Many young children who are otherwise bright and articulate run into problems with printing when they start school. These are often children who had "difficulty with scissors" and other fine-motor tasks. Their parents are often confused and disappointed that the child who seemed so capable is suddenly less than perfect.
In the 1960’s I was taught to look for what we called a “lateral dominance cross” in these children. When a child had serious printing problems (inability to form letters properly, spacing issues, frequent reversals) beyond his sixth birthday, we did a quick and simple test using a paper-towel roll. If the child wrote with the right hand, but consistently looked through the roll with his left eye, we concluded that this was either a visual or neurological problem; we simply had to make accommodations to suit the child – without labeling the child as either “lazy” or “dumb”. (This "cross" can also exist in the opposite pattern.)
Later in my career I discovered that “lateral dominance issues” involving ear, arm, and foot, were also significant, and that they related related to learning differences far beyond penmanship. (See “Laterality, LD and Genius?”http://www.thoughts.com/anedu/laterality-ld-and-genius )
Given all that science now reveals about human variability, along with new research from Finland (http://www.newkerala.com/news/world/fullnews-77661.html) it is inexcusable that this kind of knowledge has been swept under the rug and children blamed for a condition that is not within their control. (There was also the Eikelund study from Bergen Norway in 1998 related to lateral dominace issues in struggling students.)
If your child struggles with printing, here are a few suggestions:
1. Use a black marker to darken the lines he is printing between. This helps with spatial issues.
2. Ask the teacher to fold back his printing book page so that he only has to practice 2/3 of each sample. (This way he gets to practice every letter, but does fewer repetitions.)
3. Allowing him to make the letters larger may help.
4. Darken the margin line that runs vertically along the side of the page. (This works also for older students who have their work slide diagonally down the page, almost forming a triangle…)
5. Adjust the size/type of printing tool. If your child is more comfortable with a nice fat marker INSIST that he be allowed to use it. (“Primary Print” pencils are not available in Beijing – more about that in my next post…)
6. Do the simple “paper-towel roll test” (the teacher will probably not have heard of it – through no fault of her own!) IF your child has a lateral dominance issue, print off the article on the Finnish research and take it to your classroom teacher; he/she will probably really appreciate knowing.
7. Look for "Brain Gym" materials for other helpful suggestions.
8. Remember this mantra: "Every Child is Different". Use what works.
In this computer age, penmanship is quickly becoming a lost art. In this global village, the idea is to be able to communicate. It should not matter whether the child prints neatly between the standard pale blue lines, or writes two inches high into a scrapbook between very dark lines.
Do NOT allow your child to be labeled “incompetent” because of this isolated skill. He/she will progress to a keyboard in future. (Sometimes even the keyboard is a problem; I have had frustrated students tell me that they consistently use “the right finger, but on the wrong hand…” This often from very “bright”, but ambidextrous, kids.)
Keep faith in your child. If you know that he’s “bright”, you’re right! Paper skills make schooling a huge headache for these kids…