International Children’s Education
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Handwriting Tips for Left-Handers
Learning to write may be more difficult for left-handers than for right-handers for a number of reasons. Our culture’s left-to-right progression favors right-handers. It is easier to pull a pen or pencil across a page than to push one. (If you are right-handed, try using your left hand to experience the increased difficulty.) Then, as the left hand moves across the page, it not only covers what has been written, but may smear the ink or pencil marks as well. The spiral binding or rings on a notebook get in the way. Even the desk itself may be a hindrance if the lefty is sitting in the old-fashioned right-handed school desk.
By the time children first come to school, many have already acquired habits, such as the way they hold a pencil, that are counterproductive to good writing. If parents are aware of positive instruction techniques, such habits can be avoided. Parents and teachers, even though acknowledging the importance of recognizing when children are left-handed, should avoid treating them as “different” or as exceptions, but rather treat them as individuals.
A child should have a chair that has a flat seat and back. The chair should be at a height that allows the child’s feet to rest flat with the hips, knees, and ankles all at 90-degree angles. This will help the child to have smooth postural adjustments as the writing arm moves across the paper. The desk height should be about two inches above the height of the child’s bent elbows. If the desk is too high, the child’s shoulders will tend to elevate which can restrict freedom of movement and make it difficult for a lefty to see his/her work. If the desk is too low, the child may tend to slouch over the desk or lean on the nondominant arm for support.
Type of Pencil and Pencil Grasp
Correct pencil grip for left-hander
Have the child use a hard lead pencil, such as a Number 3 instead of a Number 2, so that it will not smear easily. Primary or oversized pencils are not necessarily better for the left-handed child. In fact, the larger size may actually impede some children with small hands.
In grasping the pencil, the forearm should rest on the writing surface in a neutral position, with the hand resting on the little finger. This position allows the wrist to move freely. The wrist should be in a slightly extended posture (bent back), because this brings the thumb in a position where it can comfortably oppose the fingers. There should be a rounded, open web space between the thumb and fingers. This position permits freedom of movement through all finger joints and also allows the finger pads to contact the pencil shaft.
Teach left-handed students to hold their pencils about an inch and a half higher than right-handers, so that they can see over or around their hand; show them how to point their pencil toward their left shoulder. Suggest that they keep their wrists nearly flat against the writing surface, and prevent hooking by instructing students to keep their wrists straight and their elbows close to their bodies. It may be helpful to have a left-handed adult model the appropriate handwriting techniques.
Positioning of Paper
Turn the writing paper to the right, rather than the left. This enables lefties to see their work better, to have better leverage, and to write faster. Each child needs to develop a natural slant that is comfortable with the paper positioned on the left side of the desk in front of the left arm so that the writing flow to the right is easier. Once the best angle of the paper has been identified, a strip of masking tape can serve as a visual reference. If a child has difficulty stabilizing the paper, a blotter or large sheet of construction paper taped to the desk may provide just enough friction to keep the paper from slipping.
Begin writing instruction with directional letters, such as F, P, and B, and help left-handed students to produce the most legible letter forms that they can make comfortably. For students who have trouble with spacing, a prompt such as placing a finger between words may serve as a helpful reminder. If a student has trouble remembering to write from left to right, you might run a length of green tape for “Go” along the left side of the desk, and red tape for “Stop” along the right side.
The D’Nealian Handwriting Method has some advantages for the left-handed student. It abandons the stick and ball print script; the letters are made with one line and motion. Tails make it easier to print and facilitate the transition to cursive writing. The system also emphasizes legibility and does not demand that writing slant to the right. —wdl
Goldsmith, Jeff. Left-Hander’s Guide to Better Handwriting. Farmington, MI: Left Hand Publishing, 1997.
Kelly, Evelyn B. Left-Handed Students: A Forgotten Minority. Bloomington, Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa, 1996.
Kurtz, Lisa A. “Helpful Handwriting Hints.” Teaching Exceptional Children, 27 (1) Fall 1994, 58-59.
Reprinted from the August 1998 issue of Parents Teaching Overseas.
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