Teaching left-handed children

By Melanie Hartgill

An article on how to assist your left-handed child to learn to write.


Being left-handed in a right-handed world cannot be easy. Traditionally, it is considered preferable to be right-handed and basic tools, machinery etc. are all designed to be used by right-handed people. So it's hardly surprising that people don't make specific accommodations for teaching left-handed children how to write. After all, writing is writing, how big can the difference be between using your right hand and using your left hand? Answer - the difference is huge!!

Just to start with, writing from left to right across the page is more difficult using the left hand because a right-handed person writes away from their body, pulling the pencil across the page whereas the left-handed person writes towards their body and has to push the pencil. On this basis alone, it is not possible for left-handed and right-handed people to have their pages orientated in the same direction or to have identical hand positions on the page. What often happens is that the left-handed child is simply allowed to write with their left hand but isn't actually shown how to write with that hand and, therefore, develops an uncomfortable, messy and slow way of writing that they struggle with all of their lives.

When learning to write, it is often beneficial for the child to start writing or practice their writing, on a chalkboard on the wall or even in a sandpit using a stick. The reason for this is that it allows the child to move their entire arm freely, keeping their arm straight and not worrying about looking at what they're writing, or smudging their writing and rather allows them to concentrate on learning the correct formation of each letter or figure.

Research has recommended that the child hold the pencil between 2.5 centimetres and 3.8 cm from the point. It may be worth marking your child’s pencil at the right distance for them when they're learning to write in order to remind them where they should be gripping the pencil. When learning to write, young children tend to grip the pencil very tightly and this makes their writing tense and difficult for them, so you may also need to remind your child frequently to relax their grip when writing.

Ideally, a left-handed child's piece of paper should be positioned to the left of the child’s midline and tilted so the top right-hand corner of the page is closer to the child than the top left-hand corner. This means that the child’s hand is away from their body at the beginning of the line to be written on and they will finish their written line with the hand closer to themselves and in front of the body, possibly slightly to the left of their midline. The specific angle of the paper is not important because, just like right-handed people, each child will develop their own page position that is most comfortable for them. Many left-handed children tend to write with what is called a ‘hooked’ hand, in order to see what they are writing and not smear their work. This involves a bent wrist positioned above the line they are writing on. It is important that the wrist is straight, not bent, and the left-hand should be below the writing line.

Much of what I've written so far suggests that you are just beginning to teach your child to write. However it is entirely possible that your left-handed child is already writing and they're doing it the wrong way. The best starting point then to assist your child is to speak to their teacher and agree on the process that you are both going to use so your child receives consistent help. Demonstrate a proper grip, paper position, and arm and wrist position to your child and work closely with them on it for at least 10 minutes every single day. Remember it could take a few weeks in order for the child change their writing style but persevere and be consistent and encouraging.

By the way, how do you decide which hand your child should be writing with in the first place? First of all, it's not your choice, it's your child's choice as they will naturally develop hand dominance, however occasionally there is some doubt as to which is the dominant hand and therefore there are some very simple ways of determining which is going to be the hand to train. During assessments, we tend to give the child a number of activities to do, which involve their hands and see which hand they use more often. Below are some examples of these activities;

  • Give your child a hand puppet and see which hand they put the puppet on
  • Give your child a padlock and key to play with as they will generally turn the key with the dominant hand
  • Ask them to pass you something from in a cupboard as the dominant hand will pick up the object
  • Play throw and catch with a small ball as the child will normally throw the ball with their dominant hand
  • Give them a number of different sized jars with the lids removed and asked them to match the lids with the jars, again they will tend to screw the lid on with their dominant hand
  • Finally, see which hand they use when eating with a fork and spoon

If you have any concerns about the way your child is writing or positioning their hand, etc. please contact an occupational therapist for an assessment or evaluation, as it is not worth your child struggling throughout their school career for something that can be relatively easily assisted.

And please remember left-handed scissors are available that are a lot easier for your left-handed child to use!!

 About the author:
Melanie Hartgill
Educational Psychologist
Pr. no. 0860000115134

Specialising in: Assessments (educational, psychological, school readiness, emotional and career), Learning Disabilities, Parenting Issues and Training and Child Development

Visit Melanie's Q&A page

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