Neat penmanship takes time, patience


At the beginning of this school year, Ronald Ritz Jr. struggled with

handwriting. When the 9-year-old third-grader at Clear Spring Elementary School

brought papers home, it was evident that his penmanship needed to be

improved. "It was so sloppy," said his mother, Angela Ritz. "He was rushing to get

it done." Ronald's teacher, Sally Mummert, provided a cursive handwriting guide

sheet for parents. Angela Ritz took the guide sheet, which has arrows

showing stroke direction, and a single sheet of paper. She made letter

marks and then had her son copy them. "I would have him keep practicing until it was close to perfect," she says. "I would tell him practice makes perfect."


If he resisted, she asked him a question, "Do you want to continue

getting negative remarks about your writing?" Then Ronald started to bring home papers with comments such as, "Wow, Ronald, really neat writing," his mother says.

"He has made such progress," Mummert says.

As children make the transition from manuscript (printing) to cursive

(with letters connected), they may struggle with neatness. In Washington County, cursive letters are introduced during the spring of the second grade.

"Just encourage them to take their time, work slowly and think about

what they're doing," Mummert says. "It's not as easy as it looks."

Cursive is more difficult than manuscript because the letters have to be

joined to make words, says Darlene Suffecool, a second-grade teacher at

Clear Spring Elementary School. "That's a lot different and harder than just putting the letters side by side," Suffecool says.

If you notice problems in your child's handwriting, there are several

things to check, says Georganna Harvey, handwriting product manager for

Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers. Is your child holding his pencil properly?

A pencil should be held between the thumb and first two fingers, about

an inch above its point, according to the Zaner-Bloser Web site, The first finger rests on top of the pencil. The

end of the bent thumb is placed against the pencil to hold it high in

the hand and near the large knuckle. The pencil should be held loosely.

The point should be sharp. The child can hold the paper with one hand and write with the other, Mummert says. Is your child sitting tall and straight in his chair?

"A lot of times children want to have their heads down when writing,"

Suffecool says. Is your child using proper form? Is the spacing correct between letters and words? Are cursive letters slanted to the right? Is your child using the right kind of paper?

Suffecool recommends handwriting paper with one color for the baseline,

a dotted line in the middle and another color for the headline.

If your child is struggling with penmanship, try these suggestions from

Harvey, Mummert, Suffecool and Ritz:

- Put a layer of finger paint on tin foil and allow your child to trace

the letters with his finger.

- Put sand in a box lid or a shallow tray and ask your child to practice

letters in the sand.

- Play tick-tack-toe. Instead of using X's and O's, use the letters or

numbers your child finds most difficult.

- Buy a plastic place mat for your child that displays the proper way to

write the alphabet.

- Ask your child to write the food shopping list for you.

- Encourage your child to write notes to grandparents or other family


- Practice numerals. Sloppiness here could affect math scores.

- Play a matching game. Ask your child to find the cursive match of a

manuscript letter.

- Read "Muggie Maggie" by Beverly Cleary with your child. In this book,

Maggie resists learning cursive writing in third grade until she

discovers that it can open up a new world of knowledge for her,

according to Washington County Free Library's Web site, (Neat writing also assures that her name will be

spelled correctly.)

- Encourage your second-grader to practice cursive over the summer.

- Practice with your child.

"Sitting down and taking the time to teach your kids is the main thing,"

Angela Ritz says. "You need to take that time."

- Check out Zaner-Bloser's Web site,, for sample

projects and other suggestions.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family

page. Send e-mail to her at

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