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Left-Handed Writing

Taken with permission from www.leftys.com.au

Even with rapidly-developing technology being available to most people around the world, handwriting will always be one of the most important methods of communication for mankind. There will always be times when the technology is not at hand and the pencil is all that is available. Clear, legible writing is vital to ensure the other person receives the correct information. Children must be taught to write clearly and comfortably in order to carry that skill throughout life.

One of our favorite quotations is as follows:
“Left-handed children need to be taught to perform skills in a left-handed fashion, just as right-handed children are taught how to do things right-handedly. Anyone who thinks it does not matter which hand a child uses should try going through just one day performing all manual tasks with the non-preferred hand.”
Dr M K Holder PhD, The Handedness Research Institute, USA

Handwriting is a skill that must be taught specifically for the left-hander. A modified right-handed method just doesn’t work.

As a sweeping and generalized statement, handwriting is often poorly taught and/or encouraged in schools – just take a look at a groups of people under 30 years of age and see the way many of them hold their pen or pencil and you will have to agree! The quality of the writing often also mirrors the quality of the grip, too!

Handedness issues are generally poorly understood by most teachers as the subject of handedness is often not taught to undergraduate teachers at university, and those that do cover the topic often only spend around a half to one lesson on it. As 15% of students in schools today are left-handed, Lefty’s has started working with education authorities at all levels to improve the understanding of handedness for both undergraduate and postgraduate teachers. We hope that, by improving the understanding amongst teachers, a more consistent methodology of teaching will result.

It is never too late to correct a poor technique. We humans are terrible creatures of habit. Habits are created by performing a sequence of functions in the same way a number of times so that they are ingrained enough for the brain to eventually co-ordinate that sequence of functions without a conscious effort. Some people can create a habit quickly while others need many more repetitions to create one. Thankfully, habits can be changed as easily as they were first created but they need that conscious effort to do so.

Whether you are left-handed or right-handed, good handwriting comes from a combination of four principal elements:

• Posture
• Page orientation
• Pencil grip
• Letter formation

Posture
The person should be seated comfortably and square-on to the table. The body should be relaxed but not slumped, a straight back but not stiff. The head should be slightly angled toward the page but not too close and certainly not resting on the other arm or the desk.

Page Orientation
The page should not be straight to the edge of the desk, whether you are a left- or right-handed writer. For a left-hander, the top of the page should be rotated clock-wise by 20-30 degrees. A right-handed writer should rotate the page 20-30 degrees anti-clockwise. When used in combination with the correct grip and wrist position (see below), this will allow a clear view of what is being written as well as preventing smudging when using soft lead pencils, fountain pens, felt tip pens and gel pens.

Pencil Grip
This is an area that is often neglected, frequently using the excuse of allowing individuality or avoiding conflict with the writer. Unfortunately, a poor grip will often make for problems later on in life, be you a left-handed or right-handed writer, especially when writing those long essays in high school exams. Thankfully, this is also something that can be corrected at any age. The pencil should be held in the three point pinch grip: rest the pencil on the last segment of the middle finger beside the nail and hold the pencil gently with the tip of the index finger and thumb. All digits should be 2-3cm from the tip of the pencil. A number of moulded grips are available that can facilitate and reinforce the correct grip, as well as pens with a built-in grip in the barrel. The wrist should be straight and relaxed; the hooked position is no longer advocated as an appropriate technique for writing. The forearm should rest gently on the table, especially for prolonged writing exercises. The elbow should be at right-angles and the shoulders relaxed. Raise or lower the chair to facilitate this position. Move the pencil on the page using the shoulder and the fingers, not the wrist, as this will assist with forming the correct slant on the letters.

Letter Formation
The formation of each letter in the English alphabet works well for right-handed writers as the pencil is dragged toward the writing hand as each letter is formed, relaxed and clean. A left-hander, however, will use the same muscles to form a letter but in a different order, causing some early issues that are overcome in time, often manifested in the left-handed child being slower than the others in the group, as well as an increased incidence of mirror lettering while the muscle co-ordination is sorted out. Where a right-hander will drag the pencil, a left-hander needs to push the pencil; up and down movements are the same with either hand. Soft pencils will help prevent the point digging into the page. The “crossbar” components of letters (eg. t, f, A, E, F, H, T, X) should be done from right to left, not left to right as their right-handed classmates do. Unfortunately, most writing resources do not explain or accommodate this and, as an example, the NSW English Curriculum only shows the right-handed method of letter formation. A number of new resources are now available to assist teachers and students in this area, such as the ‘Left-Hand Writing Skills Book’ series and ‘My Write-well Mat’ by Mark & Heather Stewart and the booklet ‘Helping Left-Handed Children Enjoy Handwriting’ by Ruth Fagg.

Left-handers may have a little more difficulty obtaining the correct 10-15 degree slant to the right with their lettering, as per the Foundation Fonts that are taught in each state. Many will create their letters in an upright manner or even sloping slightly to the left due to better pencil control at those angles, especially for the “tall” and “long” letters that have components with straight lines (eg. b, f, g, h, etc). Equally, there are right-handers who also write with an upright or reverse slant. We feel that this should not be a major issue when compared to the items listed above.

With each of these four principles being followed, legible and comfortable handwriting is almost assured. A happier and more relaxed writer will also result because of it. Each of the principle components can be corrected, together or one at a time, to improve results and confidence.
This information is based on our research and experience on the topic. More information can also be found on Dr Holder’s website: http://www.handedness.org/action/leftwrite.html

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