Dear Susan: My child has horrible handwriting / printing. It’s almost illegible. What can I do?

A: This is a more common problem than most of us realize: A child grasps the basics of handwriting or printing letters and words and can write out answers – but without a structured, ruled writing sheet their handwriting is just a scrawl that doesn’t really improve much.

Once children are past the grades where they learn the basics of handwriting, they are largely on their own at school. Most teachers do not have the time to work with students on improving their handwriting, and yet it is such an important component of the school years and beyond, into their careers. We may all do most of our communicating on tablets and laptops but handwriting still has a place in our culture.

Learn Calligraphy Together!

handwritingHandwriting apps are available to help children practice their printing and cursive skills. But here’s the best solution: Teach your child calligraphy. It’s a beautiful art that requires fine motor control to use the pen correctly. It’s also a very creative activity – kids can pick different colors of ink and use different-shaped nibs (interchangeable points on the pen) that wildly change the shape of letters. They learn to pay attention to every part of a letter. Even better, it’s an activity that you can do together.

How to Get Them Interested in Calligraphy

To catch their interest, find videos online of beautiful examples of calligraphy lettering and of artists creating calligraphic works. Look for videos that explain the advantages of learning calligraphy and how the art can be applied to everyday activities.

Even very young children can be introduced to the creative magic of calligraphy. Water-based markers are available, many of them with “shaped” nibs, that toddlers can safely use. Put child-safe scissors into their hands as soon as they can squeeze them. Give them unlined paper, crayons and nontoxic glue. Get them active in creating as soon as you possibly can.The benefits to your child’s brain by taking this approach are so worth the effort. They will develop fine motor skills, grip strength, and creativity. There’s also research to indicate it supports brain development and reduces stress.

The other important factor in teaching calligraphy and paper art is that it minimizes the use of technology. It shifts the child away from tablets and apps and gets them involved in hands-on activities that build critically important brain connections to develop fine motor control.

In a world that no longer requires perfect penmanship, the best way to develop a child’s handwriting skill is to turn them on to the beauty of handwriting and the opportunity to make creations they’ll be very proud of.


Chen, Wen et al. “Long-Term Chinese Calligraphic Handwriting Training Has a Positive Effect on Brain Network Efficiency.” PLoS ONE 14.1 (2019): n. pag. PLoS ONE.

Kao, Henry S.R. et al. “Calligraphy and Meditation for Stress Reduction: An Experimental Comparison.” Psychology Research and Behavior Management 7 (2014): 47–52. Psychology Research and Behavior Management. Web.

Kao, Henry S.R. et al. “Cognitive Effects of English Brush Handwriting: The Case of Visual–Spatial Aptitude.” Asia Pacific Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy 3.2 (2012): 190–201. Asia Pacific Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy. Web.

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