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Here is a handy letter-writing guide...
Alphabet
Click here to see it full-size.

"Tips For Parents"

Time Management

How much time per day should I spend teaching handwriting?

Handwriting Without Tears recommends that instruction time should be 10 minutes per day, while the child should practice 5 minutes per day. Handwriting can be completed in a 15-minute session. It is better to have the child produce five minutes of quality handwriting than to insist on drills and monotonous writing. More is not always better, and you may end up with "the more you do the worse you get" problem! The workbooks are set up to have the child copy only ONCE from each perfect model provided on the page. With proper instruction of the formation of each letter, and strategies to produce correct placement of letters on lines, the child will be able to copy only once, with beautiful handwriting.

How much time per week should I spend teaching handwriting?

This is up to you and your child! Handwriting Without Tears recommends 10 minutes of instruction and 5 minutes of practice time per day. If a child is motivated and ambitious, wanting to practice seven days per week, then go for it! Fifteen minutes per day will not produce burnout. However, if Monday - Friday is a better routine, this should be sufficient for most children. There is no harm in taking time away on the weekends!

Use teachable moments! If there are opportunities during the week to practice new letters, new words, or maybe even sentence writing, encourage the child to use these opportunities. HWT has journal notebooks that are perfect for writing about interesting things encountered throughout the week. The key is to give the child the appropriate instruction (live demonstrations), then allow opportunities for review and mastery before expecting independent writing.


Handwriting Without Tears: So Easy To Use!

Can I teach this at home?

Yes! HWT is designed to make it simple for adults to teach handwriting to children. The book, Handwriting Without Tears, is a nice overview of the entire program. It also acts as a guide for teaching the readiness portion of the program. It would benefit any adult to read through this book before beginning, to better understand the background and philosophy of HWT. However, if you choose to purchase only the teacher's guide and one workbook for your child, you can still teach the program effectively.

The teacher's guides for printing and cursive handwriting will guide you through each letter of the alphabet, while the child moves through the appropriate workbook. Strategies for effect teaching are clear and simple to follow. Problem shooting ideas are given to help you when your child reaches a "roadblock" in the program.

By following the child friendly verbal cues, the step-by-step demonstrations, moving at your child's appropriate pace, and allowing for review and mastery of skills, your child will develop good handwriting habits and become a proficient writer. Consistency is the key! Devote a small amount of time, daily, to handwriting and you will see positive results!

What if I am not a teacher or special educator?

No need to worry! Handwriting Without Tears teacher's guides consider the "teacher" to be the adult in a child's life who is concerned and willing to work on handwriting issues! The guides are written in clear, easy to understand terminology, with step-by-step instructions and illustrations to follow. Reading through Handwriting Without Tears Kindergarten Teacher's Guide, Printing Teacher's Guide, or Cursive Teacher's Guide, would certainly better your understanding of the program, while preparing you to assist your child. The reading is easy and clear. A plan has been designed to help you guide your child through handwriting.


Transitions: When to Move Ahead

When will I know if my child should move from readiness activities to printing, using pencil and paper?

Even babies are beginning to develop skills they'll later use for handwriting because handwriting involves the whole child a social, mental and physical being who's looking, moving, hearing, thinking, touching, planning, etc. It is important to prepare a child for handwriting by helping them develop these "readiness" skills. You will need to ask yourself a few questions before moving a child from pre-printing skills to writing with pencil and paper. These include:

  • Has the child established handedness? Or has a decision been made regarding which hand should be used? If a child is truly undecided, then save the pencil/paper activities for a while.
  • Can the child hold the pencil in a good writing position? An "open pinch"/tripod grasp is preferred. (Refer to Handwriting Without Tears book) Many children need to be "taught" how to hold a pencil correctly.
  • Can the child identify the big line, little line, big curve and little curve, of the wood letter pieces? It is important that the child be able to understand size and shape, top and bottom, left to right, etc., in order to have good handwriting habits.
  • Does the child demonstrate a satisfactory level of attention, cognitive skill and cooperation? Formal writing instruction should wait until the child can draw and color beyond just scribbling, sit still and pay attention briefly, understand simple concepts like up and down, start and stop, big and little, and follow simple directions.

When will I know if my child should move from printing to cursive writing?

Handwriting Without Tears recommends that children wait until third grade to transition to cursive writing. Children have matured and developed better eye-hand coordination and longer attention spans at this age. You will need to ask yourself a few questions before moving a child from printing to writing in cursive. These include:

  • When writing, does the child demonstrate the ability to change directions during a stroke? The very first lesson in cursive joins c to c and requires that the child change from an "under" curve (like a smile) to an "over curve" (like a rainbow), using a smooth, consistent stroke. (Refer to the Cursive Teacher's Guide and to Cursive Handwriting). Until the child is able to do this comfortably and confidently, please wait on further cursive instruction.
  • Does the child use an acceptable pencil grasp? The older the child, the more resistant to any changes in how the pencil is held. If a child has been printing for a few years with a "bad" grip, the chances of changing it are slim. If the child's grasp is causing pain, some efforts may need to be made to correct the grasp. If there is no pain and the child is proficient with writing, leave it alone! Ideally, the pencil should be "pinched" between the thumb pad and index finger pad. The pencil rests on the middle finger. (Refer to Cursive Teacher's Guide, for instructions on holding the pencil)
  • Has the child been unsuccessful with printing? If a child has had previous trouble with printing, cursive writing may give the child a fresh start. Learning a new skill can put the child on equal footing with other children. Cursive writing and its continuous flow, helps children keep a steady left to right progression. Many times, spacing problems will decrease. Once mastered, cursive will be faster than printing because it doesn't have so many stops and starts. It is more age-appropriate for the third grade child to put your efforts into cursive writing instruction.

How can I transition my child from another handwriting program to HWT?

Change can be good! First of all, consider the reason for the change. Most of the time, HWT is being introduced because another handwriting program is not producing good results; i.e., the children are not learning how to write proficiently.

First of all, prepare the children. Explain to them that HWT is different. It doesn't look like the other styles of writing; it is easy to learn; the paper only has two lines, which is easier to follow; the program is FUN!

For Pre-school and Kindergarten children, start from scratch. These children are young enough to be introduced to the wood pieces, slates and eventually, double line paper. HWT can be very successful for these children. As these children move to the next grade levels, they will easily continue with the HWT program.

For 1st and 2nd graders, don't fix what's not broken. Assess their handwriting and decide which areas need work. The workbooks can act as a guide for the children to develop good handwriting habits, and you can problem shoot to correct bad habits. Give them opportunities to become familiar with the double line paper, and to master new letters that have been introduced. As they move to the next grade levels, continue with HWT.

For 3rd graders, start from scratch when teaching cursive writing. The HWT style of cursive is vertical, not slanted, and is very easy to learn. It looks more like printed letters that the children are familiar with, and children can recognize the letters. Introducing a new handwriting program at this age is not traumatic. Cursive is a new concept to these children anyway, and HWT is the best program to use.

For 4th graders, again, don't fix what's not broken. Use the 4th grade workbook, Cursive Success, to guide the children through the letters that have been giving them trouble. The book can be used as a guide to correct bad handwriting habits. The double lines can help correct problems with placing letters correctly on lines. If a child is successful on another type of paper, continue with that paper. The HWT techniques for letter formation and connections can benefit the child using any type of paper.


Program Questions

Why does HWT teach capital letters first?

It just makes sense! Some letters are more difficult (developmentally speaking) than others. Capital letters are much easier to form than lower case letters, and here are some of the reasons:

  • All capital letters are the same height.
  • All capital letters start at the same place - the top.
  • All capital letters occupy the same vertical space.
  • All capital letters are easy to recognize and identify.
    Consider the lower case letters b d g p q. They all look very similar; they all start at different places; some go above the line, some go below the line; they are easily reversed. Now, consider the same letters as capital letters - B D G P Q. They all start at the top! They have very distinct formations, with no two letters being easily confused.
  • They are big, bold and familiar!
    Consider the child's world in our community. They are constantly exposed to very important capital letters that they learn to recognize and identify at a very early age. For example: STOP, EXIT, DANGER, H (hospital), AMBULANCE, etc.

Handwriting Without Tears teaches the capital letters in a developmental sequence, in order of difficulty. The harder ones are those which have diagonal lines, are reversible, or change direction during a stroke. When taught in this sequence, children learn to master skills and build on what they have learned. The result is beautiful letter formation.

Why doesn't HWT teach letters in alphabetical order?

The Handwriting Without Tears program is set up to teach letters in a developmental sequence. Let's face it, some letters are more difficult to form than others. The harder ones are those that have diagonal lines (A K M N Q R V W X Y Z) , are reversible (B C D E F G P , etc.), or change direction during a stroke (S). Through her research, Jan Olsen has realized that children gradually develop the ability to copy forms in a certain order; the child begins with a vertical stroke, horizontal comes next, then the circle, a "cross" - like a plus sign, the square, then the triangle (diagonal lines) is last.

Consider most other handwriting programs that teach the letters in alphabetical order. They typically begin with the letter A. This letter contains two diagonal strokes and can be very difficult for children to form. HWT begins with strokes that are easy for the child, then allows the child to build on what they have mastered. Handwriting is taught like piano lessons! For example, consider the "Magic C" letters. These letters all begin with the "c" stroke; when a child masters this stroke, the letters a, d, g, and o are easily learned.

Should we allow children to develop their own "style" in handwriting?

Handwriting Without Tears uses specific, child-friendly visual and verbal cues to teach children the necessary "basics" of handwriting. Starting and stopping points of letters, learning letters in groups of similar strokes, learning formations from the easiest to the most difficult, spacing techniques and placement of letters on the lines, are all very important basics in handwriting. When a child learns these skills, good handwriting habits develop so that handwriting becomes an automatic and natural skill. In order to achieve this, a child must be given opportunities to review and master those skills that have been introduced.

As children master new skills, confidence develops. When children are confident with handwriting, they attain a comfort level that allows for "personal style" to evolve. This is perfectly fine! Children may add a slant, an extra curlicue, or some other personal touch to their handwriting. If the basics have been mastered, this personal touch is OK. Handwriting will continue to be legible, spacing will continue to be correct, placement of letters and connections of letters will be good, and now the child has personalized a skill and can be proud! Do not discourage this development of personal style unless it interferes with the basics of handwriting (legibility, neatness, speed, etc.).

Why is the HWT paper so different? Why only two lines?

Handwriting Without Tears uses double line paper for a reason. Many children have more trouble with lines than they do with letters! So many types of paper exist in our world; the children don't know what's coming next! We have workbooks, worksheets, single lines, dotted lines, triple lines, quadruple lines, and no lines at all. It is like asking someone to learn to drive on the freeway! Which lane is the correct lane? Which line is the correct line?

The double line paper corrects the problem of "line confusion." By using the phrase "bump the lines", directions are simple and clear. The bottom line keeps the writing straight and moving across the page, while the top line controls the size of the letters. For children who have visual perceptual problems, multiple lines can add confusion to a pre-existing problem. The double lines make is clean, clear and easy for a child to form and place letters correctly.

Do I need to buy the paper?

This is up to you; however, HWT does recommend that whatever paper you choose to use with your child, please be consistent. Use the same paper for all writing activities to achieve the best result. If you have purchased a workbook for your child, you are allowed to make copies of the pages for practice purposes.

How do I use HWT at home while my child uses something different at school?

If you are dedicated to helping your child learn or relearn how to write, here are a few suggestions for you:

1. Whether or not your child can relearn to write is dependent on yourself and your child. Handwriting habits are hard to break. If your child is struggling with handwriting, chances are they are going to want to learn an easier way to write. With consistency and practice you can teach your child good habits for successful writing.

2. You may want to consider attending an HWT workshop close to your home. This will allow you to learn about the HWT method. Workshops take place throughout the year across the country.

3. If your child's teacher is using a different handwriting program, set up an appointment to meet with him or her. You can discuss the difficulties your child is having and introduce HWT to your child's teacher. Chances are your child's teacher will make accommodations to allow your child to use the program since you took the time to meet and discuss the issues with him/her. You may also start something new as the teacher may become quickly interested in the HWT curriculum. Keep in mind that you will need to do extra practice at home with your child, as your child may not partake in regular handwriting instruction at school. You also may need to provide the double line paper for your child to use at school. You can purchase this paper through HWT. Click here for the order form.

4. Purchase the HWT materials according to your child's handwriting ability. Depending on the amount of difficulty your child is having will determines which materials you will need to purchase. Regardless of their age, there is a workbook that is appropriate for your child. If your child is a 2nd grader and is really struggling, you may consider using the first grade book to get started.

5. Work with your child nightly or every other night for no longer then 10-15 minutes. Your goal is not to finish a page but to form letters correctly. You will teach your child how to write through imitation. If you will be teaching handwriting to your child, you may consider buying the following materials:

  • Handwriting Without Tears Kindergarten Teacher's Guide
  • Teacher's Guide (Print or Cursive)
  • Child's Workbook (developmentally appropriate level)
  • Hands-on materials as you see appropriate

Parents and Homeschoolers:
Fun Ideas You Can Do at Home

You can do several fun activities at home to encourage handwriting practice. A few are listed below:

  • While your children is in the bathtub have them draw letters on the wall of the tub in shaving cream or soap paint. Ceramic tiles work well as slates/ gray blocks!
  • Trace a letter on your child's back and have them guess and write the letter on a piece of paper. Take turns and have them trace a letter on your back.
  • Finger paint letters.
  • Write letters on the sidewalk with chalk.
  • Trace letters in the snow or sand.
  • Forms letters out of play dough or clay.
  • Make cookie letters. Having your child form the letters by rolling the dough and putting the pieces together.
  • Form letters out of French Fries.
  • Make letters with pipe cleaners.
  • Draw letters with your finger on the carpet.
  • Decorate a letter collage using glitter, puffy paint, and markers.
  • Use different types of pencils for writing practice (gel pens, colored pencils, scented markers, crayons, etc.)
  • Have your children write your shopping lists.
  • Use a flashlight and make letters on the wall. You or your child has to guess the letter that was made. You can also cut out letter templates to place in front of the flashlight.
  • Put letters on a die and have your child roll the dice and they have to write a word that starts with the letter.
  • Fish for words. Place cut out fish in a shoebox. Write words or letters on the fish. Attach paper clips to the fish and adapt a small pole with a magnet. Whichever fish the child gets, they have to come up with a word or sentence using what is on the fish.
  • Have children write with icing tubes.

Extra Practice with Fine Motor Skills

Hand skills are crucial to successful handwriting. Small movements of the hand are referred to as fine motor skills. If you feel your child is in need of extra activities to strengthen his hands or fine motor skills here are a few suggestions:

  • Cut pictures out of newspapers or magazines. You can take a large black marker and draw a line around the picture to give a guideline.
  • Have your child put together small beads, Lego's, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, etc.
  • Knead Play dough or clay. Build objects with them.
  • Hide small objects in the Play dough and have your child find them.
  • Play pegboard games.
  • Gather small objects from around the house (small buttons, beads, etc.) place them in a container and have your child pick them up off the floor with a pair of tweezers and place them back in the container.
  • Play with any toys that contain manipulation of small pieces.
  • Let your children squirt water bottle outdoors on the sidewalk. Colored water looks great on the snow.
  • Use a meat baster and have a cotton ball race across the table with your child.
  • Finger paint with Jell-O or Cocoa on a paper plate.
  • Use small marshmallows and toothpicks to form letters.
  • String, popcorn, buttons, beads to make necklaces.
  • Using a hole-punch let your child create a design on a piece of paper.
  • Have your children clip clothespins to a container.
  • Have children lace cards.

Common Handwriting Problems and Solutions

Pencil grasp: The optimal pencil grasp is known as the "tripod grasp". This is when the pencil is supported by the thumb, index and middle finger. The ring and little finger are bent and rest comfortably on the table. You shouldn't worry about a child's pencil grasp unless it is affecting their writing or the child is experiencing pain. Ideally it would be nice to teach every child how to hold their pencil correctly from the start, however, some children develop poor habits and you may need to try adaptive grip to help position their fingers. Suggested grips are The Pencil Grip or Stetro Grip. These can be ordered from Therapy Shoppe at 1-800-261-5590 or www.therapyshoppe.com. When modifying the pencil grasp, have the child only use the adaptive grip for a short time each day. This will help the child get use to the feel of a new grasp. Too much awkwardness may make the child resist change.

Child holds pencil straight up in the air: This is also known as the "Washington Monument" pencil grasp. The child may be having a difficult time separating the two sides of their hand. There is a mobile side to the hand (the thumb, index, and middle finger) and the stable side (the ring and pinky finger). You can try to use the Handi-writer device purchased from Therapy Shoppe or you can use two rubber bands looped together with one loop placed around the child's wrist and one loop around the pencil. The eraser end of the pencil should point towards the child's shoulder.

Child has a difficult time manipulating a large or regular size pencil: Use golf-size pencils with children. There is this idea that children need to write with large pencils. Adults write with pencils in proportion to their hands so why shouldn't children?

Child moves their entire arm when they write: Have the child lay on the floor to write. This puts weight on the arms and stabilizes them. You can also have the child write on a vertical surface (i.e. chalkboard or stable easel). This helps the child put their wrist in a functional writing position and also works on shoulder stability.

Child does not space between words: Use a stamp pad and have the child stamp their fingerprint between each word. Also, use the HWT concept of exaggerating the spaces by putting "nothing" between the words (remember your bottle full of nothing). You can also place a small piece of candy or a sticker between the words. Spacer sticks also work well

Child writes with an open hand or fingers straight: Try placing a small sponge or a marble in the last two fingers. Have the child hold onto this while they cut or write.

Child writes too hard: This may be because the child has poor awareness of finger placement and movement or poor control of the smaller muscles of the hand.. Sometimes correcting the pencil grip may help this problem. Have the child practicing coloring bunnies light gray, medium gray, dark gray, black to increase their awareness of different degrees of pressure on the pencil. Try a mechanical pencil so the child has to learn to control the amount of pressure used. You can also have the child place their paper on a piece of Styrofoam (if they press too hard they will poke holes in their paper). Also try having the child write on a phone book.

Child writes too soft: Have the child practice coloring bunnies dark. You can also try a weighted pencil to give the child more awareness of the pencil. Sometimes correcting the pencil grasp can also help with this problem.

Letter and number reversals: Choose one reversal per assignment to work on. If the child reverses many of their numbers, work on them one at a time beginning with the lowest number. Master that formation before moving on to another number. Use the slate chalkboard. Using the "starting corner (smiley face)" the child will quickly learn to form the letter the right way. You demonstrate and the child imitates.

Awkward letter formations: If the letter formations are "Magic C" letters, use the mystery letter game on page 20 of My Printing Book. You can photocopy this page for extra practice. For other letters you demonstrate the letters and have the child imitate you.

Poor posture: Children will sacrifice all forms of mobility for stability. Children need to sit in their chair with their hips, knees and feet at a 90-degree angle. If the child's feet do not touch the floor try placing a box or stool under their feet to help with stability. Old fashion desks are great for proper positioning for writing. If your children sit at tables you may need to adjust the height of the table or chair to get an optimal position. Remember to have the children "Stack Their Blocks" and play the "Stomping Game". This wakes the children up and gets them ready to write. These exercises are found on page 11 and 12 of the green Handwriting Without Tears book.

Child wraps their thumb around the pencil: Try using the Thumb Buddy . This was invented by Jan Z. Olsen and can be purchased at the Therapy Shoppe at 1-800-261-5590 or www.therapyshoppe.com. It works very well with children who have stability problems. It requires adult help to put it on.

Poor paper placement: Beginners (learning to print letters and words) can place the paper straight (not tilted). Experienced printers (able to print sentences across the page) should place the paper at a slight angle to follow the natural arc of the writing hand. The angle or tilt should follow the natural arc of the writing hand. See the illustration found on Printing Teacher's Guide page 11, but this is easy to remember. For right-handed children, put the right(top right corner shown in illus.) corner higher; for left-handed, the left corner (shown) is higher. The writing hand is below the line of writing. This encourages the correct neutral wrist position.

Child doesn't stabilize paper with other hand: If the child is disabled use a clipboard or a piece of tape to hold their paper in place. For other children try naming their helper hand (non-dominant hand) and show it how it has other jobs to do. Children love when you talk to their hand like it is a person.

Child has a difficult time seeing the blackboard: Child may need an eye exam to rule out the need for glasses. Also children at this age may have a difficult time looking up to a vertical surface and then back down to a horizontal surface. Maybe try having the child work on a vertical/slanted surface. If a slanted desk is not available you can try a slant board (talk to your OT about getting one of these) or adapt a three-ring binder for children to work on.

Child holds pencil too close or too far from the tip: Wrap a small rubber band around the area where the fingers should be placed. This will remind the child where to hold the pencil. When using a traditional pencil, remind them to hold the pencil "where the paint ends."

Last Modified on January 12, 2007