Performance skills required for handwriting

Grasp Patterns by Age

Typical pencil grasp development for handwriting. Efficient grasps for handwriting.

Hand and Upper Extremity Strength

Hand and finger strength is necessary for supporting the writing/drawing utensil. Hand and finger strength can be built gradually over time. In addition, shoulder and trunk strength is necessary to provide a solid base of support for the hand and fingers to do the work they need to.

Quick Tip: Lay your child (age 3-6) on their stomach with propped forearms when writing and coloring. This prompts automatic stabilization of the wrist and helps to build upper extremity and postural strength!

Directional Awareness

Learning how to form letters, both uppercase and lowercase, requires awareness of direction and left and right awareness. There are many directional cues given to students when they are first learning to write. Enhancing understanding of directional concepts (over, under, around, to the side, above, below, up, down, and left/right) will help your child motor plan the formation of letters.

Quick Tip: Give your child silly directions. Ask them to place objects on or with other objects in relation each other. (Put the brush under your arm, walk around the sofa, and jump twice).

Awareness of Space

By upper elementary school, children should be able to adequately space their letters and words in order for their writing to be legible. Therefore, they need to have good awareness of how far away they are from others, how far away objects are from other objects, and how far away letters are from other letters and the line.

Quick Tip: Have your child use a “finger space” every time they complete a word by putting a finger after the last letter and starting the next work on the other side of the letter replace with the next letter on the other side of the finger.

Midline Awareness

Many writing tasks are completed in front of the child while seated at the table, with the paper in front of them. If a child lacks midline awareness, they may fail to use their non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper and may “lateralize” the materials, meaning they turn their body to write or move the paper to one side of the body. In addition, poor bilateral coordination and midline awareness impacts letter formation, especially for letters that contain intersecting lines.

Quick Tip: Continually place items on your child’s non-dominant side and encourage them to pick up the materials with their dominant hand. This includes snacks and toys!

Visual Perceptual Skills

Children need to adequately recognize forms and shapes, both for their similarities and differences to one another. Strong general visual perception, including visual closure and form constancy (being able to recognize the same shape in different contexts) is important when learning to write.

Quick Tip: Use different fonts to write the same words, or play games with your child such as recognizing the popular logo from just a piece of the logo.

Games and Activities to Promote Pre-Writing and Handwriting Skills


· Try a multi-sensory approach to writing: practice letters in shaving cream, in sand trays, on the shower walls, and air writing. This is great for practicing directionality!

· Make letters out of shapes: most letters are shapes and lines put together! Cut out a bunch of shapes and lines and build the letters. You can also build shapes with Lego and dried pasta.

· Play-doh mats and letters: Below are links for making Play-Doh mats. This is a great way to encourage better hand strength and bilateral coordination with the hands when rolling the doh.

· Creating your own word search or crossword puzzles

· Use handwriting checklists to encourage self-monitoring

· Adapted paper to assist with baseline awareness and correct spacing

· Utilize tweezers for different activities to promote hand strength. Try eating preferred snacks with tweezers!

· Cut crayons and chalk in half to promote a more functional grasp. This helps encourage children to use a proper grasp to color and draw because they must pinch it with their fingers. Flip crayons are also great.

Early Writing:

· Practice with letter formation through using the Handwriting Without Tears books which are available at

· Use pencil grips to improve a non-functional grasp pattern.

· Try age-appropriate mazes that require fine motor precision. Ask your therapist for examples!

Upper Elementary Writers:

· Games like Scattergories encourage word-finding and writing endurance.

· Backseat Drawing (game can be purchased online) or Who What Where are both games that promote fine motor skills and directionality awareness..

· Create your own word search or crossword puzzles at

· Use handwriting checklists to encourage self-monitoring while doing homework (ie. did I use adequate spacing, are my letters on the lines, did I use correct capitalization and punctuation).

· Use adapted paper to assist with baseline awareness and correct spacing.