Handwriting: What's Normal, What's Not

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Good handwriting is an important skill for young children:

  • Handwriting is a basic tool that children use in the classroom for expressing their ideas, creating stories, and test-taking.
  • Handwriting, reading, and spelling skills reinforce each other. If your child is able to write letters easily and clearly, he can spend more time focusing on his message and forming interesting sentences.

Is my child's handwriting "normal?"

Here are some developmental milestones in writing:


Writing first appears as scribbles drawn in a large circular motion. As your child attempts to write her own name, shapes that resemble letters begin to appear.

Pre-K and kindergarten

Your child may enjoy drawing and labeling objects, using invented spelling with no vowels ("bed" becomes "BD"). He will write in upper case letters — most of them correctly formed — and begin to string separate words together to express more complex thoughts.

First grade

Fine motor skills are stronger and your child gains better control in writing her letterforms. She is learning the difference between upper case and lowercase letters. Invented spelling is still common. Writing is fun as your child gains confidence and "automaticity."

"Just being lazy"

It’s a myth that kids with learning and attention issues are "just being lazy." While learning and attention issues may not be as visible as other health issues, they’re just as real.

Learn more about the one in five children who has a learning or attention issue from The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5.

Second grade

Your child's handwriting may become smaller and neater. Your child is able to focus more on what he is writing than on the mechanics. Journal writing in class provides lots of practice for strengthening handwriting skills.

Third grade

Your child will begin to learn to write in cursive. Writing speed will slow down, and close attention to letter formation will increase. Some class assignments will be in cursive, which will provide practice with this new skill.

Poor handwriting and learning disabilities

Children who struggle with handwriting may be exhibiting signs of a learning disability called dysgraphia. Dysgraphia affects a child's ability to write with a pen, pencil, or crayon. It also affects other tasks that require fine motor skills, such as using scissors or buttoning a shirt. Dysgraphia often overlaps with other learning disabilities such as dyslexia and ADHD, but not always. If you suspect that your child has dysgraphia, consult with your school's special education staff to have your child tested.

Some common signs of dysgraphia:

  • Awkward pencil grip and body position
  • Illegible handwriting, letters of different sizes
  • Unfinished words or sentences
  • Inability to write for very long
  • Avoidance of writing or drawing activities
  • Difficulty organizing ideas on paper

If your child continues to struggle with handwriting through the later grades, consult with your child's teacher about the possibility of being tested for special education services.

Recommended Resource from Understood.org

For more information, take a look at the bilingual parent resources about handwriting and dysgraphia from Understood.org, a social impact organization dedicated to helping the 1 in 5 Americans who learn and think differently thrive at home, in school, at work, and in life.


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Colorín Colorado and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact [email protected].

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I have a bright student in 8th grade in my ESL Honor class but his hand writing is totally (doctor's style) to say the least!! I think help should be given before he goes to High School I have tried...! any suggestions?

Has the student attended school in his own country? If he is of limited formal schooling, or his alphabet is very different from ours, that could be a factor. If he has schooling (with a similar alphabet to ours). Contact the school's Occupational Therapist. They are sometimes able to quickly screen the student and let you know what to try next. There are special pencil grips and special paper. Students can practice similar letters (start with O, then a, then q) on paper, on marker boards, and tracing in a salt tray. This may be a student for whom typing may be an important accommodation.

Could you talk about some factors that may affect letter formation and hand strength? We have a kindergarten student who is struggling with both. He went to a 4k program. I am thinking it may due to the lack of opportunity to develop fine motor skills and the teacher could work on that as well as seeing what changes to the environment (seat, pencil rests, etc.) could be implemented to help.

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