13

My son is 14 years old, and his hand writing is really bad. Teachers complain that they can't read what he writes.
What can I do to help him improve his hand writing? Is there some kind of specialist that can help?

12
  • Does it help if he writes on a blackboard? For me, after an adjustment period, this was much better and I realised that on paper I barely move my wrist to write, but on BB I use my whole arm. Applying that to paper greatly improved my writing. Correct technique how to "move" when writing is seldom taught. – ljrk Jan 29 at 9:30
  • 12
    Without more information, there's no certainty on what the issue is, and thus what the solution would be. It could be a matter of bad (or lack of) practice, it could be a lack of attention to detail, it could be a subtle physical ailment interfering with extended writing, ... You need to investigate where the issue lies before you can really tackle it. – Flater Jan 29 at 10:13
  • Is it for cursive? Or regular "block letters" are unreadable too? I wouldn't be worried about cursive too much as it's importance quickly fades. – Dan M. Jan 29 at 14:30
  • 2
    @BЈовић: If he writes something shortish, and you show it to him weeks later (after he's forgotten what he wrote), can he read it? It's a lot easier to argue he needs to be more conscientious if it's clear even to him that his writing doesn't serve its intended purpose (to be readable by someone who doesn't already know what it says). – ShadowRanger Jan 29 at 14:50
  • 5
    @BЈовић: Can he write legibly if he writes a bit slower? Does different handwriting (calligraphy vs block letters) make a difference? Is he generally able to draw a line/circle/doodle the way he intended it to be? If given tons of time and massive incentive, could he write something in a readable handwriting? Does he struggle reading other people's handwriting? Does he struggle reading his current handwriting? Does he struggle reading in general, even if printed? There are so many unmentioned things that immediately pop up that I don't understand why you're already trying to get him to a doc. – Flater Jan 29 at 16:07

13 Answers 13

34

There are a lot of different things that might help, depending on the child, but ultimately what has to change is the child's choice to pay attention to details.

I had pretty poor handwriting as a child, while otherwise being academically gifted, and my parents tried several different approaches - having me write lines and learning calligraphy being the two that I particularly remember. None worked, though, because I didn't see the value in them. Writing lines for me was counterproductive, because I learned to write faster rather than better, and learning calligraphy was something I just didn't care about - so it didn't do anything for me.

What did, was my realization I needed to slow down some, coupled with learning to type (and aging into a grade where I could - and should - turn in typed work), which meant I no longer had to handwrite long essays. This realization came as I matured, and began to care about the results of what I wrote more.

So my advice would be: talk to your son. See if he cares about this. Not if you care, but if he cares. If he doesn't, you either need to convince him to care, or let him fail here and learn from those consequences. If he does care (and not just saying he cares to make you go away), then you can find solutions that work for him - whether it is simply slowing down, allocating more time for homework, etc., or improving his manual dexterity - that can be gamified easily, which is good at that age for sure!

7
  • 9
    +1 for this answer - I always had very bad handwriting, and to an extent I still do. It was only the desire to write letters to my then-girlfriend in my teens that encouraged me to start writing more legibly. (Side note - we're now happily married). – Zibbobz Jan 29 at 15:11
  • 12
    About the "Caring" part. My caligraphy improved an absurd amount once I started making character sheets and taking notes for my RPG game. I didn't care about my homework looking good one bit, but I took a lot of pride in the pretty letters I put down on my notes while creating Nar'delcon, the Evil Wizard of Uncontrollable Sleep. – T. Sar Jan 29 at 16:05
  • 1
    I've met adults who couldn't read their own handwriting, and then there're doctors... I'm just not sure if that's an integer underflow or what... – Nelson Jan 30 at 10:34
  • 1
    I disagree with this answer because it assumes that the problem is that the child doesn't pay attention to the details. That may be the case... but it might not be. My own son has terrible handwriting. He has tried to fix it, but failed. Eventually we had him assessed by an Educational Psychologist. It turns out that my son has a condition that makes it almost impossible to write clearly. He started using a laptop instead of writing. He is now far happier and his academic performance has improved enormously – Kramii Jan 30 at 15:12
  • 1
    I support @Kramii I was a child with unreadeble handwriting. I could write 'nice' but it would take very much longer, several times as long, impossible to finish any task for someone already slow in schoolwork. I have slight dislexia and the associated writing problems. So blaming the kid as 'not puting effort in' feels like saying he is dumb, just because he suffers from a handicap. – Willeke Jan 31 at 6:51
21

If he's writing ‘joined-up’ (cursive), has he considered switching back to printing (writing each letter separately)?

Printing has a reputation for being much slower and looking ‘childish’, but in my experience the speed difference is minimal once you're practised, and its not only clearer but also degrades much better at speed.

My handwriting was always mediocre at best, but I got into real trouble at university.  (I had trouble reading my notes when revising for exams…)  So I redesigned my handwriting from scratch.  Experimentation showed that printing can be almost as fast as joined-up; that it's a lot clearer when written with care, and when rushing stays legible at speeds where joined-up becomes a meaningless scrawl.  (I also found that it helps to use simple, distinct letter shapes, to reduce ascenders and descenders, and to make the central parts of letters proportionately larger and rounder — Century Gothic typefaces make a good model.)

After that, my notes were a model of clarity, and the benefit has lasted.  I haven't used joined-up at all since then, and people have complimented me on my handwriting.  (These days I'm out of practice, as almost everything is typed, but I can still write very neatly with just a little care.)

This seems an unpopular view, but I think printing's low reputation is undeserved, and that there's no good reason to value it any less than cursive — perhaps even higher, if we care about legibility!

9
  • 8
    You say "printing has a reputation for being much slower and looking ‘childish’", but honestly, in the adult world, I don't know of anyone who actually uses cursive for normal written communication (e.g. jotting down a message for a coworker who missed a call or the like). Even my 70+ year old parents use block printing (a semi-connected version where lines often connect from bottom right to bottom left of next letter, getting the benefits of cursive while still writing legible block letters). I've only needed to use cursive once as an adult, for the anti-cheating statement before the GRE. – ShadowRanger Jan 29 at 14:55
  • 4
    I switched to printing in my teenage years, much to the relief of anyone having to deal with my handwriting. – Marianne013 Jan 29 at 16:33
  • 4
    @ShadowRanger It depends where you live. In the UK, I don't know anyone who doesn't use cursive for everything (except for filling in idiotically designed printed forms where each letter has to be written in a separate box). – alephzero Jan 29 at 20:59
  • 2
    Depends what you mean by "cursive". I'm in the UK and my hand-writing is joined up, but I don't write cursive capitals at all, and several of my letters are not the cursive forms I was taught in school (for example p, in which I connect the loop at the bottom). I sometimes use all block when writing for other people, especially something like the name of a caller where they might not be able to error-correct from context, so if they think my double-r looks like an n then they really might misread it. – Steve Jessop Jan 29 at 22:24
  • 1
    There are even typing systems to make typing faster, like Comenia Script – Piro says Reinstate Monica Jan 30 at 7:06
15

Some people have physical or neurological issues that make handwriting difficult, including hyper-mobile joints and dyspraxia. Telling these people that they just need to slow down and taking more care isn't really helpful. Yes, they can write better if they slow down, but this simply shifts the disadvantage from unreadable writing to needing more time, and hence e.g. not finishing an exam. Also concentrating harder on forming the letters takes mental bandwidth away from deciding what to write, which is meant to be the important bit.

Depending on where you live it may be possible to have this allowed for by the school, including in exams. However this will probably need a formal medical diagnosis.

Alternatively, talk to the school about using a computer instead of handwriting, and get a touch-typing course for your son. Being able to type is an important skill in any case.

6
  • Your answer makes me wonder if I might have any neurodiversity, because when I was younger, I used to write letter by letter, which was considered nice (not amazing, just nice). But as I grew up, I felt the need to write much faster, and everyone started telling me to write slower, which as you pointed out wouldn't do within the time limit of having to write down the lessons the teachers were spelling out and the exams that are too long. – Clockwork Jan 29 at 8:59
  • I'll also just mention dysgraphia, which is another neurological issue that makes handwriting extremely difficult. – stan Jan 29 at 13:20
  • Yes, he can type on a keyboard quite well and fast. Do you suggest to take him to a doctor because of this? – BЈовић Jan 29 at 14:48
  • 1
    @BЈовић Talk to the school first. They will have had experience with this sort of thing, and can tell you if it’s likely or not. At least where I live they will do a (free) evaluation of this sort if you ask - but you often have to ask. – Joe Jan 29 at 15:17
  • 1
    At university, I had a student with special accommodation due to unreadable handwriting. I assume that was diagnosed as a medical condition or he wouldn't had the accommodation accorded. – Pere Jan 30 at 22:02
5

I have absolutely grotty handwriting. It hasn't gotten any better since I was a kid, and it probably never will get better.

I can tell you why my handwriting is so lousy, and maybe that will give you some insight into why your son has bad handwriting.

  • First and foremost is that writing is too slow. I cannot write as fast as my thoughts run. By the time I've carefully drawn a word on paper, my thoughts are already framing the next paragraph - not the next word or the next sentence, the next paragraph.
  • Given the flighty nature of my thoughts, I will lose track of where I am in a word I am writing - in the middle of a letter. Because of the constant switch-back from thoughts and ideas to drawing letters, I sometimes lose track of how I am writing - I flip-flop back and forth between printing and cursive. That flip-flop happens even in the middle of words.
  • It's the ideas that matter when I write, not the appearance. I'm trying to tell you something, so I'm picking and choosing words and concepts rather than artfully drawing letters.
  • I remember quite clearly from school that I generally had nothing I really wanted to say when writing essays. How could I? I was learning about the subjects, and needed more knowledge to be able to form opinions so that I could have something useful to say. Since I didn't have anything to say, I didn't much care how it looked. The essays had nothing to say, so it didn't matter (to me) what they looked like. In my opinion, anything I wrote was going to be pretty pointless so I didn't give a dang what it looked like -it said nothing, so what did it matter if no one could read it?
  • A final peculiarity of my schooling was that I changed schools about 7 or 8 times before I reached the 6th grade. Each school and teacher had a different way to teach writing and different ideas of what the individual letters should look like. My handwriting is a hodge-podge of various styles, mashed together any old way. I'm also pretty sure that which of the various styles I am using changes as I am writing.

The only way I have ever found for me to produce a cleanly written text is to type the text, or scribble it down just any old way. Once the content is fixed, I can approach it like an art project - carefully and painfully draw each and every letter just so without giving a thought to the actual content. Treat each and every letter, every word, as though it were the most important thing ever and draw it properly with no thought for anything else in the world.

That amount of concentration is, naturally, an absolute pain. I did it some few times in school (and hated it.) Mostly, I didn't write if I could avoid it. Acceptably avoiding it included getting bad grades.

The only time I have ever consistently produced legible hand written letters was during the time I was learning drafting (the old fashioned way: ink, pen, straight edge, drafting table.) The text was given, so it was all just a matter of carefully drawing the (printed) letters and digits. The object was just to produce a properly drawn and lettered sheet rather than to express something I had to think up myself. To this day, when I need to actually write something, it is easiest to formulate the (short) text in my mind's eye, then "letter" it as if I were at a drafting table.


Consider the possibility that your son may have a mild attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.)

It doesn't always manifest as wild hyperactivity. Sometimes it is "just" a lack of ability to focus on a task. Handwriting requires concentration and focus - and some people just don't have it.

2

This is not a suggestion from parenting, but from personal experience, and reinforces the 'slowing down' advice from other responders.

My handwriting was passable as a child and youth. However when I went to university and had to take notes during lectures, I found that I could write at enormous speed, but the quality dropped to the point of being illegible.

I found I was unable to simply 'slow down', so I devised a ruse. I stopped writing a cursive 'e' and switched to a greek epsilon ε, that I couldn't form at the same speed. Without the speed available, this forced me to precis, and write fewer, better notes, and the reduction in speed improved the legibility as well.

I am not saying that this specific ruse would work with your child, just that a slowing down, however achieved, could be part of the solution.

2

Here are my two cents based on my personal experience having a bad handwriting. I'll make it short and simple.

  • Make sure that your son is holding the pencil "correctly" (There isn't a "correct" way to hold a pencil to write, but the "standard" way is easy to all if not most people). If your son is holding it "wrong", it may causes pain in hand which results to wanting to rush writing which eventually leads to bad handwriting. My handwriting was so bad (even though I was a high school student), that I decided to look up YouTube videos about holding a pencil. It took me some time to get used to it, but it was definitely worth it.

The most important part is

  • Motivate your son why having a good handwriting is important. It's impossible to be very good at something without being motivated.
2

Writing solely for the looks

Like most people answering, I had terrible handwriting all my life.

A year ago I decided I wanted a more professional/impressive signature (instead of just writing my name in cursive.) I designed it myself over a long process of practice and refinement. I practiced it idly over many weeks whenever I needed to do something with my hands, pushing myself to get a few critical bits right.

Lo and behold, one day I handwrote something else and was surprised at how much neater and more consistent my handwriting was. I suppose it helped that I have a rather long name but still. I developed fine motor skills, rhythm, attention to detail in the context of using a pen.

Then there are things like Tengwar which... basically, you'd write because it looks cool.

One Ring inscription

I'm currently learning the Arabic script (not the language) for interest and I can't help but pay attention to getting the little stylistic details right.

Ultimately the child needs to see the value in this. But encourage them to practice something that means something to them, when they would otherwise be doodling—a band name, computer game font, cars.

tl;dr you don't have to practice writing text. You can simply intensely practice a single word or sentence that you have some innate interest in.

1

Just a guess: Perhaps he is left-handed, but nobody has yet discovered this. If so, he should be retrained to write with his left hand, which will take some time, but yield better results in the end (source).

1
  • 2
    Unlikely that no-one would have discovered this by the age of 14. Additionally, as a left handed person, any skill that I practice with my non-dominant hand becomes indistinguishable from my dominant hand over time. 7 years of writing in school would likely eliminate any difference between left and right hand writing dominance. – Cecilia Jan 29 at 14:22
1

Some personal experience that may or may not be relevant.

I had absolutely appalling handwriting as a child, pretty much illegible to me never mind anyone else. What I think I was doing was tensing way up (white knuckle grip on the pen, literally) and the correct way to do it did not really click until I was about 14, basically micromotor skills were a bit late coming in, and by the time they did I had developed a coping strategy that really did not work well!

A bit of some neurological thing that meant that while I could and did read extensively, I read words, not letters so spelling was enough of a mystery that copying off a blackboard was a one letter at a time affair did NOT help!

It all finally clicked for me literally over the course of a week, fast enough that I got accused of having someone else write my essays for me!

I never did find out what the problem with spelling was, but that finally fixed itself once word processors started red lining words (For all it means that my spelling is often rather American).

Get him tested for dyspraxia, but it might well just be that he has settled on something that 'worked' in junior school but is a dead end when it comes to legible handwriting.

1
  • Sounds you are dislexic and had the brain sorting out your writing problem, likely your brain also got a handle on reading, in words rather than letters. OP's son may very well suffer the same problems but not yet has had that brain click that solves it. For me spelling has been mastered but handwriting is still poor. – Willeke Jan 31 at 7:08
1

I faced this problem in my childhood years. Here is what I did to improve my handwriting:

1.) Switched to Pencil to gain control over the writing (This helps a lot). As compared to a normal Pen, Pencil tends to provide more friction and this demands extra stiffness from the user's hand while writing. You can say, that it lays the foundations for the user's hand posture while writing.

2.) Use Squareboxed Notebooks: The reason for using this type of notebook is to create a sense of a fixed writing space. Say for example: the user has to write a single letter in each of the boxes. This will help control the flow of the writer.

Squared box Notebook

3.) Write two pages a day. One in the morning and one before going to the bed. This step is necessary to create a sense of habit to the user.

Hope it helps :)

0

It depends entirely on what you are comfortable with. I have handwriting bad enough that I could make my own encryption code. Aside from that, I would recommend as Ijirk said, Try allowing him to write on a blackboard, and reward him every time you feel his handwriting is improving. Other than that, Hes your kid, so if the blackboard doesn't work, Try making a game out of it where you write with him sending each other goofy letters, and add a little bit of fun to it.

0

The first question to ask is "why does he need better handwriting?" Is it a goal in itself, or are there problems it causes? The title says "even he can't read it", the body says "teachers can't read it". Those are two different problems, and there are potentially more.

I was in secondary school when my English teacher gave me an ultimatum: "handwritten essays will be returned unread and unmarked." The good news was that I had just got my own personal computer and could afford a printer; typed everything it was, then. In the next 30 years, my handwriting hasn't got any better, and the only way to make it readable by anyone but me is to flourish it so much it looks ostentatious, or write in an archaic German script. Both tricks are "slow down".

But that's okay! I haven't written anything more than block print on a form in 2 years! I can't even tell you where my pen is. Everything's on the computer now. Discussion or lecture notes? laptop or phone-with-swype. Notes with family? SMS. And so on.

So, find the problem. If it's submitted work, get it typed. Essay questions? Can I use my computer (without internet connection)? Math? Sure, but how much words do you need in math?

If it's "notes taken in class that can't be reviewed", is it necessary? can those be typed too? I know through university, I had to be in class and I had to take notes, or I wouldn't remember what was being taught. But I never looked at them again, nor did I have to. So what if I couldn't read them either?

If it's that you should have good handwriting, for when it's needed, the other suggestions are appropriate - have him slow down for others, and perhaps print instead of writing cursive. One suggestion that worked for me that I don't see here - try switching to a fountain pen. Turns out I grab ballpoints way too hard, and press hard, and it hurts after a while. Can't do that with a fountain pen or it won't write.

And maybe I'm showing my western bias here - assuming access to a computer. And I have seen "can I ban laptops in my lectures" questions, so the people who don't live in the 21st century haven't died off yet.

Oh, and that English teacher? Got much better essays than she would have, because doing it on a computer meant I did it on a (very elementary) word-processor - so instead of having to rewrite my second draft (which I would never do, because massive waste of time) I just moved the paragraphs around and fixed the sentences and the spelling before I printed it. Just like everyone does now (and like I just did before submitting this).

0

I am 35, and my handwriting is comparable to that my 9-year old, unless I put a a lot of effort into it, and that greatly slows me down. Not only does my writing appear sloppy, I have trouble maintaining the size and alignment. If I write on unlined paper, it almost universally follows a rainbow shape.

It is called dysgraphia, and is pretty strongly correlated with neurological issues (1). It is correlated with ADHD (2), ASD (3), and other neurological dysfunctions, primarily those related to motor skills. There are other ideas that it has to do with encoding symbolic language, and that writing is more like drawing for some, having to consciously work on the shape of each letter as it is being written [citation needed].

There are exercises you can do (line-tracing, mazes, and other games that utilize the same functional regions/capacities), but as a teen or adult, one of the best things to do is practice writing, a lot, and in cursive. I don't have time to finds a bunch of sources at the moment, but think of it like exercise for neural pathways.

Specifically for your situation, working on the writing will help, whether simply by allowing your teen to achieve more in school, communicate more effectively, or actually improve his abilities. For this to be possible, he does have to be invested and put genuine effort into it. Talking to your son is the first step. I would focus on the inherent benefits, comparing it to exercising for your brain. Consulting with a specialist wouldn't hurt either.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.