For most parents, the answer to whether their child’s writing is legible is like the Supreme Court justice’s comment on pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it”. For occupational therapists, it is relatively easy to identify whether a child’s handwriting is legible or not. Does legibility still matter? The emphasis on testing has brought new interest to teaching good handwriting as well as keyboarding skills in the early grades. If your child has to erase and re-write too many words or sentences, it will affect how much time and attention he has left for composition and creativity in testing and in life.
If your child can recall the way a letter looks and they do not draw a blank/write another letter when asked to write an “A”, that is step 1. I have met children in middle school that cannot recall the difference between a “K’ or a “k”. That is not as uncommon as you might think. If he doesn’t reverse the letter, and he can correctly start and sequence the strokes to form the letter, then your child has the most important components of legibility down. These are the basics of handwriting at any age.
Can your child place letters on the baseline? Are all the letters in a word a consistent size, the correct size for his age, and the right size for the space provided? Are the short letters (a, o, n, i) half the size of tall letters (h, f, k, t, b)? Great; those aspects of writing enhance legibility. Now, are the letters in a word (and the words in a sentence) spaced correctly? Hint: the space between his words should be the size of the lowercase letter “o” that is appropriate for your child’s age. As children grow and develop better hand control, the size of their writing should become smaller.
The last feature of legibility is the level of control used. Symmetry when needed, sharp angles and curved curves without over or under-strokes, no re-tracing, no extra loops, etc. are all hallmarks of control.
Handwriting is a complex skill, one that takes years to learn. Only when you know exactly what legibility issues exist can you begin to help a child achieve mastery!