Handwriting for lefties is a common concern among parents and teachers who work with children who are left handed. Here, we are covering left handed writing tips to address common concerns with teaching left handed handwriting. Be sure to check out all of the handwriting resources here on the website.
Left Handed Writing Tips
I am use to working with the occasional left handed person but at the moment I have SIX left handers on my caseload. This motivated me to review some of the recent research on left handers and put together some tips on how to support left handed learners in the classroom.
While most people believe that a person is left or right handed, there are many different types of handedness (1). True handedness When a person uses one hand for more than 70% of tasks this hand is considered their dominant hand. This means a child can still use their non-dominant hand for some tasks.
Below are some common terms that come up when addressing left or right handedness, or the mixed use of hands in tasks. These are important terms to be aware of when it comes to using a set hand in handwriting tasks.
Read this article on ambidexterity vs. mixed handedness for more information on these two concepts.
Ambiguous handedness refers to when a child changes from one hand to another hand during the performance of a task. This can be seen in younger children as hand dominance can become established anywhere between the ages of three years and five years.
Mixed handedness is the term for when a person uses either hand for a specific task. An example would be a left hander being able to use their left or right hand to use a computer mouse. Most left handers have some degree of mixed handedness.
Ambidexterity is the ability to use both hands equally well for all tasks. This is extremely rare and only 1% of the population are considered truly ambidextrous. Getting more information on ambidexterity will help to encourage hand dominance in children for functional use.
Using the Left Hand in Handwriting
So most of us in the world fall into either the right handed or left handed category. A recent worldwide study confirmed that 10.6% of the world’s population are left handed (2). Left handedness is found in more boys than girls and it appears to run in families. There has been much debate on the exact role that genetics have to play in establishing handedness.
There seems to be a hereditary element but handedness does not appear to have a simple pattern of inheritance. Cultural and social factors have an important role to play in the development of handedness (3).
Left Hand Dominance- Development
Hand dominance can emerge anywhere from 14 months to three years and by the age of five most children have settled on a hand of preference for gross and fine motor tasks. In left handers this establishment of a dominant hand can take longer and there is also a greater tendency for them to use one hand for fine motor tasks and a different hand for gross motor tasks (4).
One a more practical note left handers typically experience difficulties in a world that was designed for right handers. I had been aware of some of their struggles but was further enlightened when I went on a course a few years ago. The lecturer described how everyday tasks like handshakes and giving someone a hug could feel so unnatural for a left hander.
In these instances left handers have to go against their natural instinct and reverse the hand that they would naturally use to shake some ones hand with or change the direction they would naturally step in to hug someone.
Left Handed Writing Tips
In the classroom there are a number of ways we can help left handers complete the tasks expected of them. Try these left handed writing tips and tricks to help your lefty use and hold a pencil when writing in the home or classroom so they can write at a functional level.
- Left handers should sit on the left hand side of the table if they are sharing a table or on the left side at the end of the row. This ensures there is no elbow bumping if they are sharing table space with a right handed person.
- Students who are left handed should be encouraged to tilt their page to the right when they are drawing or writing. The page can be tilted at 30-40 degrees clockwise. This allows them to have a clearer view of their work and prevents some of the smudging that typically happens when a leftie moves their hand across the page.
- Encouraging a left handed person to hold their pencil slightly further up the shaft of their pen or pencil will also assist in their ability to see their work and prevent smudging. A pencil grip or elastic band wrapped around their pencil can provide a guide of where to place their fingers when they start developing their pencil grip.
- I have found that working on an inclined surface can also be helpful for left handers. Slant boards prevent the flexed / hooked wrist that typically develops in left handers. Slant boards are commercially available or a lever arch file can be used to create an elevated surface.
- Use these toys and games to develop wrist stability to address a hooked or flexed wrist that commonly occurs during left handed writing.
- Directionality can be challenging as the natural inclination for left handers is to work from right to left. Place stickers in the top left hand corner of the page as a reminder to work from right to left.
- When copying words, number, letters or pictures ensure that the model /example is on the right side of the page. This prevents the left hander from covering the work that they need to copy with their left hand.
- Finger spaces are difficult for a left hander to incorporate when they develop their writing skills. I have found that using an ice-cream stick or strip of paper to mark out finger spaces can be helpful in the early stages of writing. We usually decorate our ice-cream stick or strip of paper with a stick figure who becomes Mr/Mrs Space.
- Additional advice regarding cursive writing for left handers can be found in the following blog on cursive handwriting for left handed students.
- Other products that may make a left handers life easier are left handed pencil sharpeners and a left handed computer mouse.
- For a comprehensive resource on teaching handwriting skills, use The Handwriting Book. This resource includes tips and strategies for all aspects of handwriting and the book breaks down each underlying skill that impacts functional handwriting skills.
Left Handed Scissor Skills
Using scissors can be another difficult task for left handed students. Try some of these tips to teach lefties to use scissors functionally.
- Left handed scissors are essential for left handed learners. The leading blade of left handed scissors is on the opposite side to that of right handed scissors making it much easier for the left handed person to line up the blade and the line they are cutting out. Ambidextrous scissors tend to be misleading as the lead blade has to be on the left or the right side.
- Left handers should be encouraged to cut to the left and in a clockwise direction. This enables them to comfortable feed the page with their right hand and ensures that they can see the line they are cutting throughout the task. For more information on cutting skills and additional advice for left handed cutting get the resource The Scissor Skills Book, a comprehensive guide on using and cutting with scissors.
I hope some of these suggestions will be helpful for the left handers that are in your lives. The 13 th August marks World Left handed Day so take some time to acknowledge the left handers that you know and the adaptations they have had to make to fit into the very right handed world we live in.
- Left hand Learning: Teaching the preschool and foundation phase learner (Workshop byTracy van der Merwe, 2008, Durban, South Africa).
- McManus, Chris (2003) Right hand, left hand. Great Britain: Phoenix publisher. ISBN 978-0753813553
- Sara M Scharoun and Pamela J. Bryden – Hand preference, performance abilities, and hand selection in children. Frontiers in Psychology Published online 2014 Feb
18. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00082
Contributor to The OT Toolbox: Janet Potterton is an occupational therapist working predominantly in school-based settings and I love, love, love my job. I have two children (if you don’t count my husband!), two dogs, one cat, two guinea pigs and one fish. When I am not with my family or at work I try to spend time in nature. The beach is my happy place.