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Trouble with Handwriting

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My eight-year-old son has terrible handwriting. It is often illegible. He is an honor roll student, even in a gifted program, but even with extensive practice - his writing never improves. His dad has the same type of writing. Could it be hereditary? I'm afraid as he gets older his teachers won't be so tolerant of his messy papers.

A: If a parent has a learning disability that affects his or her visual or auditory processing, a child might have a similar problem that makes handwriting difficult. There is also the possibility that your child has poor vision for sustained close work in school. Other reasons for poor handwriting include: trying to disguise spelling problems, having poor small motor skills, holding a pencil incorrectly, and failing to learn all the basic handwriting skills essential to legibility. This last reason is why most children write illegibly.

Look closely at your child's handwriting, and also ask his teacher to evaluate it in the following areas which are the keys to legibility:

  • Shape - Are the letters being formed correctly?
  • Size - Are the short letters one half the size of the tall letters, and the intermediate letters three fourths the size of the tall letters? Letters of the same size should be the same height.
  • Slant - The slant in legible writing is uniform. A slant between 60 and 70 degrees is best.
  • Spacing - Spacing between letters, words, and sentences needs to be consistent.
  • Staying on the line.
Once you and the teacher have determined why your son's handwriting is illegible, a program can be developed to improve it. It will be most successful if your son can be convinced of the importance of writing legibly. It might help to tell him that research shows that teachers grade papers with good handwriting higher than those with poorer handwriting regardless of the quality of the content.

More on: Expert Advice

Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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