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My 6-year-old’s penmanship is terrible!
Mark Sioux Falls
Mark, it seems to me that the penmanship of every 6-year-old I know is terrible. In truth, I don’t know (a) whether this is an accurate perception or, if it is, (b) how to explain it. One obvious explanation is simply that it isn’t emphasized the way it once was. When I was a little girl we spent hours making those “crawling O’s” and “push-pulls” on our lined tablets, supposedly to give us better hand control. And we were graded on penmanship just as we were in reading and math. My writing was pretty good until the arrival of the computer age. Now about the only handwriting I do is in my checkbook, and sometimes what is there is difficult to read! So I think a lack of emphasis is part of your son’s problem, just as it is for other young children.

I think that I’d work on helping him develop hand control and eye-hand coordination, not printing and writing per se. And don’t make it all academic. Encourage him with small toys that have multiple parts to be fitted together. Also, encourage him to draw and color. Buy one of those books of mazes that parents like to use on trips. Because he is bright, he may well “see” the way to the goal immediately. But tracing the path with a pencil requires hand control. And I’d consider coloring books that deal with any subject he is interested in.

In anticipation of criticism from my colleagues for daring to suggest a coloring book, I hasten to say that I am recommending it not as an art activity but as a venue for practicing hand control. After he finishes a picture, have him suggest a caption for the page that fits the action. You can print the words for him on another sheet and let him copy them. And encourage him to write thank-you notes. (See my article about thank-you notes on this website.) A good rule is that he has to practice printing the address two or three times before putting it on an envelope.

Now, about the shyness. That is probably a trait that will go with him through life. Help him by arranging for him to play in small groups from time to time. There is a big difference between the intimate home environment and the heavily populated, noisy and busy school environment. Continue to do things with him one-on-one; most children learn better that way. But if you can find ways to allow him to participate in small groups, he should gradually become more able to cope effectively with big ones.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education