My brother's daughter is 6 years old. She is very smart and picks up things very easily. But when it comes to handwriting, she is not doing good.
What techniques or tools can we give her in order to improve her handwriting?
Techniques and tools to improve handwriting:
Knowing how to form the letters is important so that they aren't stopping and starting. Training the muscles to make smooth movements takes practice and, of course, time for development. My kids are Lego fiends, who enjoy using the tiniest of pieces and their hand-writing is atrocious unless they concentrate and focus on forming the letters correctly. Here are my suggestions:
Teach cursive first. It's more fluid. (Montessori schools often do this.)
Use chopsticks. These use the same muscles and have a built in reward system (food)! This is something the whole family can learn to use together. Smaller sets are available (usually in Chinatown), or find some wooden ones that you can modify. You can also get what we call "cheater chopsticks" that have the same movement but require less coordination.
Use lined paper and be firm about them doing their best work and staying in the lines. Erase work that is not their best until they do it properly. This sounds severe, just be pleasant about it and matter-of-fact. 7-year-olds may have messy letters but this one thing, staying in the lines, will have the most impact. Praise good work!
Practice discrimination. Have them circle their best work. For rows of practice letters, circle the 3 that they think are the best. Then you circle the 3 that you think are the best and say why. Sometimes you won't choose the same letters but eventually your criteria will converge.
While i agree with Pierre and Péter, sometimes parents feel like "you're either getting better or you're getting worse"; that if you're not doing anything to make it good, that you're letting it get bad.
In that spirit, one thing you could do would be to ask the niece, daily, to write something general about her day: what play time was like, what they had for lunch, thinks like that. This would probably be best timed right after school and will allow THE CHILD to make it better thru practice, as opposed to YOU making it better for them thru whatever method.
But there are several caveats here... Simple encouragement may be enough to get them started but if it isn't, then you can't force the issue in the slightest. Ask, but don't "make time for their daily journal". They have to want to do it on their own or it turns into a frustrating chore. Frustration leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to... well nevermind that, but you don't want her hating anything.
On the other hand, I'm not a fan of pushing children along a derived path which kind of goes with what the other guys said. All things being equal, children's bodies will develop all the appropriate skills in time.
One of my favorite comedians (Louis CK) had a bit that applies here. He talked about people fumbling with their phones and becoming frustrated with impatience. then he hollers
"GIVE IT A SECOND. Will you give it a second? it's going to SPACE can you give it a second to get back from space?"
The point is that in the era of instant total gratification, sometimes it takes real effort to be patient. This is one of those times where I think the payoff from patience and diligence (watching to see if it becomes a long term issue) is worth more than the downside of immediate action.
Louis CK bit on patiences: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=8r1CZTLk-Gk#t=85s
6 to 7 years old kids are still too young to learn how to write. That's because the myelin sheaths that increase the efficiency of neurons are still being build till age of 12. The myelination level can be more advanced for some kids which explain why some are advanced.
The children can still learn to read and write, but often in pain. The main problem I see with this is that in societies where performance is legion, we often want our children to walk upon one year of age and speak fluently in two years. Since it's biologically difficult or even impossible, parents create a frustration in children who can not achieve what they are expected to do. You can disgust the child to learn in these conditions and make it a procrastinator in power: a real time bomb.
We must therefore remain cautious and follow the stages of child development. Instead of worrying about performance, worrying about his well being.
My 2 cents.
I fully agree with @Pierre's answer. Don't try to "improve" her handwriting. That may seem to work in the short term, and do much damage in the long term. At this age, there can be huge differences in physical development between individual children, which have nothing to do with "intelligence" or "skills" or anything, and which - under normal circumstances - are bound to even up in a couple of years.
Namely, a lot of children aren't yet capable of controlling the small, delicate movements which are required for writing with a "normal" pen in "normal" size. Try giving her a bigger, thicker pen, and let her write big letters - that way she can practice the movements in large scale, which may be more comfortable to her, and less stressing for her muscles and nervous system.
Btw who says she is "not doing good"? Teacher? You? Other relatives? ... And based on / compared to what? As you say, she is a preschooler so there shouldn't be any pressure on this issue even from the school (or so I imagine).
As a parent, I agree with giving it time as handwriting is a skill that does take time to develop. as an occupational therapist, handwriting is usually a symptom of something else: weakness, low muscle tone, decreased hand eye coordination , etc. I don't intend on diagnosing or worrying anybody but I usually recommend the patients I see to begin general strengthening. Luckily for kids that means playing , wheelbarrow walking, carrying some'heavy' grocery items to develop good shoulder strength. A lot of children use their shoulders due to weakness and one can imagine those are big muscles for sUch a precise task like handwriting.
You can also try different board games to help her develop more precise fine motor skills, smaller pegs, manipulating different items etc. You can hide small items in play dough to help with hand strengthening.
It is a good idea to try different pencils and paper to work on 'handwriting' but there are many other ways too to work on the skills needed for handwriting that can be fun for her and even good family activities.
Speaking from personal experience, I had a lot of trouble learning to write. I found it awkward and frustrating making the tiny movements, and because the results always looked poor, I didn't enjoy it.
When I was an older teenager my parents arranged for me to see a handwriting specialist. She analysed exactly which specific movements were difficult for me. In my case it was the bottom half of clockwise curves, so lower case g, f, j, and o in particular were painful and awkward.
The solution was incredibly simple, write in copperplate. My handwriting went from slow and illegible to quite reasonable in that one day.
This is just an answer from personal experience, but if I was trying to help a child, I would be looking closely for specific movements that the child finds difficult, and then working out a way to change the handwriting style to avoid those movements.
As others have mentioned, writing is a complex and difficult skill that children are often not ready for at 5-6 years of age. It is a fine motor skill which are generally developed later than gross motor skills. I would suggest having her engage in other fine motor activities, one example is building with Legos. Also, coloring, or even playing with a Barbie doll, particularly dressing and undressing it are all good fine motor skills. An increase in fine motor skills will most likely increase her writing skills as well.
You need to remind her every time she is trying to write or color to hold her pencil properly. If she doesn't develop proper skills now she will have trouble working out of them (like any habit). I found with my daughter who had the same problem that she loved the triangle pencil grip (harder to find then the circle ones which do nothing.) Just encourage, not force and she will slowly incorporate the write hold into her life.
As well, writing is a fine motor skill, so try to work on other fine motor skills aside from writing.
NGenius gave a very good and specific answer about how to improve her handwriting, from a teacher's perspective this would be the usual answer.
However, you say that she "picks things up very quickly". There is a relationship between gifted kids, left-handedness, and delays in fine motor coordination in both lefties and righties. It has been pretty well established that their brains typically develop differently than the brains of non-gifted kids. When I taught in a 2e classroom (kids that are gifted but that also have a learning or emotional disability that makes a regular classroom too difficult for them to excel in), most of my students had a lap top on which they did all their work, took all their notes etc.
It is possible that she is not yet ready to get her letters perfect or even legible.
We've had quite a struggle with this one in our house, so I've written about it a few times on my blog. There is an article about prewriting skills activities in preschool and learning to write the alphabet already on the blog as well as one about the typing program I recently purchased and introduced to her. I did this so she could type most of her work and only have to write when we are specifically working on handwriting (This year that will be for about 20 minutes, 2 times/week) or she is writing in her History Journal or Science log. Both subjects are ones she really enjoys, so she is more willing to struggle through the writing aspects for these two subjects than she is some of the "more boring" subjects. She LOVES the typing program and often ASKS if she can work on learning her typing.
I think this system tells my child that I love her as she is and I support her strengths and exploring those strengths. We don't get bogged down in worrying too much about getting her handwriting perfected, but she isn't getting out of that work entirely which lets her know that working on building up our weaknesses is important too - its just about keeping it all in balance.