, too.
A. Do not be embarrassed about your child's handwriting. The other parents were all looking at their own children's work, not yours.
Still, handwriting is a skill that needs to be taught. Kids resist using the handwriting lines because it is difficult. Motor skills have to be developed. If your son is young, he needs time to develop his muscles through coloring, playdough, Legos, as well as writing.
I use some 'tricks' with my students and my own children. First, when my son said his hands hurt after all his writing in kindergarten, I sort of got excited and asked, 'really, already!?' He was surprised by my reaction (as I intended). I asked him to squeeze my hand as hard as he could with his kindergarten muscles.
He loved that and really squeezed. I told him how strong I could tell he was getting and that his teacher was really helping him build muscles. It really is not a joke. His teacher is fabulous, starting the year making sure the children form letters properly and spending a lot of time getting it right in the beginning. My husband often checks my son's muscles and he just loves squeezing daddy's fingers to show just how strong he is. His handwriting is already improving, and when he brings me his papers, he shows me how 'strong' his letters look.
Also, many kids want to draw their letters rather than write them. There is a difference. In preschool and before handwriting is introduced, kids learn what letters look like and begin to try to imitate the shape. They need to know how to write them properly for speed and accuracy as we start to introduce other skills.
Many kids come into kindergarten starting letters at the bottom. I point out to the children, that when we are small we try to 'grow' our letters starting them at the bottom. I equate this to planting little seeds when we begin to write, but now that the children are big kindergartners, or first-graders in my students' case, they need to pull the letters and numbers down. Letters should be started at the top of the mid line or the top line, depending on the letter. Once children do this, their hands are much more comfortable, they can see the handwriting lines more clearly, and the process starts to move quickly.
Hang in there. Many kids struggle with handwriting and others need help investing in the learning process. You are right to look for ways to improve his skills. He will be proud when he starts to communicate clearly in writing. Handwriting without Tears is also a program I really like for early writers breaking the process down into very simple, doable steps, if you are looking for even more guidance.