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Q&A on helping your child learn to write, with the National Handwriting Association

Hello. We're running an Expert Q&A on helping your child with his/her writing and offering you the chance to put your questions to National Handwriting Association expert Angela Webb.

Do you know the best way to teach your child to hold a pencil? When is the best time to start encouraging your child to start developing skills they'll need to learn for writing? And how do you do that?

Perhaps you're not sure when's best to start encouraging your child to start forming their first letters? Do you have questions about the way writing is taught at school?

Angela can advise you on all on this – and more!

The National Handwriting Association (NHA) is a charity which aims to raise awareness of handwriting as a crucial component of literacy, to promote and foster good practice in the teaching of handwriting and to provide support for those working with children and adults who have handwriting difficulties.

Post your questions about handwriting for Angela on this thread, and we'll upload her answers in batches over the next month.

This Q&A is sponsored by STABILO.


  • How can I get my very active little boy interested in sitting down ready to learn to write?

  • Good Morning,
    My 3yr old Daughter loves sitting down to practice her letter writing but sometimes struggles to get the correct finger grip, is there an easy way to help her with this or is it just a case of giving her time and it will happen eventually

    Many Thanks for your reply

    Alison Turnnidge

  • A bit like Tina, my boy's just interested in playing, whether it be with a ball or on the tablet, just can't seem to get him to sit down and want to write, any tips would be welcome! x

  • My 4 yr old boy is learning to write at school but he keeps getting mixing up letters like d and b. The other day he bought home a drawing and he's written  "i love you Babdi" on it . When I asked him he said he'd writen "I love you Daddy". Does this mean hes dylexic?

  • Morning everyone. We're just going to post up Angela Webb's first replies for you.

    Unfortunately, she did them before you posted, Lucie Hall, so we don't have an answer for you just yet. Angela will answer your Q in her next batch of replies: apols for keeping you waiting just a wee bit longer.

    Oh, if it helps in the meantime, Lucie Hall: all my boys did the d/b mixing up thing - think it's quite common. But I'm sure Angela has the perfect explanation!

  • Hello everyone. Thanks for your questions - do keep them coming!

    Here are my first answers for you:

    Alijessie: It's great that your daughter wants to practise her letters and that you can help her.

    At 3, it may be a little early for her to hold a pencil with the traditional grip as her muscles and finger control are not yet developed. It would not be wise to force her.

    Most children adopt the correct grip between 4 and 5+ (if shown and given pencils of the right size - i.e. not too thin or too fat). However, you can prepare her in advance by letting her use a range of implements to draw with, and by encouraging her to use a spoon with a pincer, rather than a clenched-finger grip. She could also pick up peas (or something similar) by pinching her finger and thumb for practice.

    If she has not mastered the correct grip when she has started formal schooling, you'll need to discuss this with the teachers.

    Good luck!

  • Tina Jarvis and Debbie M: I sympathise. I had two very active boys myself!

    It is true that, in general, young boys tend to be less interested in drawing and writing than girls of the same age. They prefer to engage in larger physical play than sit down to quieter activities. This is natural. However, they will, and can, learn to use a pencil if given the right opportunities and there are lots of activities that can support this.

    You do not say how old your sons are and that makes a difference. If they are of pre-school age, then you do not need to worry about handwriting as such. Instead, you could interest them in activities which strengthen their fingers and thumbs (for fine motor development) such as Lego, playdough, pastry-making (and eating!), etc.

    Using a jumbo pegboard and pegs to make pictures and patterns can also help, as can "driving" a toy car in the sand in the shapes of the letters and using a squeezy bottle of water to make letters against a wall.

    If they are of school age, these activities can also help but you need to discuss your concerns with their teachers in case they are not getting the right experience to support the development of their handwriting. They will, at some stage, need to learn to put the correct marks on paper.

    I hope this helps.


  • Thank you Angela for your reply, much appreciated. I'll not rush her into using the traditional grip but let her get there in her own time.Thank you again

  • Hello everyone. Just checking in to answer Lucie Hall's question. Sorry to have missed you in my first batch, Lucie Hall!

    So, LucieHall: Reversing letters is very common when children are learning to write them, especially 'b' and 'd'. Because your son is still young it does not mean that he has dyslexia. Most children do not establish their dominance (whether they are left or right-handed) until they are about 5, and, until then, often confuse their sides up. Children also vary in the rate at which they mature. If your son is still reversing when he is 6 or 7, then you might think about talking to his teacher about it and she can do some tests to reassure you. 

    Meanwhile, play games to help him learn his left and right (if he still needs to): you could try painting a big L and R on his wellies and getting him to march, saying 'left-right, left-right'. Or you could show him how to make an 'L' with his left hand (fingers straight out and the thumb at right angles) and see if he can remember it. You may think up more ideas yourself.

    But most of all, don't worry: for most children this kind of fun activity is enough to tip them in the right direction.

  • My son's handwriting is appalling (he is 8) and I struggle to get him to practice as he finds it boring. Do you have any ideas or tips to make practice more enjoyable or fun? 

  • Hello, Alex Heath.

    You have my sympathy!   Many children find practising handwriting a chore and don't want to do it. However, all motor skills need practice, whether it is playing the piano or dribbling a football, and your son won't learn to write automatically without it.   Patterning is a good compromise, as it provides all the good basic motor exercise without the added burden of thinking what to write. The Tips for Teaching patterning sheet published by The National Handwriting Association (£2) will give you ideas of activities to do with him.   One football-mad 8-year-old I work with has a template of each football-club strip, and we use different patterns to fill the colour into the stripes, socks etc. This seems to keep him motivated.

    Good luck!

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