“How can I teach my left-handed child to write if I am right-handed?” This is a common question amongst parents. We know that children learn best through imitation, but what happens when they are left-handed and being taught by a right-handed person? Left-handed children may be at a slight disadvantage without the proper teaching methods. With a few tips and tricks, however, you can set up your left-handed child for success—no matter which hand you prefer yourself!
Supporting your child’s hand dominance
Before we dig deeper, let’s first discuss hand dominance. Hand preference, or when a child starts to use one hand over the other, often starts to emerge when a child begins to self-feed. This tends to solidify more through play between the ages of 2-4 years old. A solid hand dominance, where a child will demonstrate the consistent use of one hand, typically develops by the age of 6. Often, though, left-handers tend to develop hand dominance a little later. This is often due to being presented with and handed items to the right side of their body.
To help encourage consistent hand dominance from a young age, it is beneficial to place objects at midline or in the center of your child’s body. This way, a child can choose which hand they prefer. This inturn will lead to a solid hand dominance and will decrease inconsistencies with switching hands, helping you know the best way to teach your child.
Preventing a “hooked wrist”
Sometimes, as seen in the picture above, left-handers will develop a “hooked” or flexed wrist when writing. This is often due to the placement of the paper, the formation of their letters, and placement of their copywork when writing. The child will flex their wrist in order to better see their writing or to see their copywork. Ongoing wrist flexion when writing can lead to fatigue, wrist discomfort, limited distal finger isolation, and resistance when writing. But, not to worry! This can be prevented by following these eight simple tips:
1. Ensure proper seating position
When working alongside your left-handed child, make sure to sit on the right side of their body. This way, they can see your sample and you can see their written work without having to lean over them.
2. Adjust the paper placement.
When setting up your child for writing, have them tilt their paper slightly down to the right as seen in this picture. This way, their hand does not get in the way of reading what they are copying.
3. Pay attention to pencil grasp.
A left-handed pencil grasp will look slightly different than a right-handed grasp pattern. As soon as a child starts picking up writing tools, it is important to start encouraging a tripod grasp pattern. A tripod grasp pattern is when we hold the pencil between the web space of the thumb and index finger, with the pads of the thumb and index finger on one side of the pencil and the lateral side (or the pad) of the middle finger on the other side of the pencil. Left-handed children should also hold the pencil slightly higher on the pencil, about 1.5 inches above the tip. This will enable them to see their work as they write, help prevent a “hooked” wrist, and limit them from smudging their work when moving their hand along the paper.
4. Position their copywork correctly.
When copying something or reading directions, place the copywork above your child’s writing or towards their right side. This way, they do not need to flex their wrist to see what they are copying or writing. If working on a handwriting worksheet, place a sample of what they are copying in the right margin as opposed to the left. It is also helpful to take a page out of a spiral notebook or a binder when writing.
5. Adapt letter formation.
Most letters will be formed the same for both right-handed and left-handed writers. However, it is beneficial to teach left-handers to write letters with slightly different cross strokes. For example, when writing letters A, E, F, G, H, I, J, T, f, and t, it is helpful to have your child pull the cross stroke from right to left rather than left to right as a right-handed person would. Left-handers sometimes might also be tempted to write letters that have a circle stroke clock-wise rather than counter-clockwise, but for writing speed and legibility purposes it is important to teach them the counter-clockwise formation.
6. Set up your writing surface.
To help promote wrist extension when writing and to prevent the “hooked” wrist, writing on a vertical writing surface such as a chalkboard, easel, or a paper taped to the wall can be very helpful for left-handed writers. Writing on a slant board or a three-inch, three-ring binder placed on it’s side is also beneficial for promoting wrist extension and distal finger isolation when writing. Having your child lie on their stomach on the floor in the prone position when writing is another helpful option.
7. Encourage use of their “helper” hand.
Just as with right-handers, using the helper hand is important when writing. Encourage your child to hold the paper with their right hand to stabilize the paper and prevent it from sliding.
8. Model with your left hand when first introducing letters.
When first introducing the letters to your child, model the writing strokes through kinesthetic activities using your left hand. Be sure to let them know that you are right-handed but that you are just demonstrating with your left hand. It is also helpful to model pencil grasp with your left hand as well.
I hope these tips and suggestions are helpful for you as you teach your left-handed child to write. I encourage you to bookmark or print out this list and refer back to it as needed. If you find your child is struggling with their pencil grasp, letter formation, or any aspects of writing, it may also be helpful to seek out an assessment from an occupational therapist in your area. You can also refer to my free printable, Five Steps to Navigate your Child’s Handwriting Struggles, for suggestions you can implement immediately into your homeschool.