More than just handwriting. Here's what to look out for when your child is learning how to write

Handwriting is an important skill that children must learn in order to succeed in school. Teachers assess learning through homework and written tests. Good handwriting allows the child to communicate what they have learnt. Such children enjoy learning, excel in school and develop a healthy self-esteem. On the other hand, children who have poor handwriting may feel frustrated and develop a dislike for learning.

Handwriting ability in children

Handwriting ability in children follows the physical and intellectual development of the child.

Handwriting is not just about the hands, nor is it simply picking up a pencil to form A-B-Cs. It is a complex skill which needs to be learnt. It requires good posture, balance and upper body strength to give stability for arm and hand control; grip strength and finger control for holding the pencil well; visual, perceptual and memory skills to lear​n letter formation, and the ability to pay attention to the task.

"To develop gross motor skills, children need to engage in outdoor play, using the larger muscles of their body, arms and legs," say Ms Natalie Chew, Senior Principal Occupational Therapist​ from Singapore General Hospital​ (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group. They also need to learn about concepts such as ‘up’ and ‘down’, ‘left’ and ‘right’, jumping, ​climbing, swinging and animal walks are all fun ways to do this.

​Figure 1: Development of Grips

Development of writing ability

Pencil grip is often a concern of parents. It is important to realize that the muscles and bones of the child’s hand are continually developing from birth until their teens, and young children should use a grip appropriate for their age and ability. Figure 1 shows how a child’s grip might develop up up till 6 years of age.

The development of writing ability develops in the same way. At 2, children first learn to scribble. Subsequently, they learn to make vertical and horizontal strokes, followed by circles by age 3 and finally, the ability to draw diagonal lines at 5-6 years of age.

This is important in the way we teach children to write. For example, letters with vertical and horizontal lines eg. ‘I’, ‘H’ and ‘E’ would be easier to write than ‘O’ and ‘C’, and letters with diagonal lines ‘N’, ‘X’ and ‘Z’ can be taught later.

Most importantly, handwriting can be fun and rewarding for both parents and children. Incorporate practice into writing birthday cards, games such as tic-tac-toe or grocery lists. About 10 to 15 minutes of consistent practice, with the child’s total attention and effort, can make all the difference.

Figure 2: Development of handwriting strokes

Ref: U11