My eight year old son brings homework from school every day. When we sit at the table and work through it together he produces lovely, legible handwriting, albeit with continuous supervision and constant reminders to try hard. However, the writing he produces at school is an illegible scrawl, all of it, every time.

Given that he is perfectly capable of writing well, why is the writing he does at school of such a poor quality?

I've taken a look at the answers to this question and others here, but they all appear to relate to how to help a child improve their writing skills. My son has the skills already, and I would like to know why he doesn't employ them whilst at school.

His teachers tell me that they are paying it particular attention and that the syllabus prevents them from teaching handwriting in the way it was when I was at primary school. But this doesn't explain why they don't encourage him to practice what he's already capable of doing.

I'd be most grateful if someone could shed some light on this before I fall out with his school completely.

  • Sounds like he could become a great doctor one day. :) Joking aside, the situation at school is probably very different than it is at home. Maybe try to find out if he's being rushed at school to write faster than he does at home. It's very possible.
    – Zibbobz
    Jan 23, 2015 at 16:12

4 Answers 4


Your son's handwriting is changing is because the circumstances are changing.

At home, your son is, as you say, being constantly supervised and reminded to try hard.

At school, your son is probably not watched to make sure he's taking his time while writing. He may also feel rushed to just get it done, or may just be doing it as fast as possible to get it out of the way.

So, this may be a behavioral issue or a classroom instruction issue. The behavioral issue would be him rushing when he doesn't have to, just to get it out of the way. You'll need to help your son remember to take his time writing at school, without having reminders to write more carefully. The classroom instruction issue would be if he's not being given enough time to complete the work at a normal pace.

The more your son uses handwriting, the faster he'll be able to write while still being legible.

You may also try teaching him script, if your school district does not. Script lends itself to smoother, faster writing. It's specifically designed to be easier to write, as opposed to print which was designed to be consistent for printing presses! Many school systems are foregoing teaching script completely in lieu of teaching typing skills.

When I was young, my teachers would remark to me that I had the best script (cursive) that they'd seen from a student in a long time. I used to write exclusively in script because of this praise. However, as an adult, I mostly rush through writing and would consider my script (and print) to be quite atrocious. I also have very little maintenance practice these days. Aside from note taking in certain classes, my writing is done almost exclusively on computers and devices.


The teachers are not paying as much attention as you are with homework -- if nothing else because they have to deal with many students, and cannot work one-on-one all day with him. Without that constant encouragement he reverts, producing easier, faster, and sloppier work.

Arguing with the standards (generally set by the state, not the district or school, and fairly immutable) won't get far. Perhaps asking them to every now and then mention to him as he's working, "Your handwriting on your homework was very nice! Can you put some of that effort into what you're writing right now?" and then move on to other students. If he realizes that they do care what his penmanship looks like, perhaps his motivation will improve. This shouldn't conflict with any specific techniques they have to teach to, and also doesn't add a significant amount of time to their workload.

  • 1
    This answer is too true. That's why I advocate for heavy parental involvement in education. Policies are hard to change (and are often influenced by monetary concerns), and parents have little power in a classroom filled with many students that aren't their child. You don't have to homeschool, but if you want your child to learn specific things you'll probably have to teach them yourself*.
    – user11394
    Jan 24, 2015 at 5:01

I don't know if it is the same for kids but I know that for me (an adult) I can produce good handwriting when I want to and slow down my writing a bit. The thing is I rarely want to and here's why:

Writing is a tool. Writing is not an end in of itself. The purpose that writing serves in the world is indepedent of how beautifully something is written (as long as it's legible). Unless, of course, you work as a calligrapher or some other kind of artist where the quality of handwriting is a key component of your work.

Most of the time I see writing as a way to record ideas or information that comes to me, nothing more. As long as my writing is legible it doesn't need to be beautiful to serve its purpose fully. In fact, spending the time and effort to write very nice handwriting might actually be detrimental to me, because then it will take longer to record my ideas/information as well as potentially distract me from whatever I am working on or listening to.

Relating back to your question, your son is obviously capable of good handwriting but may not make the effort to write to the best of his ability at school because he doesn't see the point of producing nice handwriting. This may be because, as I've tried to point out, as long as handwriting is legible it literally doesn't matter how nice it looks in almost all cases. This is because writing is a tool to record ideas and information rather than being a purpose in of itself.

  • The problem I have with this answer is that you say something like "as long as it's legible" 3 times, yet the OP clearly stated she's concerned because her son's handwriting at times is not legible. So it's not serving a purpose or being a tool, and that's what they're concerned about.
    – user11394
    Jan 24, 2015 at 4:56
  • The thing is, that if the writing is for the student (notes, working outlines, or such), then it doesn't matter if anyone else can read it. Sometimes, it doesn't even matter if the writer can read it - just the act of note-taking is sufficient to the task. As NeutronStar says, writing is a tool, and as long as the writing that others need to read can be read by those others (or is sufficiently neat for the desires of those others), the rest of it doesn't matter.
    – Mycroft
    Feb 1, 2021 at 16:11

The handwriting is poor because he doesn't care about who will read it. At home, he writes well because he care's about your approval, but he probably hates being nagged about it. At school, he doesn't expect his work to be important to anyone, which is not surprising, and he gets nagged less, so he takes the "break" when he can.

I suggest you don't worry about it for a bit, and try this experiment: Give him an assignment to write about something he really cares about. If he likes stories, write a story, if you likes games, have him write a guide to playing his favorite game, and tell him he will need to show his work to two friends to get feedback to incorporate in a final version. You must promise him that you will not bother him about his handwriting on this assignment or any other, if he completes this assignment. Ignore the final copy, but compare the handwriting on the one he showed his friends to his usual work, and see if there's a difference.

If the special assignment does show better results, then the problem is that the assignments are not sufficiently motivating or sufficiently social. You might suggest the teach use peer review of regular assignments, and save themself some grading time too. Or you might just tell you son that you won't bother about his assignments in general, as long as he is consistently doing well in his assignments for the subject he cares about most. This will reinforce that education is for his benefit, encourage him to focus on the subjects that engage his interest already, and ensure that he is still getting some good handwriting practice as part of his overall curriculum.

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