Dyslexic children sometimes have problems with handwriting.
When learning to read, children first have to link the shape of the word on the page with the sound it makes. Then, when it comes to writing, they have to recreate that shape back onto paper. For children with dyslexia, decoding these patterns and making these links can often be very difficult. As a result, they frequently fail to develop the automatic flow of writing which will help them to express themselves clearly and easily in writing.
It is recommended that children learn the continuous cursive style.
Typically, when first learning to write, children ‘print’ their letters. They then move on to ‘joined up’ writing at a later stage. For children with dyslexia, learning two styles of handwriting can add an extra layer of difficulty and cause confusion. It is, therefore, much more helpful if a young child can learn to use a single system of handwriting right from the start.
The most widely recommended handwriting style is called continuous cursive. Its most important feature is that each letter is formed without taking the pencil off the paper – and consequently, each word is formed in one, flowing movement.
The key advantages to this system are:
- By making each letter in one movement, children’s hands develop a ‘physical memory’ of it, making it easier to produce the correct shape;
- Because letters and words flow from left to right, children are less likely to reverse letters which are typically difficult (like b/d or p/q);
- There is a clearer distinction between capital letters and lower case;
- The continuous flow of writing ultimately improves speed and spelling.
Practising continuous cursive handwriting.
If you wish to practise handwriting with your child, it is advisable to use a recommended teaching resource. This will show you exactly how to form the letters and how best to practise them. The National Handwriting Association www.nha-handwriting.org.uk/ website has some helpful information on this and downloadable worksheets for practising with your child at home.
For all early handwriting practice sessions use the specially designed exercise books which have printed guidelines, or make your own by ruling over every other line in a conventionally lined exercise book with a dark coloured pen or pencil.
Encourage your child to hold their pencil correctly right from the beginning; remind them of the tripod pencil hold, ”froggy legs with pencil resting on the log”. Left handers need to be shown how to angle the paper and write the letters with their hand below the line rather than by hooking their hand over the top of the line. With initial guidance, left-handed children can be taught to handwrite just as legibly as right-handed ones.
Late b/d reversal is linked to poor handwriting instruction. Students with this difficulty habitually start writing both letters at same point on the line, resulting in a failure to distinguish between them. It is also more likely when ‘ball and stick’ style print script has been taught. To prevent this difficulty, start all children off with a pre-cursive style of handwriting as the individual letters are less easily confused and moving to joined-up writing is easier.
There are various pencil grips and pencils on the market designed to help students hold their pencils appropriately. Avoid cheap ballpoints that write only when the pencil is held vertical to the paper. For a dyslexic student being able to practise spellings on a whiteboard is reassuring. Also erasable pens are wonderful. Consider a writing slope if a child gets wrist ache. For a child with Irlen Syndrome you can buy specially coloured handwriting books from Crossbow Education.
From the beginning, it is essential to establish correct posture, paper position, and pencil grip:
The student sits with back straight or tilted slightly forward and feet firmly on the floor. The desktop should be no more than two inches above the elbow when the arm is hanging down by the student’s side. If the desk cannot be adjusted, use a pillow and a box or stool so that the feet are not left to dangle. Both elbows should be on the table—we call this the “listening and learning position.”
- Paper Position
The paper must be slanted at a forty-five degree angle that is parallel to the writing arm. Thus the arm can pivot freely from the elbow as the writing moves across the page. The non-writing hand is kept at the top of the page to anchor the paper and to move it up—like the roller in a typewriter. Correct positioning is especially important to avoid the left-handed hook. Anna Gillingham said that people who use this hooked position are “a monument to the ignorance or laziness of that child’s teacher.” Taping or painting a “V” at the bottom of the desk can serve as a reminder. Another method is to have parallel lines slanted according to the child’s handedness as a guide.
- Pencil Grip
The pencil is gripped between the thumb and index finger, with the middle finger forming a shelf underneath. The end of the pencil should point toward the shoulder. All fingers are slightly bent. This is known as the “tripod grip” and is the most efficient.
Combining spelling and handwriting is essential ! We love using Spelling Mastery to teach spelling and handwriting at the same time!
Use of “Simultaneous Oral Spelling” (i.e., SOS) is important. As students form each letter when writing a word, they say the letter name (not the sound) out loud. Say to the student, “Always tell your hand what to do.” This procedure, known as Simultaneous Oral Spelling, or SOS, reinforces letter formation
You can also encourage your child to do other non-writing activities to improve his fine motor control, such as colouring and dot-to-dot puzzles.
Don’t stick to practising on paper. Try tracing them in the air, in sand with a stick or on another person’s back with their finger,’ You could also try chalks on the patio or shaving foam on a tray.
Although children usually write in pencil at school, let them practise cursive handwriting with felt tips and gel pens, which have a nice, fluid delivery of ink.
Lined paper can help your child achieve uniformity in his handwriting, but plain paper is also good for practising cursive, unlined paper is less restrictive for mastering the free flow of movement needed for cursive.