Inside: Handwriting IEP goals, including letter formation and other writing skills. Plus some handwriting accommodations and subsets of skills needed for children to develop proficient handwriting.

My grandmother had the most beautiful handwriting. Perfectly formed cursive letters and so consistent! Of course, she went to school in an era when kids were smacked across the hands with wooden rulers if their handwriting wasn’t perfect. So there’s that.

Many IEP students struggle with handwriting skills and need handwriting IEP goals.

A child can learn handwriting skills and still use assistive technology when they need it.

When a child lacks a skill, you either teach the skill or make accommodations for the lack of skill. Or, you can do both. Handwriting is a good example, but many schools and parents fail to realize it.

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What I mean is, that handwriting does not have to be ‘either, or.’ In that, the child either learns to write or use voice-to-text (or another form of AAC). You can and should do both.

Common Core Standards only call for teaching handwriting in Kindergarten and First Grade.

Because of this, many schools are leaning away from advanced handwriting skills. But at what cost?

Bias has us thinking that it’s “handwriting,” but so many subsets of specific skills affect reading and writing. This is where we fail students.

Learning to write efficiently and legibly is achievable, but only when adults view the big picture, not just “handwriting.” If a child’s reading skills are deficient, this affects the achievability of handwriting skills.

Handwriting Skills for Students

We are also beginning to understand the connection between letter recognition, letter formation, and reading skills like phonics and phonemic awareness.

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Children learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand and remain better able to generate ideas and retain information.

According to the New York Times:

A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write. By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

A group of children sitting on the ground and reading books, improving their handwriting skills.

Handwriting and Reading Fluency

We know that handwriting is connected to reading fluency. Research has demonstrated a correlation between letter-naming and letter-writing fluency and a relationship between letter-naming fluency and successful reading development.

There’s a strong connection between the hand and the neural circuitry of the brain—as students learn to write the critical features of letters better, they also learn to recognize them more fluently.

This recognition of letters leads to greater letter-writing fluency, which leads to greater overall reading development. (source: Edutopia)

Determining Handwriting Needs

This a reminder that IEPs are needs-based and needs-driven, not diagnosis-driven.

Schools are required to evaluate all areas of suspected disability. Handwriting issues can be much more than fine motor planning issues. It could be dysgraphia, dyslexia, vision issues, or something else entirely.

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If your child struggles with handwriting, ask for a comprehensive educational evaluation.

Not just an OT evaluation for handwriting. If a child’s handwriting skills are visibly deficient, they might struggle in other fine motor areas, such as using scissors or buttons.

If you have IEP concerns about Handwriting, contact your IEP team.

When a child lacks a skill, you teach the skill and accommodate for their lack of the skill.

Letter Formation

Letter formation refers to the process of creating written letters legibly and consistently. It is an essential skill in handwriting and is typically taught in the early stages of education. Proper letter formation ensures that letters are written clearly and can be easily read by others.

Letter formation involves several key elements, including:

  1. Starting Point: Each letter has a designated starting point, typically a specific stroke or line where the letter begins. Starting from the correct point helps maintain consistency and readability.
  2. Direction: Letters are formed by following a specific sequence of strokes in a particular direction. Proper direction ensures that letters are recognizable and uniform.
  3. Shape: Each letter has a specific shape, and forming the letter correctly means maintaining its shape and proportions. Proper shape contributes to legibility.
  4. Spacing: Adequate spacing between letters is important to avoid crowding or overlapping, making distinguishing one letter from another easier.
  5. Size: Consistency in letter size is essential for legibility. Letters should be uniformly sized within a word.
  6. Slant: Some writing styles, like cursive, have a slant or tilt to the letters. Maintaining the appropriate slant is part of letter formation in such styles.

Handwriting instruction, especially in early education, often focuses on teaching children how to form letters correctly. Proper letter formation can improve the legibility of one’s handwriting and, in turn, facilitate effective communication through written language.

Different handwriting styles may have varying guidelines for letter formation, and the style choice can depend on cultural and educational preferences.

IEP and 504 Accommodations for Handwriting

As stated earlier, you can evaluate a child and provide interventions or accommodations.

Here are some possible accommodations to consider:

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  1. Assistive Technology: a. Provide access to a computer or tablet for written assignments. b. Allow the use of voice-to-text software or speech recognition software. c. Allow the use of a keyboard instead of handwriting.
  2. Note-Taking Support: a. Allow access to typed or printed class notes or PowerPoint presentations. b. Provide a note-taking buddy who can assist with handwritten notes. c. Allow the use of a recording device to capture lectures.
  3. Extended Time for Assignments and Tests: a. Give additional time for completing written assignments and tests. b. Break assignments into smaller, manageable parts with flexible deadlines.
  4. Alternative Assessment Methods: a. Allow alternative forms of assessment, such as oral presentations or multimedia projects. b. Modify testing formats, such as providing multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank options instead of written essays.
  5. Handwriting Assistance: a. Provide access to occupational therapy to improve handwriting skills. b. Allow handwriting aids or adaptations, such as pencil grips or specialized pens.
  6. Teacher Support and Communication: a. Regularly check in with the student to ensure they receive the necessary support. b. Encourage open communication with teachers to address any specific challenges.
  7. Seating Arrangement: a. Allow students to sit in a location that minimizes distractions and supports their learning needs.
  8. Instructional Materials: a. Provide textbooks and instructional materials in digital format when available. b. Offer large print materials if needed.
  9. Assistance with Organizational Skills: a. Teach or provide resources for organizational skills to help students manage their assignments and materials effectively.

Many Assistive Technology options are available, both low-tech AT and high-tech AT.

Assistive technology can greatly improve a child’s endurance when working on writing skills.

A young boy sitting at a table with a tablet, practicing handwriting as part of his IEP goals.

Handwriting without Tears

A popular intervention for handwriting is one called “Handwriting without Tears.”

“Handwriting Without Tears” is designed to teach handwriting skills to young children and students. Occupational therapist Jan Olsen developed it and first introduced it in 1977.

The program focuses on making learning to write more enjoyable and accessible to students by incorporating various strategies and techniques considering the developmental stages of a child’s fine motor skills.

Key features of the Handwriting Without Tears program include:

  1. Multi-Sensory Approach: The program uses a multi-sensory approach to engage different senses in learning. Children learn through activities that involve touching, seeing, and hearing, making it a more comprehensive and interactive learning experience.
  2. Developmental Progression: Handwriting Without Tears recognizes children’s developmental stages of fine motor skills and provides age-appropriate activities and techniques to support their handwriting development.
  3. Simplified Letter Formation: The program introduces simplified methods for forming letters and numbers, making it easier for children to understand and remember how to write them.
  4. Use of Manipulatives: It incorporates various manipulatives and tools, such as wooden pieces, playdough, and other materials, to teach letter and number formation.
  5. Engaging Materials: Handwriting Without Tears provides teachers, parents, and students with engaging and colorful materials, workbooks, and resources to make learning to write fun.
  6. Cursive and Printing: The program covers both cursive and print writing, ensuring that students have a comprehensive understanding of different handwriting styles.
  7. Adaptability: It can be used with students with different learning needs, including those with fine motor challenges and disabilities.

Handwriting Without Tears is widely used in preschools, elementary schools, and by parents who want to help their children develop strong handwriting skills. It has gained popularity for its child-friendly and effective approach to teaching handwriting.

It’s often used as a supplement to classroom instruction, occupational therapy, and at-home practice to support children in developing legible and efficient handwriting skills.

This information is provided for educational purposes only. I am not personally endorsing the program, as all IEP teams have to make that decision for the individual student.

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A young boy working on his handwriting goals, diligently writing with a pen in front of a window.

Pencil Grasp

Your starting point is often the pencil grasp. A pencil grasp is a functional grasp.

Proper pencil grasp is important for a child’s fine motor skills and handwriting abilities.

Here are some strategies to help a child develop a functional and efficient pencil grasp:

  1. Provide the Right Tools:
    • Use age-appropriate writing utensils like pencils, crayons, and markers. Thicker or triangular-shaped pencils can be easier to grip for young children.
  2. Demonstrate the Correct Grasp:
    • Show the child how to hold a writing tool correctly. The preferred grasp for most children is the dynamic tripod grasp, where the pencil is held between the thumb and the first two fingers, with the pinky and ring fingers curled into the palm.
  3. Encourage Fine Motor Activities:
    • Engage in activities that promote fine motor skills, such as playing with building blocks, puzzles, or clay. These activities help strengthen the muscles needed for a proper pencil grasp.
  4. Practice Hand Strengthening Exercises:
    • Activities like squeezing playdough, using clothespins, or doing finger exercises can help build hand strength.
  5. Pre-Writing Activities:
    • Engage in pre-writing activities like drawing shapes, lines, and patterns, which help children practice hand-eye coordination and pencil control.
  6. Use Guided Tracing Worksheets:
    • Provide guided tracing worksheets allowing the child to trace over lines and shapes to develop control and precision in hand movements.
  7. Provide a Slant Board:
    • A slant board can help children maintain a more comfortable and functional wrist position while writing or drawing.
  8. Encourage a Relaxed Grip:
    • Ensure the child’s grip is not too tight. A relaxed hand and fingers allow for better control and movement.
  9. Offer Sensory Activities:
    • Activities involving textures, such as finger painting, can improve sensory perception and strength.
  10. Allow for Individual Variation:
    • It’s important to note that while the tripod grasp is typical, some children may develop different but functional grips. The key is to focus on a grip that allows for control and legibility without causing strain or discomfort.
  11. Praise and Positive Reinforcement:
    • Encourage and praise the child’s efforts and progress. Positive reinforcement can boost their confidence and motivation.
  12. Seek Professional Help When Needed:
    • Suppose a child consistently struggles with achieving a functional pencil grasp or experiences discomfort or pain while writing. In that case, consulting with an occupational therapist or other professionals who can provide specialized guidance and support may be advisable.
A person's hand skillfully holding a blue pencil, flawlessly executing precise handwriting as they work towards fulfilling their IEP goals.

IEP Handwriting Goals

If you are adding Handwriting Goals to your IEP, here are some ideas to get you started.

Remember that before a child can work on handwriting, they must have the pre-skill of letter recognition.

I have a separate list of letter recognition goals.

  1. Provided with the systemic prompt fading strategy to form lowercase letters properly, the student will track the visual prompts, “starting at the star” and then “tracing to the moon.” Every lowercase letter will be written as the visual prompts are fading. Accuracy is at 80% (4/5 opportunities by month and year.
  2. During classroom activities and therapy handwriting sessions, the student will have improved writing legibility by forming lowercase letters with distinct height differences between the tall and short letters, putting the letters g, j, q, p, and y under the writing lines, and putting the letters within 1/16” of the baseline, leaving an adequate ½ inch space in between words, and drawing an individual with 10 salient features. Accuracy is at 85% (measured once each month for 3 straight months.)
  3. In classroom and therapy handwriting assignments, the student is tasked to organize his written paperwork without much deviation from the horizontal and vertical lines (by not more than an inch), observe ½ inch right and left margins, and adjust his handwriting to fit into the designated spaces in the worksheets. Accuracy is at 85% (measured once each month for 3 straight months.)
  4. In classroom and therapy far and near point copying activities, the student will complete the task within the provided time by the therapist or teacher with 2 or fewer omissions or errors when copying 2 to 3 5-word sentences. Accuracy is at 80% (measured twice a month for 3 straight months.
  5. When provided with a set of lines for tracing, the student will show control and proper pressure using the writing tool (pencil, crayon, or marker) by finishing a tracing worksheet with visual prompts. Accuracy is at 80% (by month and year.)
  6. When in the classroom and during therapy sessions, the student will write 3 5 to 7-word sentences, writing inside the designated boundaries (1/16” of the baseline.), giving a distinct height variance in short and tall letter sizes, showing better attention to the right margin, and refraining from writing within ½” of the margin and maintaining horizontal handwriting to half an inch on paper without any lines. Accuracy is 85% (measured twice a month for 3 straight months.
  7. In the classroom and OT, the student will achieve better visual-motor skills and perception by writing all letters (both upper and lowercases) from memory with the proper form of 90% of the letters within 1/8” of the lines when copying a single six-word sentence on his first trial. Monitoring is done monthly for 3 straight probes. The baseline is the correct formation of letters 80% of the time and 50% of letters within 1/8” of the line in classroom writing samples.
  8. In the classroom and OT, the student will have better visual motor and visual perceptual skills by writing all letters (both upper and lowercases) from memory with the proper form of 90% of the letters and within 1/8” of the lines when copying a single six-word sentence on his first try. Monitoring is done monthly for 3 straight probes. The baseline is the correct formation of letters 80% of the time and 50% of letters within 1/8” of the line in classroom writing samples.
  9. The student will improve visual perceptual skills in OT by copying 6 to 10 cube styles from a model. Accuracy must be 100% on the first attempt. Monitoring is done monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: failure to copy six-cube pyramids and step designs.
  10. The student will achieve better visual perceptual and motor skills by writing all letters (both upper and lowercases) from memory with the proper formation on the first trial. Monitoring is done monthly for 3 straight probes. With proper formation, the baseline forms 75% of all letters in upper and lower cases.
  11. When given a picture and sentence for reading, the student accurately traces the sentence at 80% (by month and year.)
  12. When provided with a picture and sentence for reading, the student accurately traces and copies the sentence from a sample at 80% (by month and year.)
  13. When given a picture and sentence for reading, the student accurately completes the set of writing tasks (trace/copy from sample/fill in the blanks) at 80% (by month and year.)
  14. When provided with Print Path handwriting instructions and an alphabet model, the student will develop 24/26 proper uppercase formations.
  15. When given a visual, written sentence model, the student will replicate the sentence with proper letter formation, spacing, and punctuation at an accuracy of 80% or 4/5 consecutive tries (by month and year.)
  16. When given a sentence with sight words and visuals to help in word recognition, the student will accurately read the sentence 80% of the time or 4/5 consecutive tries (by month and year.)
  17. The student will write legible and correct letters in 4/5 opportunities when provided with handwriting instructions and daily practice.
  18. When provided with a picture and a long sentence for reading, the student will finish the writing tasks (trace/copy from sample/fill in the blanks) at 80% accuracy (by month and year.)
  19. When provided with a picture and a long sentence for reading, the student will finish writing tasks (trace/copy from sample/fill in the blanks) with proper letter formation and spacing at 80% accuracy (by month and year.)
  20. The student will have improved visual motor skills by copying one 4-sentence paragraph at a rate of 42 letters/minute with 4 to 5 letters per visual fixation on the first try. Monitoring is once a month for 3 straight probes. The baseline is 38 letters/minute, with 2 to 3 letters for each visual fixation.
  21. Students will have better motor skills by writing their full name in cursive w/o a model on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: model and demonstration required to write the first name in cursive.
  22. During OT, the student will have better visual and fine motor skills through coloring a 2” round space via finger movements and coloring inside 1/4” of the boundary on the first try. Monitoring is once a month for 3 straight months. Baseline: use of vertical strokes, wrist movements, and colors within ½” of the border.
  23. In the classroom and OT, the student will achieve better visual-motor skills through writing 2 creative sentences on paper with dotted lines, letters on the line, proper spacing between words, sky letters at the top of the line, and diving letters under the baseline in a single random writing example. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight months. Baseline: Legibility is inconsistent in the classroom.
  24. The student will develop visual motor skills through legible writing (letters on the line, space in between words, and fully-formed letters in a single random written work in the classroom. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: Illegible writing at times in the classroom.
  25. The student will improve visual motor and perceptual skills by writing upper and lowercase letters at 90% accuracy with proper formation without using a model. The letters are on the line on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: requires a model for forming a letter for 30% of the letters.
  26. The student will have better bilateral hand skills through tracing grade-appropriate stencils, slipping no more than twice on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: 2 to 4 slips on basic stencils.
  27. The student will achieve better visual-motor skills through independent copying of a design with/ diagonal lines or overlapped shapes on dotted grids at an accuracy of 95% on the first attempt. Monitoring is monthly for 3 successive probes. Baseline: moderate assistance.
  28. The student will improve his ocular motor skills by scanning a letter grid in finding consecutive alphabet letters in 2 minutes at 95% accuracy without help on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 successive probes. The baseline is 165 seconds with help in finding letters.
  29. The student will develop better visual-motor skills by writing a paragraph with 3 sentences with 90% of the letters on the line, 90% of letter closures, and proper spacing between words after 1 self-edit on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 successive probes. Baseline: 50 to 75% online placement, 75% with space in between words, and 59% of letter closures in random writing samples.
  30. The student will improve his visual motor skills by drawing a cube design at 100% accuracy without using a model on the first attempt. Monitoring is monthly for 3 successive probes. Baseline: inability to copy the cube.
A person writing in a notebook with a red pen, focusing on improving their handwriting skills as part of their IEP goals.

IEP Goals for Letter Formation

  1. Goal: By the end of the IEP period, the student will form upper and lower case letters with improved accuracy and legibility in 80% of written assignments.
  2. Goal: The student will demonstrate improved pencil control and letter sizing by forming letters consistently within standard guidelines on 90% of writing tasks.
  3. Goal: Within the IEP timeframe, the student will exhibit increased independence in letter formation, producing consistently proportionate and well-aligned letters in 85% of written work.
  4. Goal: By the end of the IEP period, the student will demonstrate better hand-eye coordination, forming letters with minimal reversals or errors in 75% of written exercises.
  5. Goal: The student will develop efficient motor skills, consistently forming letters smoothly and with appropriate spacing in 70% of writing assignments within the IEP duration. (may want to add in grade-level standards to make it more specific than “smoothly.”)

Occupational Therapy IEP Goals

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