Question: My fourth-grade son's handwriting is so illegible that the teachers often say that they simply can't read his work. The teachers just say that he should practice, practice and practice. I'm not 100 percent sure what he should practice. This summer seems like a great time to improve his skills. He's willing to try. How should we approach this?

Answer: The first thing you need to do is take a good look at your son's handwriting to determine exactly where the problems are. Is it the spacing of the letters, their slant, writing size or line quality? Correcting just one of these flaws could make a substantial improvement in the quality of his writing whether the problem is with cursive writing or printing. Here are some suggestions. Choose the ones that seem appropriate for your child:

  1. Place paper and hands in the proper position.

  2. Choose a pencil or pen that is comfortable to use, and hold it properly. Do not hold it too tightly or press down too hard.

  3. Practice writing on lined or raised-line paper, if appropriate.

  4. Have your son slow down his writing.

  5. Begin by having him practice writing individual letters that are formed in the same way. Fill pages with these letters both in upper- and lowercase. It may help him to say what he is writing, "Start at the top, go straight down, cross at the top," for capital "T." Be sure to have a model of the letters with direction arrows for him to study.

  6. Once he can form all the letters correctly, have him practice writing and rewriting sentences that use most of the letters of the alphabet, like, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."

  7. Practicing handwriting for 15 minutes a day should lead to better handwriting.