Headstart for Life

Understanding Handwriting Skills in Children

Posted on Monday, May 16, 2016 by 1 minute

Handwriting refers to a person’s writing created with a writing tool such as a pencil. It is a complex fine motor skill dependent on the integration of eye-hand coordination, attention and motor planning. Handwriting difficulties are common among children. In this article, I will share about the challenges in the eye and motor domain.


The eyes need to pick up the information such as shape and size of the letter and transfer from the white board to the paper. Most of the time, the child should move his eyes around, without moving his head.

Common problems related to eyes

1 Writes letters that go in all directions, and letters and words that run together on the page
2. Copies text slowly
3. Has trouble with shape discrimination and letter spacing


Motor planning

During writing, a child needs to use the appropriate force to hold the pencil and press down on the paper appropriately. Coordination is the overall movement of hand, shoulder and trunk. Coordination is required when the writing moves from one line to another line. The child should move his forearm instead of the whole body.

Common problems related to motor

1 Holds his wrist, arm, body or paper in an awkward position when writing
2 Complaints of pain on the fingers after writing for some time

How to assess handwriting qualities

Each person’s handwriting is unique. As an Occupational Therapist, I used the following criteria to look at the quality of handwriting.

Criteria                                         Remark
Shape The written letter should look like what it is suppose to be like. For example, a U may look like V if the child did not write properly.
Size Size of the letters should be uniform and of appropriate size. Capital letter should be much bigger than the non-capital letter.
Space There are two areas to look at, space between the letters and words. The other type of space is the amount of space for the sentence. Children tend to write too big and run out of space.
Sitting on the line If the paper does not have a line to guide, the words will either go up or go down.

Pencil grip

Children commonly begin by holding a pencil with the whole hand, also known as the palmar or ulnar grasp. Subsequently, they will develop into a more appropriate grasp, like the dynamic tripod. Inappropriate pencil grip remained uncorrected can cause stress when the child is required to write more, for example, write for an hour during exams. However, I do not necessarily recommend a change of pencil grip when the child is older, especially during primary six as it can interfere with their speed of writing during the exams. As an alternative, a pencil grip is recommended to facilitate the change of grip in the child. In the market, there are different types of pencil grips. I would recommend two types.

Type 1

Beginner grip: this is for those who are still using palmar grip.

Type 2

This is to achieve advanced grip like the tripod grip.

 pencil grip 1  pencil grip 2

(Picture retrieved from amazon.com)

Right hand vs. left hand

The majority of left-handers write as well as their right-handed peers. Some evidence suggests that they develop fluency a little later than right-handers because they are ‘pushing’ the pen across the page rather than ‘pulling’ it. When helping a left handed child to write, it is important to facilitate the placement of the paper. The paper should be placed at 30 degree angle. Please refer to the picture below.


(Picture retrieved from basicknowledge101.com)

Handwriting can be tricky for younger children. It develops gradually as they grow and their fine motor skills are much more precise. Thus, parents should bear in mind that the aim is for our children to develop a good handwriting style, which includes the ability to produce and maintain a good handwriting speed, comfortable and fluid hand movements, consistent and appropriate letter size positioned correctly and handwriting that is legible for other people to read easily.



NATIONAL HANDWRITING ASSOCIATION., 2016. About Handwriting Difficulties [online]. [viewed 5 May 2016]. Available from: http://www.nha-handwriting.org.uk/handwriting/about-handwriting-difficulties

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Guo Hua

Guo Hua is a highly - motivated Occupational Therapist who has been working with special children for the last 5 years. He has strong communication and organisation skills that enable him to conduct workshops and lectures for parents and professionals beyond his therapy sessions.

Leave a Reply