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Why (and how!) OTs work on handwriting without worksheets

Is your child’s handwriting hard to read?

Are you concerned about how they hold their pencil?

Are you wondering when your child should learn cursive? Or how/why cursive is taught?

Are you wondering how to help your child at home with handwriting?

Keep reading!

Children these days can have trouble with handwriting because¹ ³ ⁴

  • Different instruction of letter formation (starting from top or bottom)

  • Teachers having “more pertinent instruction according to the Common Core”

  • Less handwriting practice due to an increase in computer use

But it can also be related to one or many of the foundational skills needed for writing. Before even getting to a writing letters stage your child has SO many skills to develop! One of the common worries OTs hear from teachers and parents is about how a kid holds a pencil, but often there are other prerequisite skills that need help first.

Which begs the question...

What else contributes to handwriting?

Hold onto your hats because the non-exhaustive list includes:

  • Hand dominance

  • Grasping skills

  • Core strength

  • Hand strength and skills

  • Visual perception

  • Crossing midline

  • Hand-eye coordination

  • Shoulder stability

  • Arm and hand control

  • Thumb opposition and webspace

  • Finger isolation

  • Functional separation of the two sides of the hand

Before your kid can improve their handwriting, we need to know what’s causing the breakdown. And, like we just talked about, it could be coming from a bunch of different places.

So, good news/bad news....

Handwriting is SO complex!

Handwriting difficulties are the most common referral to occupational therapists in the school system³ ⁴. OTs work on handwriting from a holistic perspective because there are so many factors contributing to “bad handwriting.”

And thank goodness (for everyone) that there’s a world beyond worksheets!

To understand what goes into handwriting, we have to look at how handwriting develops.

It’s wild to think kindergarteners are now expected to write their name PLUS uppercase AND lowercase letters….but developmentally they’re supposed to be working on drawing shapes!

This is why when you say to an OT, “my kid has bad handwriting” we want to sit down with a (large) cup of coffee and ask you one zillion questions. The activities we do to help will depend on where the breakdown is happening.

And you know what?

We might ask you to....






Because sometimes the skills that need attention don’t involve paper and pencil. Like at all. And if we start at supporting the missing foundational skills, that will make your kid more successful in the long run.

In the next few blog posts, we will be providing you with a series to better understand the complexities of handwriting and activities you can do at home to improve your child’s handwriting skills.

Stay tuned for more!

Love research?

Us too. 💖

  1. Beck, C., Chuan, C., Cooley, T., Drobnjak, L., Greutman, H., Geffron, C., Kiley, C., Meadows, An., Rice, M., Spencer, J., (2017) The Handwriting Book. OT Toolkit’s The Functional Skills for Kids Pediatric Therapist Team.

  2. Case-Smith, J. & O’Brien, J.C. (2015). Occupational Therapy For Children And Adolescents. 7th Ed. Elsevier and Mosby Publishing.

  3. Collette, D., Anson, K., Halabi, N., Schlierman, A., & Suriner, A. (2017). Handwriting and common core state standards: Teacher, occupational therapist, and administrator perceptions from new york state public schools. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71(6), 1-9. doi:

  4. Feder, K., Majnemer, A., & Synnes, A., (2000). Handwriting: Current trends in occupational therapy practice. The Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67(3), 197-204. doi:

    1. DOI:10.1177/000841740006700313

  5. Grace, N., Enticott, P. G., Johnson, B. P., & Rinehart, N. J. (2017). Do handwriting difficulties correlate with core symptomology, motor proficiency and attentional behaviours? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(4), 1006-1017. doi:

  6. Harrington, R., & Hill, J., (2018). Handwriting and Fine Motor Skills. The Sensory Project Podcast. Season 1, Episode 17

  7. Zwicker, J. G. (2006). Effectiveness of occupational therapy in remediating handwriting difficulties in primary students: Cognitive versus multisensory interventions (Order No. MR14673). Available from Nursing & Allied Health Database. (304984389). Retrieved from

  8. Handwriting without Tears Website and free resources, Retrieved from<>

  9. American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) (n.d.) Handwriting. Retrieved from <>

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