Guidance on handwriting in Foundation stage

The following has been adapted from:

  • Foundations for Literacy
  • Teaching Handwriting
  • The National Literacy Strategy
  • Foundation stage Curriculum

Handwriting depends on secure motor control and hand eye co-ordination.

Children need plenty of opportunity to develop:

Physical control through large-scale movement, such as outdoor play, balancing, climbing, marching and moving to music.

Manipulative skills, such as using tools, cooking utensils and scissors.

Fine motor control and hand eye co-ordination, through activities such as jigsaws, threading, cutting, and ‘small world’ equipment (cars, train set, dolls house etc.)



Children should be encouraged to form patterns in the air first using both arms then one arm. Drawing lines and making circular movements.

The next stage is to skywrite with the forefinger and mark making with sticks in the sand, squeezy bottles of water used outside, wet sponges on a board, etc.

Introduce finger painting, chalks.

Strengthen grip and develop physical strength by: – teaching finger rhymes, encouraging the use of play dough and clay for shaping, squeezing and pulling.

Finally the movements can be refined down to an even smaller scale, using paints, felt pens, chalks, crayons and chubby pencils.

Letter formation

Children need time to develop complete hand control and correct hold before being taught specific letter formations. They should also be familiar with the letters of the alphabet and their names through activities such as making letters from pastry / clay/ scrunched up tissue paper etc.

Teach the formation of letter shapes and the sounds of letters together. Start by tracing the letter in the air with full arm movement, then trace in the air with finger, then when the movement, direction and shape are firmly established encourage to trace over letters on paper. Trace over letters drawn in a pale colour to form in a flowing movement. Do not give dots to link as the child will lose the flowing formation of the shape.

Letters can be introduced in the following letter groups

Long ladder group: I j l t u

Curly caterpillar group: c a d e g o q u f s


One-armed robot group: b h k m n p r

Zigzag group: v w x y z


Pencil control

Hold pencil between thumb and forefinger in preferred hand with the other fingers positioned under the pencil. Gently reposition and correct incorrect hold do not allow incorrect hold to become ingrained.

Encourage child to hold the paper still with their other hand.

Tilt the paper slightly, according to which hand is used.

Children can take quite a while to work out which is their preferred hand and may be ambidextrous. Any attempt to force the child to use either the right or left hand could cause long-term psychological damage.

Left handed children:

Children who genuinely show a preference for their left arm/hand would benefit from having a left handed role model.

  • Model letter formation, sky writing.
  • Ensure left handed children sit on the left of right handed children
  • Put a mark on the left side of the paper to show where writing begins
  • Place paper slightly to the right of centre and encourage child to tilt their work clockwise so they can see what they have written.

A higher seat helps the child to view their work and prevents the elbow locking into their side as they work across the paper.

To avoid smudging their work:

Encourage child to position fingers about 1.5 cms away from the end of the writing implement;

The pencil should sit in the V between thumb and forefinger, sitting parallel to the thumb;

The wrist should be straight.

Writing from left to right is more difficult for left handed children therefore they should be given more attention to ensure that they do not learn bad posture, position and pen hold.

Introducing joined up writing

Children should be secure in the formation of all letters before starting joined up writing.

Most letters join with diagonal lines, but draw children’s attention to the letters that join at the top. Joining all letters has been shown to inhibit fluency. Many styles do not join after letters that finish on the left. (s, b j, g, y)

Ideally children need to be supervised when they are practising handwriting until letter formation is secure – bad habits reinforced in the early years are difficult to eradicate later on.

Children should learn to form letters and sound letters at the same time so they think about letter shapes and sounds together.