Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Teaching Your Left-Handed Child to Write

 photo left-handed.jpg

     My background before I became a stay-at-home wife and mom was in Occupational Therapy. I was a COTA/L, and worked often in elementary schools working with children on their handwriting. I am also left-handed myself and have a left-handed son. (maybe two, the baby is too young to tell!) When I was in college and we were learning about teaching proper handwriting, two of the things I learned were:  one, I hold my pen completely "wrong" and two, often people believe that to teach a left-handed person to write you just need to take whatever a right-handed person does and reverse it!

      One of the techniques we were taught for teaching children who were having a hard time holding their pencil correctly was to use an inclined surface (something similar to this). As a lefty, this made no sense to me! Writing on the board as a child or any other inclined surface was extremely cumbersome to me and certainly did not improve my penmanship!

The "correct" way to hold your pencil (if you are right-handed) is to make the "OK" sign with your hand, pinch the pencil between your pointer and thumb and then drop the other fingers down.

this stock photo shows what I am saying, although normally your hand would be a little more "compact" and your pencil at less of a wide angle from the desk.
Now one of the first things that any OT worth her salt will tell you is that this is only necessary to correct your grasp, if you are experiencing a problem with your handwriting. If your handwriting is neat (or at least legible), you can keep your words on the line, and you don't experience cramping or excessive fatigue in your hand, but you hold your pencil completely "wrong" don't worry about it!! Your grasp is functional!
Here's my main problem with teaching a left-handed person to write the same way as a righty. When you are right-handed, your hand is in front of what you are writing. You can see your work and your hand will not smudge what you've just written. If you are left-handed and you hold your pencil the same way, your hand will always be covering what you just wrote and you will constantly be smudging and smearing the side of your hand through your work. Here's a few tips of my tips for helping your left-hander to write:
1. Don't use shaped pencil grasps! These types of molded pencil grips only work if you hold your pencil in the approved way! They can be great for right-handed kids (my right-handed son uses one!) or lefties that have somehow adapted to holding their pencil just like a righty and have beautiful penmanship (my mother-in-law is one of these people! She defies all my thoughts on lefties- she holds her pen just like a righty, never smudges her work and has very envy-worthy penmanship!).
this is as awkward as it looks!
 A pencil grip is useful to either correct a grip that isn't working well or to help teach a child to loosen their grip (holding a pencil to tightly will certainly cause pain and fatigue!) I would choose a grip like this one or this one for a lefty as they will help loosen the grip without forcing the fingers into a particular position.
2. Allow your child to turn her paper. The most comfortable way for me to write neatly is to turn my paper at a 45 degree angle so I am writing "up" the page rather than "across" it. Don't force your child to have their paper straight in-front of them, it maybe making their penmanship worse!
3. Use spiral bound notebooks backwards! Spiral bound notebooks were made for right-handed people. (I'm convinced) the spiral binding is in the absolute worst place for someone who is left-handed!
The world is ruled by right-handed people! =)
 By simply flipping the book to the back cover and starting from there it will be much easier for your left-handed child to avoid that uncomfortable position!

Much better! A win for lefties everywhere!
For all children, learning to write can become somewhat tedious. Try to incorporate lots of pencil practice that doesn't involve copywork. My oldest son (who isn't a lefty, but DOES need to work on his fine motor skills) loves the Ed Emberly drawing books and also this series of "How to Draw" books. Switching up your writing "mediums" can help as well! Oil pastels are a particular favorite of mine. They require a gentle touch (which can help with kids who push down too hard!) and the colors are very vivid!
I hope these few ideas help you with your little lefties. Please feel free to ask specific questions you may have in the comments!



  1. I just made your Chicken and Cauliflower recipe and was looking around on your site and found this. My husband and I were just talking about how do we teach our left handed child to write. This article is such a blessing! She just turned 5 and sometimes writes the letters of her words from right to left instead of left to write. I never knew she couldn't see what she wrote. I will try the spiral notebook backwards, getting a grip and turning her paper. I did get some left handed scissors which has helped tremendously. I always laugh when I think back to when she was a baby and always used her left hand even though I tried to get her to put stuff in her right hand =).

    1. So glad it helped you and thank you for taking the time to let me know! =) Writing her letters from right to left can be common for many kids, since it really it arbitrary that we write them left to right. You could incorporate some fun practice that helps her learn that letters always start on the left side. Making some "mazes" that she needs to navigate that start on the left side of the paper and go to the right can be a fun way to help her learn this (make sure to tell her that we always start on the left! Also when she is practicing her penmanship, you could give her a small sticker at the start of each new line and ask her "which side of the page do we start on?" have her place the sticker on the left side to remind her =) With learning scissors, I always remind my kids to have "thumbs up!" for cutting and that they should move the paper, NOT the scissors when cutting out shapes (although she may still be too young for this depending on her dexterity) We like to do lots of textured scrap cutting to practice with scissors (yarn, play dough, straws, etc.)They make a fun collage after! :)


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