An important part of helping kids develop early literacy skills is giving them chances to practice. As soon as your child is old enough to scribble (as early as 1 year old for some kids) offer some fat, chunky crayons or markers and a big piece of paper and let him or her experiment.
As your child grows older, create a special art center with lots of paper (you can bring scrap paper home from work or save junk mail) and many different kinds of art supplies like markers, crayons, colored pencils, and paint and brushes.
You can even encourage your child to practice writing and drawing while you’re outside, providing sidewalk chalk or a bucket of water and a brush to “paint” on the pavement. The more practice kids get using their hands in this way, the more they’ll develop the muscles, skills, and coordination necessary for forming letters.
As your child enters school and starts practicing writing there, continue to find ways to practice at home too. Suggest writing letters and thank-you notes to friends and family. Ask for help writing a list or recipe. Buy a notebook to use as a journal and suggest that your child spend time at the end of each day writing in it.
If your child’s handwriting continues to be messy and hard to read even after formal instruction at school, try these tips:
- Help your child take it slow. Many kids struggle with writing because they try to do it quickly. Encourage your child to take time to form the letters carefully.
- Explain that mistakes happen. Teach your child how to use an eraser.
- Reinforce proper letter formation. Find out from your child’s teacher how he or she should be forming letters, and then encourage your child to practice writing using those patterns. Using lined paper can be helpful.
- Make sure the pencil is properly positioned. Ideally your child will use what is called a tripod grasp. This means the pencil should rest near the base of the thumb, held in place with the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Plastic pencil grips sold at office supply stores may help if your child has trouble holding a pencil properly.
- Make sure your child has the hand strength to write. Provide your child with resistive materials like clay and play dough, squirt toys, sponges to squeeze, bread dough to knead, or cookie dough to stir.
- Expose your child to lots of words. You can do this by reading regularly together, pointing out words that surround you (such as street signs or product labels), and by hanging up examples of your child’s writing around the house.