One of the reasons that French schoolchildren do particularly well with their handwriting skills is that the books supplied to them or bought by parents for school use are made up of graph paper as opposed to lined paper. This helps kids to recognize the sizes of the different letters and to keep within parameters which are set for both small letters and capital letters. The rules are made very simple, and it is this which parents need to reinforce when trying to get children to improve the quality of their handwriting.
If you can buy books which have squares instead of lines, these are perfect because the writing of the letters takes on the rule of capital letters taking up two squares in height and one square in width, whereas the smaller letters take up one square in both width and height. Practicing writing down all the letters of the alphabet is a good exercise, though children respond better to imitation than to invention. If you have a book and can write down all the letters for them at an early age, asking them to copy them, they will respond better than having to try and remember what the letters look like, or relying upon written books to find the letters.
For children who have developed lazy habits and whose writing isn’t very clear, a good way to introduce them to better writing practice is to do scrapbooking which incorporates titles for images and teaching the child to use a calligraphy pen. There is something very satisfying about producing lettering in this manner, and what you are introducing is a fun element to writing, rather than merely asking the child to improve for the sake of improvement. What they gain in satisfaction may just rub off in their day to day writing skills.
Not every child is a natural with written work, but neither are adults. Children do, however, stand a better chance of improving if a positive interaction is experienced between the parent and the child. Chided for bad quality writing, the child will resent the implication that they cannot do something well. This makes it a task to improve, and many children won’t try because the negative impact of criticism makes them fear failure or not living up to expectations.
The way to get around this is to provide them with a stimuli which encourages some kind of positive connection between good quality writing and reward. For example, a child can be encouraged to write out the greetings on a family card, to label jam jars or simply to write out verses to hang on the family noticeboard. These tasks make the writing an art form. The child learns from example, and perhaps the parent can show the child some fancy writing by looking up images, and let the child have a source book on fancy lettering, so that the child can practice in their own time.
What the child may not see immediately is the connection between creativity and the style of their handwriting, but if writing is incorporated into positive craft projects, the child learns the importance of great presentation and is more inclined to try and learn how to write better. Another example is practicing writing their signature. A signature is something that the individual should be proud of and parents can practice and show a child how they sign things, as an example, encouraging the child to develop their signature to perfection.
When written activity takes part in normal life, the child realizes the impact of bad writing. Get the children to address parcels or letters, and teach them where the name and address go. If they realize that the postman has to decipher what they have written, they will take more care. It may be an idea to draw little penciled lines to give them guidance, but it will have been worth the effort. Children need to know why they are learning something, rather than just being told that they must do things beyond the scope of their understanding. If they can be encouraged and shown in everyday life how important that writing is, they are much more likely to respond in a positive manner.
Help them to choose their style of writing by introducing them to different kinds of writing. Source books are great for this. They show the different styles and allow the child a little bit of material to think about. As detailed above, calligraphic writing also teaches them how the pen shapes the letters, and this helps them in their day to day formation of letters.
To summarize, start by writing all the letters of the alphabet in capitals and then in small letters on a page which gives them the space to copy what is written. Make sure that they understand the difference in sizes of letters, and teach them how to put the tail on a “y” and how sometimes, the letter goes beneath the line which is drawn. Kids will enjoy the practice, so beginning in this way, give them positive feedback on their attempts. Look for weak areas and on future exercises incorporate those areas, because repetition helps their mind to remember how a letter is formed.
Introduce fun projects that use lettering and let them learn how good presentation really helps the look of the scrapbook page. Let them see the sense in writing out envelopes correctly, and address a letter to grandma or someone in the family. This gives them the opportunity to share the skill they have acquired with people who will in turn congratulate them on their hard work. That’s really all it takes. If you can remember never to show negative reactions, the child learns better from positive interaction because they no longer have the fear of failure that negativity invokes.