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Well, it’s certainly not a special need. But, yes, it can be a problem – and that problem can become many more, especially when no-one really thinks it’s a problem. And that IS the problem.

Around one in eight children is what we call left-handed – perhaps two or three on average per class. Most of the time, when we speak of a left-hander – or right-hander come to that – we’re really referring to the hand which writes. It’s the most visible and common defining activity for ‘handed-ness’. But, of course, there are heaps of other things we do where we use the ‘dominant’ or ‘preferred’ side. So any one of your students might write left-handed, but be an ace striker with their right foot. Maybe they’ll put a telescope to the left eye to look at the moon, then proceed to draw it with the right hand. Have a think about your peers: there’ll certainly be more than one in eight who have a mixture of sidedness. Writes with the left, plays a right-handed guitar, prefers to open windows or cans with the left… In other words, quite a lot of us are quite mixed up – it’s not as cut and dried as we might think!

Getting back to handwriting, though, what is the problem about? Essentially, as there are so few left-handed writers in a class, their particular needs are often ignored and teachers – and parents too – are simply not conscious of the difficulties that the left-hander may begin to encounter. It can start so simply with where they sit. A left-handed child sitting next to a right-handed child, with writing arms adjacent, is going to get irritated when elbows clash. Indeed, both children are likely to get irritated – and, guess whose fault it is: who’s the odd one out round here?

That’s not such a big deal, but it does still happen. It’s when we move on to how we position our paper, how we hold our pencil or pen, and how we begin to write our letters that the bigger difficulties arise. And as the differences between left- and right-handed writing become more detailed, so the awareness of teachers and parents becomes more remote, and conscious intervention diminishes. The left-hander can’t see what they’re writing (they cover what they’re doing whilst they do it), they might smudge their letters, and their writing can become more spidery and untidy especially when joined-up writing starts to get ‘counter-intuitive’ for the left-hander. It doesn’t happen to them all, but many adopt their own strategies to overcome their seemingly unique situations. A favoured writing position can evolve: a crab-like, hooked and up-in-the-air pencil hold seems to work, but at a significant long-term cost in inappropriate fine motor skills, writing fatigue and – most noticeably – accuracy and legibility.

And only then does the strong intervention arise: ‘Your writing’s so messy!’ ‘Messy’ is the common mantra. It is, of course, the child’s fault that they’re messy. Not the teacher’s, not the parent’s. And so we can end up with a six- or seven-year-old left-hander with a feeling of angst when it comes to writing and, very often, damage to self-esteem. So there we have it: now we have a real problem.

Several years ago, Robinswood introduced the Left Hand Writing Skills series, by Mark and Heather Stewart, aimed at this age group, with the objective of correcting the unnecessarily complicated fine motor skills left-handers often devise. Many thousands of left-handers later, there’s clearly been a need, and clearly a solution – look at the reviews on Amazon!

Whilst the problem of correcting poor fine motor skills is addressed by this series, however, and dented self-esteem often restored, surely this need should not have been created in the first place? So, to help avoid this syndrome, Robinswood is now introducing a series of publications and activities, again by left hand experts Mark and Heather Stewart, to help parents and teachers get left-handers on the correct track from the outset. For details, go to robinswoodpress.com, where there will be constant updates as these items are introduced during Spring and Summer 2016.

https://www.robinswood.co.uk/series/left-hand-writing-skills