Teaching: Handwriting

crayons As soon as a child starts to write they should be taught to hold the paint brush, crayon or pencil correctly. If the proper grip is used right from the beginning it leads to better practice in later life. It also means that when the time comes for children to start to join up their writing they will find that this grip makes the writing flow more easily. The paintbrush or pencil should be held in a tripod grip between the thumb and the first two fingers. Only one finger should actually be on top of the pencil.

Children should be encouraged at an early age to draw patterns across the page. This helps the hand and eye co-ordination of left to right. It also helps with the flow of letters to come later.They should use paint, crayons, coloured pencils and be given a large piece of paper to scribble on. Many people think these pictures are meaningful drawings to young children and deserve to be admired and some of them displayed. Especially if you make stars or animals with your child praise and interest certainly encourages them, improves concentration and gives the child the desire to try again!

Children’s first introduction to letters is usually through you pointing out their name. Write their name on the pictures, on their coat for play school, on their school bag so that gradually they get used to seeing it. Some children will learn to read by the shape of the word.

When you read a story other words can be introduced and the letters that they know pointed out to them. Many of the children’s television programmes do this all the time. 

A child always learns to write on a large piece of paper with no lines. They will not at first connect the letters together but may have all the letters of a word anywhere on the paper. The next stage is when they realise or learn that the letters need to be together. The writing will be large and shaky. Children again need encouragement at this stage. Gradually they will become surer and their control will get better. As they gain confidence they progress to smaller paper and then to lines.

Some children need to be told that the letters should ‘sit’ on the lines. It is really confusing for little ones as some letters have ‘tails’ and some have ‘straight backs’. Usually children are only started on lower case letters. I feel they should always be introduced to putting capitals at the beginning of a name e.g. Katie or Monday etc. This is because it is the way that they are always going to see that word. I know that the keyboard has upper case letters and if you like you could buy a concept keyboard. I think you will find in schools that children manage as this is an added expense for a very short time. Also many of the letters in English can be formed in different ways. It is always useful to ask the school what handwriting scheme they use. On the computer ‘Comic Sans’ has the correct ‘a’ for young children.

a start at the top and form a round tummy sitting on the line
b has a straight back and a fat tummy
c is curved but the bottom of the curve sits on the line
d you start the tummy of the letter which sits on the line and then it has a straight back
e sits on the line
f you start at the top and only the bottom sits on the line
g you start with the tummy and then the tail is below the line
h Two legs of the h sit on the line
i is smaller than l and sits on the line
j has a tail below the line
k has a straight back on the line and two kicking feet
l is tall and thin
m has three feet all the same size
n is like a tunnel
o is a circle on the line
p has a tail below the line and a fat tummy
q has a fat tummy and a straight back below the line
r sits on the line
s sits on the line and is like a wriggly snake
t sits on the line and has two arms
u the bottom of the u sits on the line
v goes down and up and the point sits on the line
w has two points on the line
x crosses in the middle and sits on the line
y is like a v but the tail is below the line
z has a head and the feet sit on the line

This is the introduction to writing.

Cursive writing is introduced as soon as the children are confident and well before they start key stage 2. Cursive writing is a natural progression for this as in most cases it is often just a tail being added to the letter. Pattern writing should reflect some of the features which will need practicing when doing letter formation. When starting to learn writing skills children should use a thick pencil, a crayon or even a paintbrush! As well as actually practising shapes and letters it is a good idea to strengthen the child’s finger grip on the paint brush, pencil or crayon. This can be done by:

  • Painting pictures
  • Using play dough
  • Using fingers for Finger Rhymes
  • Enjoy playing musical instruments such as drum, xylophone, keyboard, percussion instruments etc
  • Cooking with Mum……………..cracking eggs, buttering bread, hulling strawberries etc.
  • Doing jigsaws and playing with other toys such as shape sorters


Shape families for letters 

Letters can be grouped into four main groups………………..according to their shape

1.       Down and then linked letters such as:

l  j  i  t    and possibly v and w 
2.       Down and trace upwards letters such as:

  b, h, k, m, n, p, r; (one armed robot) 

  2, 3, 5 also follow a clockwise direction

3.       Letters which go round anti-clockwise, such as  the letter c (curly caterpillar)

c, a, d, e, g, o, q, f, s

numbers: 0, 6, 8, 9 are anticlockwise numbers.

4.       Zigzag  letters  such as:

v, w, x, z

Numbers   1, 4, 7.are zigzag numbers

Is the way the pupil sits important?

It is essential that all children have a good pencil grip and sit correctly.

Many teachers start teaching handwriting using triangular pencils. These pencils make it easier for the children to grip the pencil comfortably. The other alternative is use commercial pencil grips only if other methods have failed.

Children should have

  • Enough room
  • Have tables and chairs which are the correct height
  • Have sufficient lighting
  • Be taught to use their free hand to hold the paper steady
  • The paper should be tilted slightly. 

Left-handed children

These children find it easier to write if the paper slightly to the left of the centre of their body. They need to be able to see what they have written.

It is always a good idea to put a mark at the left hand side of the page where they should start the writing.

Learning to write is more difficult for left-handed children. They should, therefore, be given more attention in the classroom to ensure that they do not learn bad habits of position, posture and pen hold which will hinder the development of a fast, fluent and legible hand.

Suggested guidelines for children who write with their left hand.

Animal alphabet handwriting
Alphabet writing practice
Learn to write the complete alphabet
Cursive handwriting a to z


Sign in