Skills Kids Need for Handwriting

If you are following The OT Toolbox, then you know I love handwriting. While it’s true that OTs are not “handwriting teachers”, it’s the underlying skills that go into handwriting that have a special place in my heart. 

As therapists, we are specialists in development, motor skills, visual processing, self-awareness, spatial concepts, kinesiology, sensory processing, regulation, and all of the other areas that really make a big difference in a child’s functional ability to write. There are many skills that kids need for handwriting! 

Kids need different skills for handwriting.


Skills Kids Need for Handwriting

Handwriting is SO much more than crossing t’s and dotting i’s.

Here are some important facts about the skills kids need for handwriting:

1. Handwriting development starts at birth. Yep, it’s true! When babies are swaddled, reach for mama’s face, and crawl, they are developing the postural stability and visual motor skills needed waaaaay down the road when they write their ABCs.

2. Visual processing skills are key. The perceptual skills of knowing the difference between a b, d, p, and q are essential for written work. Addressing the basics in form copying at a young age (and in a variety of sensory-motor manners) can be a huge asset for kids as they head into the school-age years.

3. Letter formation starts before learning to make a letter! This is important: when kids learn improper formation of letters like starting letters at the bottom or “building” the parts of a letter, it can be hard to break those habits. When kids teach themselves because they just pick up a crayon and copy their name, they might not form letters properly, using developmental strokes of top to bottom. Letter formation habits are HARD to break. And proper formation is important for legibility, speed, spatial use, letter recall, organization, and functional written work.

4. Bilateral coordination is essential. When we write, we need to easily coordinate both sides of your body for effective posture, holding the paper, moving the pencil, erasing, using margins, and filling in given spaces on worksheets. Forming letters requires pencil strokes that involve moving to the midline. Think about it this way: A new writer forms letters very large in size. As they develop coordination and motor skills, letter size decreases. But those letter strokes continue to remain the same. A pencil still needs to move to the midline when crossing an uppercase T or adding the middle line to an uppercase A, right?

>5. Visual memory is a must! Especially as kids age, they are required to write faster and faster. But functional writing at all ages requires a visual picture in the mind to ensure formation. Starting with beginning strokes using developmental concepts ensures success down the road with kids as they develop handwriting skills.

6. Fine Motor Skills are a powerhouse when it comes to handwriting! From pencil control to an efficient grasp, to endurance in writing…fine motor skills are required. Working on fine motor skills can be a huge help for many kids who struggle with handwriting. 
These are just a few of the skills needed for handwriting. There are so many:
Eye-hand coordination
Sensory processing and filtering out unnecessary information
Visual perceptual skills
Executive functioning skills
What would you add to this list?

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to