How to fix your child’s writing

by | Oct 3, 2014 | Uncategorized, Writing | 0 comments

Children who struggle to write fluently need help as quickly as it can be given. Fixing poor writing isn’t as tricky as you might think. Just follow our simple steps…


Look very closely at these four writing samples. Which one most closely matches your child’s writing at the moment?

  [fusion_tabs layout=”horizontal” justified=”yes” backgroundcolor=”” inactivecolor=”” class=”” id=””] [fusion_tab title=”SAMPLE 1″] If you have picked Sample 1, you will need to fix:

  • Handgrip
  • Letter formation

Stay focused purely on these two issues and don’t make a fuss about the spelling or sentence construction (yet).

Step one

Make sure their hand is correctly-positioned, relaxed and comfortable. Although handwriting practice should be done with a good, easy-flowing rollerball pen, the hand grip exercise needs to begin with a RETRACTABLE PENCIL, which has such a delicate lead that it snaps when too much pressure is put on it, encouraging a lighter touch. Look closely at these four handgrips. Arrange your child’s hand on the pencil with index finger on the top pointing towards the pencil-point. The fingers should be relaxed and avoid overly bent knuckles. The final two pics show the correct grip. The grip will feel weak and tricky to write with at first, but this is to be expected! Good-Bad-Grips Print up a few copies of the infinity curves below and your child should place his or her pencil at the start. Although each curve begins with the ‘start here’ part, you should encourage a sweeping many-times-repeated figure of eight. Don’t return to the start each time, but keep the pencil sweeping round and round. Infinity-Grip Do this exercise every single day as often as possible. Have a sample on the table in the kitchen, by their bed, and all over the house with a cheap RETRACTABLE PENCIL nearby. The more they do this the better – and when they become brilliant at it, simply make the infinity curve smaller and keep on going, until it is the size of everyday handwriting. Praise and reward constantly and admit it is dull but important. From the moment they begin to practise, check their handgrip is correct every single time they pick up a pen or pencil. Laugh about how feeble and rubbish it feels at first and don’t let them give up and return to their bad habits. Then your child’s hand grip will be fixed.

Step two

Now to sort out letter-formation. Most schools use the fully cursive style of handwriting, here’s a lovely sampler from a school in Surrey, to show you exactly what each letter should look like.

You’ll notice that every lower-case letter begins on the bottom line. Each letter should sit fully on the line and be clearly under control. Children always start way too fast, so encourage slow perfection for each little shape. Give up on the retractable pencil now and move your child to a lovely smooth-flowing ROLLERBALL PEN. Left handed children may prefer to use a special LEFT-HANDED PEN to hold that hand-grip in place. You’ll notice that the creator of the handwriting sheet above has drawn a middle line to help position the letters of the title absolutely correctly. This will help your child very much at the beginning, so have a ruler and a sharp pencil nearby and don’t expect your child to be able to do this part for themselves. Alternatively, print up this special  handwriting paper double sheet with the dotted middle line to designate where the half-height parts of letters should sit. Letters can be broken into families that are formed in a similar way, and practiced in this order:

  • c  a  d  g o  q      (c pattern)
  • m  n  r
  • v  w
  • f  t        (three-quarter height)
  • b h k l
  • u y
  • v w
  • i j p
  • x
  • e
  • s  z

Mark their work with gold stars and praise around the one little perfect one they do. Ignore the rest, and suggest that when they go wrong they don’t cross it out but simply do a better one next to it. Ideally glue special handwriting paper into A GOOD A4 LINED EXERCISE BOOK.

If you would prefer to buy your child a good handwriting book to work from, CLICK HERE for our favourite one.

Daily practice for a couple of weeks and a reminder every time they pick up a pen will fix your child’s handwriting. But only if you make sure you:

  • Praise the slowest, most careful efforts where the pen is controlled from start to finish.
  • Mark by picking out the best parts and ignoring those that wobble a bit.

[/fusion_tab] [fusion_tab title=”SAMPLE 2″] This child is struggling to write fluently through a mixture of lack of pen control and confidence. His writing is well-formed but there is hardly any on the page.  If your child’s writing looks like this, you will need to focus on:

  • Handgrip and pen control
  • Fluency and confidence

Step one

Check your child has a comfortable and correctly positioned hand-grip, and that he or she is forming each letter in the correct way. If you have any concerns about these two issues, click on the SAMPLE 1 tab above.

Step two

Put in place a daily ten-minute writing exercise where your child copies basic sentences from one of their old picture books.

All writing exercises need to be done unbearably slowly and carefully. Imagine learning to type for the  first time – it is a slow and tedious process to type out a long passage, where writing it by hand would be so much quicker, but soon your fingers begin to fly across the keyboard and you realise it was worth the slow and faltering beginning…

It’s great if you can give your child A GOOD A4 LINED EXERCISE BOOK or smart notebook to write in and a pen that is as good as this type of  ROLLERBALL PEN. No biro or pencil at this stage please.

Once your child has spent a couple of weeks copying out one or two gorgeously-well-formed sentences from old and well-loved picture books, they are ready to move on to their own reading book as a source of sentences.

The work needs to be done immensely slowly (one sentence per evening and have another go at it underneath if it isn’t absolutely perfect) with the proper handgrip in place.  Do remember your gold stars and give out masses of specific praise.

Regular practice that takes no more than 10 minutes per evening will fix your child’s lack of fluency and give him or her the confidence and pen control to produce well-formed words at a reasonable speed.

[/fusion_tab] [fusion_tab title=”SAMPLE 3″] There are a number of issues evident here and each one needs to be addressed in order. The danger is picking up on too many errors, so your child becomes swamped with instructions. It is best if you aim to fix just 2 at a time:

  • Size and position of words on the line
  • Correct use of capital letters

Later – once these two issues are completely fixed – click on the Sample 4 tab to work on spelling and language repetition as your child’s next couple of targets. Please don’t overload, or you won’t achieve the results you are hoping for.

Step one

Although the correct letter-formation is evident here, the writing is over-large and letter-sizing is erratic.

Click on the Sample 1 tab above, and then scroll down to Step two to fix your child’s letter formation – you can either do it on your own following the instructions, or CLICK HERE to buy a great handwriting book we recommend.

At the same time, point out that each word needs to sit right down on the line.  This is an easy target for any child to achieve, so write these words for them on the inside cover of A GOOD A4 LINED EXERCISE BOOK:

TARGET: Sit your writing on the line

Then every time your child writes anything at all for any reason, you can remind him or her to check on their target before beginning. Or to consider whether they are addressing their target in their class work, perhaps in a chat on the way to and from school each day.

If you bang on regularly, the writing will be sat on the line in no time at all!

Only move on when you are properly sure that Step one has been achieved. Perhaps go on for a day or two extra just to be 100% sure he or she has secured their skills well enough that they won’t slip back into bad habits as they move on. Really, be sure…

Step two

Now for those capital letters. Children are usually pretty familiar with a capital at the beginning of a sentence and a capital for a name of someone or something. They don’t always realise that names of football clubs or stadiums begin with capital letters, and they may not be aware that the second word of the name has a capital too, eg. Newcastle United.

It will take just a few minutes at most to check that your child understands the information above. Once that is done, tick off their previous target, note the date next to it and stick a gold star on it.  Now you can write below it:

TARGET: Capital letters in the correct places.

As with the first target, remind constantly, mention it before anything else and keep banging on – every time they write anything at all, or show you something from school – until that target is secured. It really won’t take long if you keep it in the front of your child’s mind.

Now you have fixed the size and position of their letters, and their use of capital letters.

[/fusion_tab] [fusion_tab title=”SAMPLE 4″]There are a number of issues evident here and each one needs to be addressed in order.

Standard English should be tackled when your child speaks to you and doesn’t need to be done on paper at this stage. Remind your child when they use a word incorrectly, in this case Felix has used, ‘raned’ instead of ‘ran’ and ‘out the window’ instead of ‘out of the window’. Listen for these errors in conversation at any point in the day, don’t bang on too much, but the odd reminder will have a positive impact on your child’s written work.

The danger is picking up on too many errors, so your child becomes swamped with instructions. It is best if you aim to fix just 2 at a time. In this case the first two should be:

  • Size and position of words on the line
  • Correct use of capital letters

Click on the Sample 3 tab above and these two issues are addressed in full.

The next two issues, that we will focus on in this section, are:

  • Appropriate punctuation
  • Improved spelling

Step one

Print up this sheet of un-punctuated sentences.

They have been taken from a brilliant book that we have at home, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, written by Robert C O’Brien and published by Puffin Books.

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH sentences

Each night ask your child to copy just one sentence into A GOOD A4 LINED EXERCISE BOOK using a a pen that is as good as this type of ROLLERBALL PEN. No biro or pencil at this stage please.

These sentences are tricky to punctuate and there are various right ways to approach each one. A quick 5 minute chat to discuss and improve on your child’s choices will do so much to secure their punctuation skills.

For the author’s punctuation choices, you will have to buy the paperback Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH!

Step two

Some children struggle with spelling simply through a lack of long-term input at school, others through the lack of a tight marking scheme at school, some through a weakness in their visual memory and others because they have a learning difficulty – perhaps dyslexia – which needs proper investigation. If you suspect that your child has a specific learning difficulty then do press the school to arrange for a report from an Educational Psychologist.

Spelling is a challenge and it would be unrealistic to attempt to fix poor spelling in a short period of time.What we can do though, is make huge improvements very quickly.

When a child makes numerous spelling errors on the page, some of those errors will be accidental, but others will be through lack of care. If you can fix those that your child is fully aware he or she is guessing, then you will notice a great improvement in their work.

CLICK HERE for a clearly-laid-out sheet of most commonly misspelt words:

Print up this page, stick a copy on the fridge and another by your child’s bed and have a chat to your child about it. There are some words here that you will need to discuss. Don’t do this all at once – just make the odd comment here and there. If your son or daughter has a copy of this sheet handy whenever he or she begins a writing task, explain that there is no excuse for getting these simple spellings wrong any more.

In addition to the commonly misspelt words sheet, encourage your child to ask for key spellings before beginning any new task at school. If the task is a comprehension, the key spellings will all be on the sheet – and this should be pointed out!

Now write these words for your child, on the inside cover of A GOOD A4 LINED EXERCISE BOOK:

TARGET: Copy spellings correctly

Then every time your child writes anything at all for any reason, you can remind him or her to check on their target before beginning. Or to consider whether they are addressing their target in their class work, perhaps in a chat on the way to and from school each day.

If you bang on regularly, the basic spellings will be improved in no time at all! But if you find your child is struggling to copy sentences correctly then do follow this up with the school and push hard for an Educational Psychologist’s report.

If you wish to take spelling further, this is the brilliant – but huge and overwhelming – National Literacy Strategy Spelling Bank  for teachers. It gives weekly spelling lists term by term for Key Stage 2 (7-11 year olds).

Easier than this would be to pick up on homophones (words that sound the same but have different spellings). Here is a set of excellent sheets (apologies for the Americanisms though).


A couple of weeks of the work above and your child’s attitude to spelling will have shifted and their spelling will be hugely improved.

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