Handwriting Matters — and We Need to Teach It

“Back when I went to teaching school, we had an entire semester on handwriting,” my new colleague grimaced as she looked at my messy handwriting left on the chalkboard after my first day of teaching. I never did improve my handwriting, nor did I have any idea how to teach it.

Schools have too much to teach in too short of time. Handwriting practice is low on the list of priorities. It’s getting cut out of curriculums if it’s been there at all.

Recently I spoke with Jan Olsen, creator of Handwriting Without Tears. She said, “It’s unthinkable that you would teach reading with out training. . . a lot of people who have been trained to teach how to write a story but can’t tell your child how to make a letter.”


Parents, I have news for you. We need to teach handwriting at home. Because even if they get it in preschool and elementary school like mine, they might not be taught correctly. Both my kids have poor handwriting.  I didn’t do my part in helping them learn it correctly from the start. I am now making up for lost time.

And, just to remind you, handwriting is important for your child’s success.

  1. It has cognitive benefits (brain boosting).
  2. Your child will get better grades in school and on tests.

Now, let’s get to what you’ll need to do with your child.

Writing Readiness, Children 2 – 5

At age 2 – 5, work on getting ready to write. You want to focus on:

  • Fine-motor development
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Strengthening fingers, hands, arms
  • Directions (top, bottom, left, right, over, under, up, down, top, middle, bottom)
  • Names of fingers (helps when you’re learning to hold a writing tool)
  • Grip (Watch this proper pencil grip song)

Writing Readiness Activities At Home

picking up buttons (if they’re old enough not to be choking hazards)

picking up puff balls with tongs or tweezers

stringing beads on pipe cleaners

finger painting

drawing and scribbling

singing “Where is Thumbkin” (to learn the names of fingers)

following directions to move up, down, left, right

spraying with a squirt gun or spray bottle

playing Thumb War

playing Pick-Up Sticks, High-Ho CherryO, or Operation

finding objects in silly putty

playing with clothes pins

Learning to Write. Children 4 – 7

Depending on when the child is ready, he will soon be ready to start writing. You’ll start with:

  • Drawing lines: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, circles, squares, triangles
  • Drawing anything


scratch art

rolling and making letters in play dough

Roll-a-Dough building letters video from Handwriting Without Tears

making letters in a rice or sand tray

making letters with Wikki Stix

tracing letters

Wet-Dry app

Letter School app

Learn to Write Letters, Correctly

Since it’s up to us to teach our kids correct letter formation, I’m excited to start with the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) curriculum.

HWT Creator, Jan Olsen, explained, “I’m an occupational therapist, . . . what I developed were my own skills but I came to it from a background in child development and task analysis. I know how to help kids hold a pencil. I know how to teach letters and numbers that aren’t backwards. I know how to make cursive easy.”

She also recommended that I work on her curriculum over the summer so it doesn’t become a battle along with homework.

“It doesn’t matter what grade you are in when you start the Handwriting Without Tears program. That’s one reason we don’t put any grades on our workbooks.” (However, grade level is indicated in the online shop to guide parents.)

I’m going to start with the teacher’s guide and watch the video lesson online. How about you?

Oh, if you have lefties, you’ll want to read this article by Mary Forham of Butterfly Park.

Where are you on the handwriting continuum?

Are your kids getting enough in school or do you need to do more at home?

Follow Melissa Taylor’s board Writing Activities for Kids on Pinterest.


  1. Miss Lisa says

    HWT is awesome…you should also look into a new program from OT’s called Fundanoodle. Lots of fun and we use it at our literacy center along with HWT.

  2. says

    I love this! I have a post coming out this week on the importance of cursive writing, and while I was researching it I started to realize just how important handwriting is to kids. HWT is what is used in our school district and the teachers really seem to like it. Love the ideas you’ve included for home activities.

  3. Lisa Nelson says

    Shoutout to Jeanette! Thanks for pointing me in this direction. We homeschool and I have a very structured curriculum for cursive writing. I think it’s important for brain development, for the love of art, & for hand coordination just to name a few things. It’s such an important aspect, in my opinion. My kids do all the handwriting sheets that I used to do. Just grind them out.

    My sons handwriting has so improved in just a half of a year, it’s totally amazing. We are talking – a boy who couldn’t form his letters well and was struggling, to a boy who is not 100% confident with his letter formation and writing.

    Cursive writing is also more natural than print. The strokes and flourishes are just more natural, I think cursive should be taught before print. In fact, they can learn print on their own. Cursive is what’s important.

    • says

      I wrote just this on the FB thread – cursive is also different in the brain since it crosses the mid-line. My European friends share that they were taught joined up writing / cursive first!!

  4. says

    I loved Handwriting Without Tears and so did my kids when they used it in Kindergarten but my youngest, now 8, didn’t get it. My school stopped using it so I had to buy the books myself.

  5. Erik says

    Great timing – my three-year-old has just started writing and I’ve been wondering what the best way to tackle this issue would be. I’ll give this a try. Maybe I’ll go through the program for myself at the same time…

  6. Kathleen Scott says

    Thanks so much for the resources and post! I am a high school teacher that struggled with students who couldn’t read cursive, therefore they couldn’t read my notes on their papers, on the board etc. At first I thought it was my writing, but then they admitted they just couldn’t read cursive.

    I believe handwriting is not dead as others proclaim, and these resources are excellent indicators of such!

    I also have a 3 year old who is left handed, and she does well with certain letters but it is difficult for my right handed brain to teach her!

  7. Amanda Taylor says

    I am bookmarking this post for my kids both at home and at preschool. I love all the ideas and I can’t believe how much our kids are learning and yet STILL areas get greatly neglected. I think more creative teaching and less forced teaching would help, but that’s another story/battle.

  8. says

    This is such a relevant topic for us as we’ve been working with our 6 yo on handwriting lately and, to be honest, I am a bit frustrated. She started out learning HWT and while I really like the structure and natural learning of that method, it’s enough different that when they switch to another school it may not completely translate to other styles. She moved to a Montessori preschool and learned more of a ball-and-stick there (Zaner-Bloser?) and now she is in kindergarten and her new school wants her to do D’Nealian style, which is more like a manuscript and supposedly is a good transition to cursive writing. Poor kid – she keeps getting frowny faces on her work because her letters aren’t formed “correctly”. In her defense, she’s learned 3 styles in 4 years of education – I’d be confused, too! I spoke to the teacher about it and she said that while D’Nealian is adopted by the district to help them learn cursive, once kids get into middle school the teachers have told them they don’t want them writing in cursive due to illegibility issues. I’m not sure what I should be helping her to learn at this point and fear she’ll end up like me with very confused handwriting – half print and half cursive! As a side note, there is a great app called Letter School that allows you to choose from three different styles (including ZB and DN, but not HWT).

  9. Sarah says

    I’m so happy I happened across your blog here, and especially this post! Thanks for all the helpful tips! I wasn’t sure how to help my 7-year old at home, but I can tell he’s not getting enough at school in this area.

  10. says

    Spot on, Melissa! Pinned and tweeted. Getting ready to share on FB as well. Handwriting and spelling are both a courtesy to the reader and when taught in that authentic way, I believe children respond better. Oh, and the amazing list of activities you’ve mentioned in your post make it fun, too!

  11. SHARON says

    I understand the time constraints-I’m a retired teacher. It just seems sad not to teach cursive. Went to school in the 60’s when we went to a writing class each day! I always get compliments on my handwriting,so I guess it’s become something I feel proud of.

  12. Katherine Collmer says

    Melissa, Thank you so much for this wonderful article about the importance of teaching handwriting. As an occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills, I work with children and their families when the problem of handwriting becomes frustrating and a barrier to a child’s educational success. It is heartbreaking. And as much as I am thrilled and honored to be able to help them, I am just as focused upon preventing this from happening to just one more generation. Pre-handwriting practice, as well as handwriting skills practice, at home is essential. However, for some students, all of the practice in the world won’t make the frustration go away. For them, they will benefit from additional OT services. If a child does not receive them in school, that I strongly suggest that parents seek assistance outside of school. Handwriting efficiency is a positive contributor to a student’s educational progress, while handwriting deficits (diminished letter recognition, illegibility, spacing, etc.) are major contributors to a student’s inability to keep up with his peers and to have his written work graded commenserate with his knowledge. Thanks again for this post – as you can see, I am passionate about handwriting!
    Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, http://www.handwritingwithkatherine.com

  13. says

    At my daughter’s school they learn handwriting before moving onto printing, so I feel really good about knowing that won’t be a lost art in her world. I learned handwriting hardcore in school, but with the laziness of typing, it’s pretty awful now :)


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