How to teach your left handed child to write confidently in 12 simple steps.
For a right-hander to teach a left-handed child to write can be daunting but a few simple steps should set your child on a very positive path to successful handwriting.
1. Directionality: Most people write from left to right naturally, lefties do the opposite, moving from right to left. Mirror writing or writing backwards can occur regularly in left-handers.
To help reinforce the left to right direction of handwriting and reading add a visual cue by drawing a thick green start/go line down the left hand side of their paper and tell them to drive off from the left ‘go’ side to the right hand side of the page.
When reading to your left-handed child run follow the line of words being read with your finger, this will continue to reinforce the left-right direction.
2. Observe and correct the pencil grip: The pencil should be held in a ‘tripod’ grip (pinch pencil with index finger and thumb, rest it on the middle finger) with the pencil held at around a 45 degree angle pointing toward their left shoulder. This will help with dynamic finger movements and proper wrist position making it less likely that your child will hook their wrist further down the road, a common trait in lefties. Holding the pencil about 1.5cm above the tip of the pencil allows your child to see what they’re writing and reduces smudging.
If your child finds it difficult remembering where to hold their pencil you can mark the pencil with a permanent marker. Stabilo make left-handed pencils with notches cut out for correct finger positioning which your child may find helpful.
Gripping their pencil too tightly is a common problem in lefties – use of chunky pencils or grips is useful for these children.
Left-handed children often cram an extra finger onto their pencil for extra support which can compromise fluidity and reach. Start young lefties off with Crayon Rocks – they can only be held with three fingers – no room for more! Lots of drawing and colouring in with these and your lefty should be pencil grip ready!
3. Letter formation: In general, when drawing circles righties draw them anti-clockwise, lefties go clockwise. Make sure your child understands the correct direction for forming the anti-clockwise letters ‘a, c, d, f, g, o, q’ and ‘s’ to aid handwriting speed, fluidity and better preparing them for cursive handwriting.
Most lefties prefer to ‘pull’ their little lines (Letters ‘f’ and ‘t’ in the lower case and ‘A, E, F, H, J and T’ in the upper case) backwards to cross their letters in order to avoid tearing the paper, most left handed handwriting books and worksheets use this method. Work out what works best for your child, it’s worth experimenting with. There are no right or wrongs with this but if you are going to use left handed handwriting worksheets that indicate right to left on their little lines stick with right to left crossing to avoid confusion and frustration.
Keep handwriting activities fun and organise them at times when your child is most willing and alert.
Often handwriting books and worksheets position the handwriting example on the left hand side of the page leaving a blank to fill in on the right hand side. The example is soon obscured by left handers and makes correct copying tricky. Choose ‘Left Hand Writing Skills Books 1, 2 and 3’ handwriting workbooks by Mark and Heather Stewart. Click here to buy.
4. Word spacing: The finger spacing rule often used in schools ties lefties up in knots! Putting their right finger at the end of the word they have just written and then crossing over the top of this with their left hand to write the next word does not work. We suggest leaving a space big enough to write a letter ‘o’ between words.
5. Left handed equipment is important: Buy pencils, scissors, pencil sharpeners and rulers designed for lefties. Pencil grips designed specifically for left-handers will teach your child the correct grip.
Scissors: Regular scissor skill practise will help to develop the fine motor skills needed for effective handwriting. It’s important for lefty children to use left-handed scissors because of the way the blade is orientated; it allows kids to see where they are cutting and lefty scissors cut cleanly rather than folding or bending the paper. When teaching scissor skills it is important to encourage them to use their right hand as a ‘helper’ to guide the paper whilst they cut with their left hand.
If your lefty is asked to use right handed scissors they will find that the cutting blade is positioned on the wrong side and will often miss the cutting line by the width of the blade, pain can be caused as the left-hander tries to force the blades together (pushing down slightly diagonally with their thumb to achieve the required pressure) and can cause neck ache as the child tilts their head to get a better view of their cutting line. In conclusion, right-handed scissors for a left-handed child are a definite no, no. Please invest in a decent pair of left-handed scissors.
Why do you need a left-handed ruler? Right handed rulers can be awkward to use for our lefties. Left-handers naturally draw their lines from right to left pulling their pencil across the page. A ruler that is scaled from right to left supports this and makes measuring and drawing more comfortable, accurate and faster.
Why the need for a left handed pencil sharpener? The natural motion for a left hander to sharpen a pencil is anti-clockwise. Left handed pencil sharpeners have the blade position and design reversed so that your child can hold the pencil in their left hand and turn it anti-clockwise in a natural motion.
Handwriting programmes for your left-hander: For younger children ‘So, you think they’re left-handed?’ Writing skills book by Mark and Heather Watson contains photocopiable scissor skills activities aimed at left handed children with cutting angles designed especially for left handers. It contains pencil patterns and activities that will well-prepare your child for beginning to form their letters with ease. For children who are ready to start writing their letters choose ‘Left Handed Writing Skills’ handwriting workbooks by Mark and Heather Stewart. They produce a cd rom which enables schools to print off handwriting exercises for their students. The Morrells handwriting books support the left handed writer also with clear view letter formation and join examples that are not obscured by the left handed writer.
6. Seating position: If your child is sitting at a desk next to a rightie, have your child sit on the left so that they don’t bump elbows. Always allow enough space in their work areas for elbows and arm movements to be supported.
Posture: It is important that your child is positioned correctly to support their handwriting as it will affect how they use their hands to write. A stable core/trunk will encourage good arm control. Ensure:
- Your child’s feet are flat on the floor
- Their bottom is right back in the seat and should reach forward to just behind your child’s knees
- Their hips knees and ankles should all be at a 90 degree angle to each other.
- The seat provides support in the back high enough to reach just below your child’s shoulder blades.
- The table reaches to just above their elbow when seated
- The chair is pulled quite close to the table allowing a small gap in front of their tummy to enable a slight forward lean with a straight back over their writing page. A sloped writing board will stop your child from leaning too far over the page.
- Adopt the correct paper positioning for your left handed child (See below)
7. Smudges: Most left-handed children make smudge marks as their fist moves across the page, it’s important that you let your child know this is okay. In the early stages it’s just important to get them started confidently. Look for smudge free pencils and pens. Check for pencil and paper positioning as this can considerably reduce smudging.
If smudging is beginning to affect your child’s self-confidence try a Yoropen, Yoropencil or Maped Visio pen. They have ‘necks’ that prevent your child’s hand from dropping too low onto the paper and give an increased field of vision so that your child can see what they are writing more easily.
8. Paper positioning: Ask your child to position their paper on their left side, as it will allow him/her to see it clearly when they write. Once they have written across the first line of writing to the far right of their page their left writing hand should be either directly in front of their midline or just slightly to their left. This should enable a smooth and comfortable hand movement across the page and allows them to keep their wrist straight whilst writing. It prevents smudging and allows your child to see what they are writing.
In the early stages with your child’s agreement, cut the bottom right hand corner of their paper off diagonally and teach them to line this edge parallel to the edge of their table or desk. This angle enables them to see the writing line better preventing their hand from ‘hooking’ to see what they are writing.
Alternatively you could place a sticker or strip of masking tape on the desk as a reminder of where the top of the paper should be.
The Write-Well mat can be used at home or school and shows in a very visual child-friendly way how to position the paper and the wrist/hand. They last forever as they come in a quality encapsulation.
9. Left- handers should use their right hand to support their writing: Even though your child is left-handed it’s important that they still use their right ‘helper’ hand to assist with their handwriting. Teach your child to stabilise their paper using their right hand. The more stable the paper and body position the better the handwriting.
10. Copying: When setting a copying task place books above or on the right of their writing paper so that they can see what they are copying.
Often handwriting books and worksheets position the handwriting example on the left hand side of the page leaving a blank to fill in on the right hand side. The example is soon obscured by the left-handers’ arm and makes correct copying very tricky, leading to more mistakes and taking more time to complete – this is really unfair to lefties. Ensure your school have handwriting worksheets specifically designed for left-handers.
11. Help your child to verbalise their handedness: On occasion well-intentioned temporary teachers or teaching assistants may ask your child to switch their pencil to their other hand, if your child can verbalise their handedness it should avoid any problems.
12. Talk to your child’s teacher about their left-handedness: This is important as it will enable your child’s teacher to plan appropriate seating arrangements, positioning of paper for drawing and writing and for provision of appropriate materials which should include left handed scissors, chunky triangular pencils and crayons and handwriting workbooks which have the handwriting example above or to the right of the area for the child to copy on. Some pencil grips and a left-handed ruler would be beneficial too.
General understanding of left-handed writers: Whilst right-handers move their right hand across the page when writing, pulling their pen along with them, seeing everything they’ve written, the left-hander is going to have to push their pen or pencil over the page which is harder to control, their hand then covers up what they’ve just written. Right-handers don’t smudge their work and the binding down the middle of the book doesn’t get in their way. Often left-handed children develop their own strategies to overcome the lefty challenges often adopting uncomfortable hand positions resulting in writing fatigue, illegibility and a messy smudged page.
Is your child left-handed? It is very important to remember that hand dominance is not fully developed until the ages of 5 or 6. It is important not to force your child to be left handed, provide them with plenty of activities to engage both hands until their natural hand dominance is clear to see.
Hope this has helped! Please share your tips and pictures with us! Send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.