Michaela Gordon

Handwriting Without Tears  

By Michaela Gordon, OTR/L



My first several jobs as a therapist were in the school setting. One of my responsibilities was to teach handwriting to the students. I exposed them to many choices of pencil grips, papers, curriculum, and other strategies to help students improve their handwriting skills.


I also was involved in educating teachers and other staff in these strategies so the students could use them on a regular basis. The challenge I found was that each classroom was using a different curriculum so the style being taught was not necessarily uniform. Children would report confusion with the styles being taught from one year to the next, including terminology that was being used to teach handwriting.


The other issue that seemed to occur was their seating position. Some classrooms had children of different heights sitting at one table or children were provided with desks and chairs that did not meet their postural needs. This created less postural stability for children while trying to produce legible written work.


Materials were also another issue as each classroom had different types of pencils, papers, and worksheets that did not meet every student’s needs and were not always age appropriate.


After seeing all these challenges, I began to search for other avenues to teach handwriting. I had heard about Handwriting Without Tears and I decided to attend the Handwriting Without Tears conference. I thought the curriculum was excellent because it was developmentally based. The materials are user friendly and can be used with children with a variety of needs. I also like that the products are a reasonable price and the curriculum is easy for parents and teachers to learn.


After getting trained in the HWT curriculum, I decided to also get trained in the Print Tool, which is a handwriting assessment. I feel this is a great assessment as it measures 8 components of the child’s handwriting and gives a clear picture of what aspects of handwriting need to be addressed. Once I completed both of these courses, I then decided to become a Level 1 Certified handwriting specialist. Handwriting Without Tears is the curriculum that I choose to use in combination with other therapeutic modalities.


I am sure there are many parents as well as teachers out there that are wondering if technology will soon take the place of paper and pencils. Perhaps at some point this may happen. Electronics are becoming a means to provide children with information and to express themselves. However, the literature is indicating that there is still a need to learn and develop handwriting skills. According to a research review conducted by HWT in 2009, handwriting continues to be a primary tool for assessing children’s knowledge in the classroom (Feder and Majnemer, 2007). Another studied conducted by Marr, Cermak, Cohn, and Henderson (2003) indicated that children in kindergarten are now spending 42% of their fine motor time on paper and pencil activities during the school day. Handwriting skills are also important, as they are part of many state standardized assessments. In 2005, a handwritten essay was added to the College Board SAT. Graham and Harris (2005) did research that indicated that handwriting plays a major role in producing creative and well-written text.


The review of literature done by HWT (2009) supports the structure of their curriculum. In 1996, the National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends that infants through eight-years of age learn best when the teaching methods are developmentally appropriate. The Handwriting Without Tears curriculum focuses on this with the variety of materials and activities i.e. making a person with wood pieces and other materials; drawing a person; coloring; pre-writing strokes; sensory-based materials (dough, chalk, sponges); and music. HWT curriculum also focuses on the biomechanical skills that are required for handwriting. Rosenblum, Goldstand, and Parush (2006) found that children that demonstrated insufficient posture, fine motor skills, and positioning were less proficient in handwriting than children that had sufficient biomechanics. A study done by Smith-Zuzovsky and Exner (2004) pointed out the connection between the quality of children’s hand skills and their seated position. The Handwriting Without Tears curriculum includes instruction in checking seating as well as activities to promote good posture, paper positioning, and writing utensil grip.


The other question parents may have is how will their child develop good handwriting skills and who will teach them these skills? A 2007 national survey indicated that only 12% of teachers rated their formal preparation to teach children handwriting as sufficient. A study done by Graham et. al. (2007) suggests that professional development should be available to teachers in order to prepare them for handwriting instruction. Parents can seek out handwriting workshops in your area or seek out an occupational therapist to conduct group instruction with your child along with some of their peers. As cited in Medwell and Wray’s literature (2007), children that were enrolled in an 8-week handwriting intervention program produced more legible handwriting than their peers, with a 46% increase in the quality of written text. This literature indicates the importance of children receiving daily, supervised handwriting instruction.


Parents can also seek out individual occupational therapy services to help their children develop age appropriate handwriting skills. The occupational therapy services can provide your child with a combination of treatments in conjunction with handwriting instruction. I have found when the child is responsive to treatment and the family has strong carryover of therapeutic activities, that not only does the child’s handwriting skills improve, but there are also improvements in their other sensory-motor and social-emotional skills. I have also found that teachers are able to provide suggested strategies and materials to the students with good success. I have seen many children have great success with the HWT program and I look forward to continuing to help children develop stronger handwriting skills.



Handwriting Without Tears-Research Review: http://www.hwtears.com/hwt, (2009)