Did you know that left handed students used to be forced to write with their right hands? Until the mid-to-late twentieth century, some schools were still practicing this tactic. As a young child, I remember my teacher forcing a child to switch hands because “She didn’t know how to teach someone who was lefthanded.” So is it really that different teaching writing to left handed students?
This sentiment struck me as odd because it seems it would be the same as any other child. However, holding the pencil, hand strokes, and ink smears all combine to make this a little more challenging. Perhaps challenging is the wrong word, it means a little bit more thought and consideration has to be given on how to help your students and children.
Teaching left-handed students to write can be achieved with a few adaptations. Using techniques like mirroring, paper positioning and grip training will help left-handed students develop writing skills. Resources specifically designed for left handers are also available like pens, binders and notebooks.
Is Teaching Left Handed Writing That Much Harder?
Hard or difficulty is subjective when talking about teaching children anything. Some teachers find teaching handwriting exhausting, while others don’t mind it. Whichever camp you fall into, some things must be considered when teaching a left-handed student.
Hand over hand techniques tend to be much more natural for a right-handed teacher with a right-handed child. You may not be able to use the same methods when teaching left handed writing to a child that you do with a right handed child. However, you can help any child be successful as a writer you just need to do a little research, have a little empathy and learn some new or adapt some old approaches.
We will cover some of these below to help you with the research and the new approaches, the empathy aspect is all on you guys though!
Should I Just Ask Left Handed Students to Switch Hands?
Noooo, you should never ask a left-handed person to switch. Asking a left-handed person to change their genetics isn’t fair or logical. Handedness is genetic, and while you can be taught to do something else, it’s not easy. Left-handed students will experience this their entire lives.
Spending about 5 minutes trying to do any daily large motor skills tasks with your less dominant hand will show you why this is such a bad idea, never mind a fine motor skill like writing. If you happen to be ambidextrous, well, well done you, you have the best of both
They will always find right-handed tools, cooking utensils, and notebooks because it is a right-handed-centric world. After all, roughly 90% of the world is right-handed. The BBC estimates that only about 10% of the population is left-handed, and they note that the origin of the term left stems from lyft, meaning weak
Despite the Etymology of the word left handed certainly doesn’t equate to weak. Similarly it doesn’t make them special, dysfunctional, annoying, gifted or anything else.
They simply have their dexterity in their left hand. Asking them to switch makes it seems as though there is something dysfunctional about them. There isn’t. So what can we do to help them learn to write.
Tips for Teaching Left Handed Writing
Teachers and parents of left handed children know that teaching a left-handed student can be difficult. Often times, they are struggling to write with their less dominant hand in an attempt to fit in, or please or follow others and have trouble writing legibly. The following are some tips for teachers and parents on how to teach a left-handed child:
- Make sure they have a left handed desk and chair
- Use Left handed materials ( see below) where possible
- Where possible ( if you teacher younger learners) label these resources or color code them so left handed students know the materials aimed for them.
- Give them plenty of practice with drawing and writing in the air before letting them try on paper
- Teach them how to hold a pen properly so it doesn’t hurt their fingers or palm when writing
- Don’t force anything – if they’re struggling too much then let it go until they’re ready for more input from you!
Tilt the Paper, Not the Hand
One of the biggest mistakes that lefties make is curving their hand to write. Rather than creating the proper angle using a crooked hand, encourage left-handed students to shift the paper. It is generally suggested that the paper and arm make a 90° angle The paper should be tilted to the right to make writing straight.
One of the most important things to teach children who are learning to write is a proper grip. Left-handed children sometimes have trouble forming the tripod grip, so you may need to work with them a little more. Occasionally a special grip can help perfect the pencil hold.
Don’t resort to special tools, though, until recommended by an occupational therapist, as they are often unnecessary and used prematurely and children will learn to rely on them to early.
Mirroring to Teach Left Handed Writing
Mirroring is the teaching method that has a teacher sit across from a student and perform the activity as they would. The right-handed teacher would tie shoes using the right and or write their name as they would normally. Seeing how it is done from a mirror perspective can help them see how to do it using the left hand.
Larger Letters Are Easier to Teach Left handed Writing
Larger straight lines are easier to master for most children. With lefties trying to navigate this new world of writing, this can especially be true. Allow them to write big letters to become comfortable with how they are formed.
Gross motor skills are easier to learn than fine motor skills and the size can be scaled down when they have mastered over sized letters.
Cross Letters and Os
The crossbars on capital A, E, F, H, J, and T and lowercase f and t are often written “backward” according to righties’ patterns. Os will often also be made clockwise rather than anticlockwise. These are minor differences and shouldn’t be corrected unless it is causing problems with writing legibility.
If your classroom uses desks with armbars, be sure that some are available for left-handed students. They can use a right-handed desk, but left desks will be much more ergonomic for their writing and notetaking.
In addition to the left-handed surface, putting a lefty on the left side of a lab table or any group position will make their writing more comfortable. They won’t feel that they are bumping their classmates while taking notes.
Not many teachers ask this information of parents in reception or elementary schools, but a little prior planning will make your lefties feel both welcomed and catered for without drawing attention to them.
Many people know that gloves, scissors, and desks come in left-handed varieties, but some books are also left-handed friendly. If you require students to use a binder, allow the left handed children to take the paper out before writing and replace it after.
Removing the paper keeps them from having to write at an unnatural angle to navigate around the rings. Some composition books and workbooks are also starting to be manufactured to help lefties. Seek these out when possible. We have some links below and through the post if needed.
Resources and Links: This is not an exhaustive list of all left-handed friendly materials, but it’s a good start. The pens are a really nice touch.
Is Cursive Easier For Left or Right Handed Writers
A study has shown that left handed students will be more successful with cursive writing. This is because they are naturally inclined to use the same hand for both directions of lettering and not have a cross-over effect where letters would go from right to left or vice versa, as seen in print handwriting.
This may mean that your left handed students may benefit from having the practice of cursive writing introduced earlier in the curriculum.
We have a cursive booklet for download here as well if you want to check it out.
We also have an article on cursive for kindergarten ( although its a little young it might help teaching left handed writing as well) It would also be useful for elementary school as well.
The left handed student may also benefit from using a smaller cursive font size, having wider margins for their writing assignments and being allowed to use both hands when practicing handwriting skills as well as other strategies like rotating papers clockwise or counterclockwise so that they can see what they are doing more easily.
Support Left Handed Writers
Teaching left-handed writers is not that different from teaching right-handed ones. Be supportive when they are having difficulties. Sometimes, they have trouble because it’s such a right-handed-centric world.
They feel left out and inadequate because they can’t find the tools they need, and the world seems set against them. Teachers who complain that teaching lefties is too hard create animosity. Be supportive.
Loosen Up Left Handed Grips
Left-handed children often grip their pencils too tightly. Tight grips cause fatigue in the hand and arm, and children struggle to create letters. Starting with big letters, as mentioned above, can loosen the grip, but you can also encourage children to hold the pencil firmly without tensing the muscles. Firm doesn’t need to mean tight.
This is important, writing is difficult mentally for younger children without it then becoming a discomfiting experience physical as well.
The right hand naturally moves across the page and children may find it easier to write letters that move from left-to-right. The left hand, which is pushing down on paper when writing, has a more difficult time making those same strokes because of the natural curl in their fingers.
Using both hands for tasks like coloring can help teach kids how they should hold the pencil so they are able to make these movements with ease.
Having them sit upright at an angle where their dominant arm is lower than their other ones helps keep blood flowing through vessels close to brain too! This improves moods as well as keeps energy levels high throughout work session. And who doesn’t want happy students?
Organize The Paper Position For Teaching Left Handed Writing.
Children writing left-handed often find it easier to write if the paper is not only angled but also slightly above the right-handed line. They do have trouble with smearing since their hand goes across the markings. By bringing the paper slightly higher, it will help them drop their hand slightly below the line.
Place Papers on the Left and Books on the Right
It’s much easier to write when the paper is on the dominant side. If your child is left-handed, help them position the books and papers so that they can see clearly while they write. Trying to read across themselves is unnatural and inefficient.
This will also help them check the work for errors (later on in school life) and develop good habits for the future.
Left-handed people are potentially more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, so it’s important for them to do things that will prevent this. One way is by taking regular breaks while writing and typing on the computer. A study found that those who took five minute breaks every two hours had less inflammation in their wrists than those who didn’t take any break at all!
Another strategy they recommend is spreading papers out on a table instead of just stacking one pile atop another. This helps keep your wrist straight as you write—something needed for good posture and circulation.
While there may be some struggles involved with being left-handed, these strategies can help kids learn how to overcome them!
There is no one way to teach someone to write left-handed. The main things you need are compassion, patience, and creativity. Lefties were born that way, and they are perfect as they are. Help your lefty feel comfortable writing by providing support, helping with hand placement, pencil grip, and paper placement.
Sometimes, they may need reasonable accommodations like removing papers from binders or using a different type of desk. Be ready to help your lefty succeed.
If you want a downloadable advice sheet the NHS in the UK has this handy booklet on how to help left handers master writing here for free download.