One of the biggest challenges of the early school years is perfecting printing skills. Good penmanship isn't just a bragging right: Kids who can form letters better actually have an easier time expressing their thoughts on paper, says Jan Olsen, creator of the Handwriting Without Tears program (Hwtears.com). Here's how to get them started on the right path:
Get a grip
To be sure your child's holding his pencil properly, check that his thumb and forefinger don't overlap and that they're forming a loose "o," with the pencil resting on the middle finger. His wrist should be straight, not crooked at an angle (a common habit among lefties). Short "golf" pencils are the best type for beginners -- they're easier tobalance and aren't as awkward as long or thick "primary" pencils.
Take it from the top
Encourage your child to make his letters with downward strokes -- it's neater than working his way from the bottom up. Vertical and horizontal lines are easier to write than diagonals or curves, so capitals like E, F, and T will be simpler at first than A or C. Mix it up a bit -- and reinforce reading -- by also practicing common sight words, such as "the," "to," "and," "he," "you," "it," "if," "in," "was," and "said."
Make it fun
Drilling all the time is a drag. Have him write his name in different colors or compose stories. Bath crayons to use in the tub are usually a big hit, too.