Three Ways to Look at Messy Handwriting

Oh handwriting.

I’m kind of a handwriting fanatic.  A friend of mine once said that good manners and good handwriting will get you halfway through life.  The other half is hard work.  What’s so hard about neat handwriting?

Handwriting has gotten shoved to the side in the last 5-10 years.  There’s no time for it now that we have to start test prep in first grade.  Handwriting does matter though-whether it’s because you simply can’t read your students work, or there’s something deeper going on.

Bad Habits

Easily half of the students I work with simply have some really bad habits.  Either their grip is terrible or their letter formation is incorrect.

Why does it matter though?  First, writing is a means of communication.  If you can’t write legibly, you can’t communicate.  Second, when I taught fourth grade language arts we did a ton of writing.  Many of my students held their pencils incorrectly, so their hands got tired well before the work was done.  They hated writing because after awhile it hurt.

It’s easy to make the leap that since there’s so little time to teach handwriting, kids’ poor handwriting is a result of this.  And most of the time that’s true, but sometimes there’s more going on.

Fine Motor Skills

But maybe some of those kids don’t have bad habits, they actually have fine motor issues.  I have used Stetro grips for a long time, and I loved them.  However, I worked with a few kids this year who honestly could not get their fingers to work with them.  That’s why I’m loving these Grotto Grips.  They were designed by an occupational therapist.  They don’t just help kids hold their pencils correctly, they help build hand strength, too.
Here’s a glowing review: One of my students (about 12 seconds before I was going to share these new grips with the group) made a comment about how much she hated pencil grips and that using them was torture (her exact word).  You can imagine how excited she was to see my new grips.  By the end of the group, she was begging to take the grip back to class with her.  These kiddos are asking me where they can buy them.

Vision Issues

No, we’re not talking about Little Sally needing reading glasses.  This is a whole new area of learning for me.  Honestly, as a reading specialist, I’m kind of mad that this never really came up in my 60 hours of graduate courses.  Instead, I learned about it as a mom.

My younger daughter has messy handwriting.  No matter how much I worked with her, made her rewrite, or what grip I found, her handwriting was still messy.  She was also making a lot of careless errors in math.  Flipping the places of numbers when recording her answer, leaving out steps, etc.  She is a now a very strong reader but had gotten of to a slow start.

This teacher momma was beside herself.  My own child couldn’t be bothered to write neatly or check her math work carefully.

Finally, one of her teachers (and now our hero) talked to me about seeing a vision specialist.  Turns out her eye muscles aren’t balanced and don’t converge correctly (come together when focused on text).

Why this matters:

Reading-Her eyes weren’t sweeping across the page together.  There was a lot of backing up and rereading for both eyes to catch up together.  While she’s smart enough to compensate for it, it can definitely interfere with comprehension and most certainly fluency.  For kids with very jumpy vision, you might see kids that never “read" punctuation because they’re eyes aren’t catching it.

Handwriting-Your eyes, brain, and hand are working together.  When these aren’t working together smoothly, handwriting doesn’t flow smoothly either.

Math-When the problems have so much text and so many steps work on, pieces get lost visually.  When your eyes are sweeping across the numbers correctly, the numbers don’t get seen correctly.

Among other tests, the doctor took used a special set of goggles that tracked her eyes as she read.
It was fascinating to watch the screen to see what was happening with her eyes.  Imagine a heart monitor, but the lines represented the movement of her eyes.  None of her yearly eye checks had caught this.  It was such a relief to find out what was going on with this girlie who is so smart but didn’t always look it on paper.

What can you do?  I certainly can’t justify pulling kids from their classroom to work on handwriting, but I do work it in wherever I can.  When were working on phonics skills in isolation, I can work with a kiddo on letter formation.  If we have two minutes left at the end of a group, we might grab some dry erase markers and practice them on the table.  It’s important to see if things can get a little better.  If their not, maybe there’s something bigger going on.

And now it’s spring break for me, so I’m off to spend some quality time with a few projects I pinned on Pinterest!

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  1. MEGAN!!! That was such a helpful post! I was able to catch one eye issue this year... that jumping thing. He had trouble with skipping lines when reading, so it was obvious. But I never thought of it linked to handwriting. I'll start keeping a sharper eye out now. Thank you!! =)

  2. Thank you for the informative post! Great answer to "Does handwriting matter?" Illegible handwriting does hinder communication.
    The Gotto Grippers are great because students can't easily use them incorrectly. I've used the tripod grippers, but found that many students would still wrap their thumbs over them. Ouch!

  3. Such a great post! I had a student who our literacy coach suggested see a vision specialist and it worked wonders for his handwriting and reading!

  4. You may have helped a couple of my students! I can't say thank you enough for number 3!


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