As a school based occupational therapist, I receive many referrals for handwriting difficulties. Handwriting is a very complex function that requires many underlying skills. You can read more about this here: Fine Motor Skills Unveiled. When looking at a child’s handwriting, it is important to figure out what is impacting legibility the most. Sometimes it is poorly formed letters, sometimes all the words are squished together, sometimes it’s poor organization. There are many things that can make handwriting difficult to read. When many factors are impacting legibility, it is a good idea to grapple with one thing at a time. Why is this important? Often times kiddos with handwriting difficulties become overwhelmed when trying to fix all the errors they’ve made. When this happens, little progress is made. It may seem like it will take too much time to tackle one problem at a time, but it really doesn’t and the end result is surely worth it. Once competency is noted in each area, the child is able to complete the editing process without getting overwhelmed. This is when you can have the child use a comprehensive checklist that addresses all legibility components (letter formation, line orientation, spacing between words) and grammar if necessary. This post will focus on how to help kids learn how to space between words or improve visual processing skills (spatial relations).
Try one of these tips:
- Finger Spacing Have children place the finger of their non-writing hand after each word. A finger is just the right width or amount of space that should be left between words. I love this strategy because children always have access to their fingers. Unlike pencils, erasers, or other tools which often get lost, a child always has their finger on their person, ready to help them.
- Spaceman: Kids love spacemen. Spacemen are little wooden astronauts that help children learn how to space between words. Children place the spaceman after each word after it is written. There is a red line on the spacer indicating where to place it on the line.
Starting Blocks Plus Bundle- One Finger Spacer Handwriting Tool, Green and Two Finger Spacer Handwriting Tool, Blue
- Spacers: Some children have trouble with coordinating their hands to place a finger after each word. This has been particularly noted with lefties because their non-writing hand gets in the way. You can purchase spacers that function just like finger placement. The one finger spacer is for use with wide ruled paper (2nd grade or above). The two finger spacer is for use with primary paper (kindergarten and 1st grade).
- DIY Spacer: Popsicle sticks work too! Have children decorate the popsicle stick to their liking. Simply place the stick after each word, much the same as any other spacer. In the primary grades, a wider stick is needed.
- Edibles: Many children are motivated by edible rewards. This technique is almost guaranteed to work. When teaching the child, have he or she place a candy after each word written. Once the child begins to learn the concept, using an edible during the editing process works like a charm. The child is only allowed to place a candy where there is enough space for it to fit. M&Ms and skittles are the perfect size for this activity.
- Stamps are another great option. Particularly if you want to avoid the use of edibles. The kids I’ve worked with were always excited to use stamps to help them space between words. Just the same, the child is to place a stamp after each word written. You can have them use it during the writing process or after as an editing tool.
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What about the kids that leave too much space between the letters of a word?
- Visual Aids We often see children who have trouble with spacing between words. But sometimes kids have trouble with placing the letters of a word together. They leave too much space between the letters. This is another handwriting issue you may see in children who struggle with spatial relations. I find visual aids are quite helpful when trying to get children to understand what to do. I like to use the analogy of houses on a street. I’ve combined the visual with the verbal prompt “Letters of a word stay together. They live in the same house.” Download a free PDF below.
As you can see, there are many ways to help children learn how to space between words. Figure out what works for your student or child. Like anything else, we all have our preferences. Let your student/child decide what works for them. For more information regarding how to improve handwriting skills, check out How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Line Orientation, another component of handwriting that greatly impacts legibility.