As a school-based occupational therapist, I receive many referrals for handwriting difficulties. Handwriting is a very complex function that requires many underlying skills. Many children struggle to acquire legible handwriting skills. For more information on the importance of handwriting legibility check out this post. Handwriting Legibility: Why Is It So Important?
Several factors can make a child’s writing difficult to read.
- Poorly formed letters
- Letters that are squished together or spread too far apart
- Words that are squished together or too far apart
- Poorly organized writing that is all over the page instead of aligned along the margin and lines of ruled paper
- Very faint print that is difficult to see due to inadequate pressure
- Very dark print that appears messy due to too much pressure
When looking at a child’s handwriting, it is important to figure out what is impacting legibility. Once you’ve identified what components need work, many times it’s best to grapple with one issue at a time. Why is this important? Often times kiddos with handwriting difficulties become frustrated and 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 gained 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 and grammar if necessary. This post will focus on how to help kids learn how to space between and within 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 spacers and tools which often get lost, a child always has their finger on their person, ready to help them. Here’s a visual aid that can help children remember to do this. Place it on their desk or in plain sight while they are writing.
- 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 Spacers: Craft 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 sizes 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 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 by saying “Letters of a word stay together, they live in the same house.”
Would you like a free PDF of the visual aids presented in this post?
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 these posts:
How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Line Orientation
How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Pressure Grading (how much force to apply)
As Always, have fun!
The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.
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