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How Can I Help My Son Write More Neatly?

Allison Gardenswartz
Allison Gardenswartz

By Allison Gardenswartz, Consulting Educator


My son is very smart. He is reading at a third-grade level and very good in all other subjects, but his penmanship is poor. He puts no effort into it. It's always very sloppy, and I know he can do better. How do I motivate him to write better?


Handwriting can be a challenge for students, particularly boys. Motor skills develop at different stages and some students are never neat writers, despite all of their efforts. In the age of computers, this is less of a problem. Yet, we still want your son to learn proper letter formation and to be able to write legibly when need be. Here are a few tips to try:

  • Get him a pencil grip to use to hold his pencil. The triangular kind work well and sometimes enable better fine-motor control.
  • Let him write on three-lined primary paper. Primary paper available for beginning writers is very large lined and will feel juvenile to him, but you can also find smaller-lined primary paper that will help guide his placement of letters.
  • Try different pencils - mechanical with different weights of graphite. Sometimes writing appears sloppy because of all the smudging, erasures and pencil-breaking.
  • Allow him to do math on graph paper. Have him write one number in each box to keep it aligned and legible.

Finally, try the reward system to motivate him. Be sure to comment when you see neat work and offer incentives for legible writing. Small positive rewards work beautifully: computer time after school, a quick stop at the park to play or bedtime pushed back 15 minutes. Involve your son in choosing the reward for putting effort into his writing so that he wants to improve. Writing can certainly be cumbersome for some, so it is important to be supportive and encouraging to help him succeed.

Allison Gardenswartz is the founder of a San Diego tutoring center specializing in gifted and remedial learning and test preparation studies. An educator for over 15 years, Allison is an expert in identifying and enhancing the learning abilities of school-age children. Allison now fully devotes her time to parent education, consulting and college counseling. Allison has a teaching credential and has taught for several years in various public school systems. She has three children: Jacob, 11, Sofia, 7, and newly adopted Ryan, who is 3.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"My son's handwriting was neater when he was 3 and 4, but when he went into kindergarten, they used unlined paper, which of course, messed him all up. I am now trying to get him back into good writing habits, but not having much luck. It's nice to know that other moms are having the same problems w/ their son's."
"This was a great article. My son also struggles with penmenship. He is advanced in all his subjects except writing. He misses being on the Principal's List every time for lack of writing. I think the rewards may help and also the pencils and I will try the triagular grip. I have notices in coloring when he uses the marker instead of the crayon it is alot neater. So there must be something to the writing instrument. Though I am not sure he is allowed to use a mechanical pencil at school.Thanks for the great advice."
"In response to the penmanship question. I have 3 children of my own and I have asked our kids to do circles on line paper. These circles are to be made with about 8 to 12 continuous motions from start to finish. Also, they would do the letter 'm' and the letter 'l' in cursive, also continuous for about 8 to 10 letters. And most important, do not to rest your writing hand on the paper when doing this, this takes practice. But I asure you than this really works if you have your kids do this at least once a day. One way to make it interesting is to do this with your kid and let him see how sloppy your circles are and how neat his come out. Hope this helps someone."