It is usually around age 5 that children begin to clearly show dominance in one hand, although in some cases, it is apparent from a younger age.
It is quite normal for children to use either hand in their toddler years and no attempt should be made to encourage the use of one hand over the other. If a child has a tendency to be left-handed, forcing him/ her to use the right hand can do more harm than good.
Unless you are part of the 10% of the population that are left-handed, you are probably quite unaware of the differences between writing left-handed and right-handed and the difficulties that being left-handed presents.
Experts say that by the age for primary school, many left-handed children have not been correctly coached and have developed poor writing habits and experience considerable difficulty as a result. They often struggle and write extremely slowly, which can be frustrating and puts them at a disadvantage.
The problems they encounter can be easily overcome, with a bit of planning and the correct tools, such as left-handed scissors and seating a left-handed child on the left-side of a twin desk.
Writing problems can be avoided by teaching a left-handed child a few simple habits as soon as he/ she begins to put crayon to paper.
The differences between writing with the left hand and the right hand
As you know, in English and most western languages, we read and write from left to right.
If you are right-handed, you begin on the left-side of a page and write, moving your hand from left to right. As you proceed you can see what you have written and your hand moves mostly in a pulling motion across the page.
However, if you use your left hand, as you write from left to right, your left hand tends to move over and cover the words that you have already written, so that you can’t read them! If you are writing with ink that can smudge, this is an added problem. Your left hand moves across the page in a pushing motion.
In order to be able to see more easily what they are writing, many left-handed children, raise their wrist towards the top of the page, into a hooked position, so that their hand does not cover their writing. This is NOT the best way for a left-hander to write.
Correct procedure for writing left-handed
To avoid this, a left-handed child needs to be coached from as early as possible, to differentiate between ‘reading position’ and left-hand ‘writing position’ of the page/ book.
Even when colouring in or drawing, a pre-school child that uses their left hand should be encouraged to become familiar with this rotated page orientation.
Reading position is straight up, the way we normally position a book when we read or write. Left hand writing position requires that the page be rotated clockwise to about 45 degrees (or less), so that the child can write across the page from left to right, seeing what she is writing without having to hook her wrist.
The degree to which the paper should be rotated will depend on the height of the surface on which the child is writing, as this will affect the elbow position of the child. The amount of rotation needed increases as table height forces the elbows away from the body.
In this rotated writing position, the child must be taught to write or draw with a straight wrist and her elbow and wrist below the writing line, not lifted to the left side or with the wrist raised above the writing. When practicing this, the child should write large letters.
Experience shows that many left-handed children in pre and early primary school have been colouring in with the page in reading position for years and have developed embedded habits for the orientation of images in reading position. As a result, most of them have great difficulty writing and it requires considerable patience and coaching to undo these habits and build the child’s confidence in the new technique.
So, if you have a left handed child in the family, make sure you coach him/ her correctly from the start, and if you know someone who has a left-handed child, share this information with them!