Positive Relationships: Home learning - Get to grips

Penny Tassoni
Monday, June 30, 2014

While certain activities are useful for the development of handwriting, others can hinder it - and practitioners can help by explaining the differences to parents.

Handwriting is often misunderstood because parents confuse it with writing. While learning to write is, of course, linked to handwriting, the formation of letters and marks requires several physical skills, including hand-eye co-ordination.

There are many processes involved for children to produce fluid joined-up handwriting, some of which are developmental. When adults try to shortcut any of the processes - by, for example, encouraging children to trace earlier than they are ready or to write on lines - fluent, even handwriting in the primary years is rarely achieved. Having said this, there are some activities that are beneficial to children's handwriting, which we should share with parents while explaining their importance.


One of the consequences of children doing inappropriate handwriting activities is the development of an inefficient pencil grip. It is always interesting to watch four-year-olds who have developed a poor pencil grip because they often use static grasps that prevent the pencil from moving.

This may give them early control, but the danger is that these grasps do not allow sufficient movement to enable the joins and flicks needed for cursive or joined handwriting.

The best type of grip for handwriting is considered to be the dynamic tripod grip, where the pencil is held between flexed thumb and index finger while resting on the middle finger.

For children to develop this grasp, they need plenty of activities that involve the pincer grasp. This can include games such as picking up objects such as chickpeas with tweezers or sorting sequins from confetti.

For parents who may be keen to get their child writing, it is important that we share with them a range of activities that will support correct pencil grasp and also explain to them the dangers of early tracing.


As well as strengthening the pincer grip, we need to help parents understand that grasps change as children develop. This means that a young toddler using a whole hand or palmar grasp to clutch a marker should not be corrected, as this is age appropriate.

Ideally, with the younger age, it is useful to suggest and look out for mark-making tools that allow the hand to be in more of a ball shape, so as to allow the child to make easy fluid movements.


It is useful for parents to know about the three basic movements that will provide children with the building blocks of letter formation. These are thought to be anti-clockwise rotational marks that begin at the top, vertical marks that also begin at the top and, finally, bouncing movements.

It is useful if parents are shown how to produce these and how they link to letter formation. Ideally, these should be in place before children are encouraged to write their name. As many parents associate handwriting with pens and pencils, it is also useful to show how activities that support these movements can be done without a pen or paper in sight.


For some reason, many parents whose children have begun to write their name seem to feel that small handwriting is neater. It is worth helping these parents to recognise that there is a huge amount of precision needed to form letters correctly.

Starting out with large movements actually allows children to gain control more quickly. It is fairly easy to illustrate this to parents by simply asking them to put a pen in their non-writing hand and then asking them first to write something as small as they can and then to do the same but writing on a much larger scale.

Finally, it is important to identify and support left-handed children. They are likely to need to make larger movements for longer and will benefit from writing on a sloped surface.

Download the pdf with home activities

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