In today’s world, most kids have computers or pads at home and hardly do any activity that includes writing, however school homework and most exams are still handwritten. So students need this essential skills to succeed in life. Legible and fast handwriting is still a key to success at school level.
You would have observed that while writing majority of languages like English, Hindi etc. one needs to write from left to right. And in such languages a left hander would need to push the pencil or pen into the paper while a right hander needs to pull it. And that is where the challenges start for a left hander.
When a left hander writes, the hand comes in-between the eyes and the place where they want to write, and as their hand follows the pen, left handers smear their hand with ink and smudge the writing on paper. To avoid these problems, most left handers develop hooked style of writing that is not good for their posture and long term health.
These problems can be managed with correct paper position and correct grip of writing instrument.
It is important for teachers and parents to make sure that left handed kids use correct methods and develop good habits of writing. If we simply allow left hander to write with their dominant hand without proper training, the child may develop a method of writing that may be slow and messy.
What is important in correct writing Habit? Well, two things are very important:
1. Correct Grip on Pen / pencil
2. Position and angle of writing paper
1. You need to train children with tripod grip. In Tripod grip, Pencil is held with index finger and thumb and it rests on the middle finger (There are some handwriting development guides available that guide with step by step methods of developing Tripod grip and first steps in developing handwriting in a fun filled way, and do you know, cutting practice with left handed scissors play a good role in developing tripod grip?). Many kids grip the pencil too tight (Remember? they need to push the pencil while writing left to right, and pushing needs more power than pulling? That is one of the reasons of holding pen or pencil too tight), teachers can remind students to hold the instrument gently. Frequent practice and letting the child write large letters, also helps children learn to relax their grip (Here the direction of letters may also play a good role, if left handers are allowed to write in italics font, it may make things easier for them). The child will tend to naturally reduce the size of the writing as s/he attains better motor control (Clark 1959). You may use some fun exercises using paper or clay or balls for developing fine motor skills (You may find these exercises in the Handwriting development guide for Left Handers).
2. You need to train the children in holding the writing instrument about an inch from the point. It helps in seeing what is being written. If the child tends to hold the pencil too close to the point, the teacher can make a mark on the pencil at the right distance, to remind the student where to grip the pencil. Some writing instruments have predesigned grip for that perfect distance.
Position and angle of paper:
The paper should be positioned left of the child's midline for left handed writing, and angled so that the top right corner of the paper is closer to the child than the top left corner. The angle that the paper is tilted will vary according to individual children (It is generally between 20-40o) the important thing for the child to remember is to keep the arm perpendicular to the bottom of the page. The wrist should be straight (not bent). And the writing hand should be below the writing line. There are some writing pads or Mats available in aiding the correct position of paper that can be of good use while developing good habits. These writing pads help align the paper in correct position and angle.
What if your child has already developed bad writing habits?
Well, do not worry, there are ways to change these habits, however, you need patience both at home and school at the same time. If a child has already started writing the wrong way, a parent or teacher may wish to re-educate the beginning writer. Good results have been reported for retraining young children after a period of six weeks. Change is not an easy process, so Parents and teachers need to work together to bring about this change. To be successful, parents and teachers must agree on the process and work closely with the child. During the retraining period, the child should be excused from all regular classroom written work otherwise, s/he will revert back to the old style because, for the moment, it is faster than writing the right way. Explain to the child that you're going to show him or her how to write easier, and that it will take a few weeks to master. You may also choose vacation period for this re-education.
Demonstrate the proper grip, paper position, arm and wrist position, etc. Work closely with the child for short (10 minutes to start) but frequent (at least once a day) practice sessions. You may use handwriting development guides for this purpose, and ensure the methodical way of re-education. Remember that it is hard to break old habits and replace them with new ones, and that this will be a temporary strain for the child. Therefore, the child should do no writing other than the practice sessions for two or three weeks, or until s/he has become so comfortable with the new writing style that s/he uses this spontaneously. Be sure to give the child lots of encouragement and support during this difficult period. The sessions may include games or practice with clay, ball, paper cutting, creative drawing etc.
Holder, M.K. (2003). Teaching lefthanders how to write. Handedness Research Institute papers. URL: handedness.org/action/leftwrite.html
Clark, Margaret M. 1959. Teaching lefthanded children. (NY: Philosophical Library, Inc.)
Cole, Luella. 1955. Handwriting for lefthanded children. (Bloomington, IL: Public School Publishing Co.)
Gardner, Warren H. 1945. Left handed writing instruction manual. (Danville, IL: The Interstate).
Szeligo, F., B. Brazier, and J. Houston. 2003. Adaptations of writing posture in response to task demands for leftandrighthanders. Laterality, 8(3): 261276.