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Achieving Handwriting Success with a Skill-Based Approach

Achieving Handwriting Success with a Skill-Based Approach on dark background with pencils on table

(Last Updated on March 22, 2021)

One of the beauties of homeschooling is that kids can work at their own pace based on skill mastery rather than age or grade level. This is helpful for all subjects but especially ones with physical coordination aspects like handwriting. Kids are all over the map when it comes to physical development.

Is your kindergartener’s printing better than your spouse’s? No need to hold them back with a “kindergarten” book! Does your older student need extra printing practice before tackling cursive? No worries! You can use whatever resources meet him where he’s at based on ability, not necessarily grade. 

At the end of the day, the goal is to have kids who can write neatly (or at least legibly) to communicate in written form. 

The speed at which this happens will vary by student, but I’ve found there seems to be a natural progression through handwriting skills. By familiarizing yourself with the skill progression, you can tailor whatever handwriting program you’re using to your student (for example, add supplemental printables for certain skills or skip other pages entirely). 

Or, create your own custom program with confidence by following a logical order rather than a haphazard approach. (Trust me, I’ve tried the haphazard approach. I printed whatever cute, themed handwriting pages looked good at the moment without paying attention to skill level. It usually led to frustration or wasted time plus the nagging feeling I was giving my kids “random” handwriting training. Not good.) 

The following steps provide a common-sense, skill-based approach to handwriting from tracing through copywork. Once your kids have some pre-writing experience and seem ready for handwriting instruction, start with Step 1 and then work through the stages at their pace using whatever resources work for your family.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind I’m not a trained handwriting instructor. I’m not sure if this information would be expert-approved or not (I suppose it would depend on the expert you asked). Please take what’s helpful for your situation and leave what’s not.

Step 1 – Tracing Letters and Then Words

Use tracing-only pages to help your child practice the movements for proper letter formation. They’ll start building muscle memory and forming a visual memory of how each letter looks.

Here’s an example of beginner, tracing-only pages. To get the full A-Z set of these colorful printables click here.

handwriting tracing page printable letter a

You can easily make tracing-only pages with basic worksheet generators like this one or your own primary handwriting font. Tracing fonts with primary lines like “KG Primary Dots Lined” are FREE to download and easy to use.

Step 2 – Tracing and Copying

Once they have some practice forming the letter shapes individually and in short words, have them first trace and then copy letters and words next to or under the traced text. 

Download the A-Z handwriting practice set below from for FREE! Worksheets like these transition kids from tracing-only to copying-only by providing some practice in both skills.

primary handwriting tracing copying page letter a

Gradually increase the length of what they’re tracing and copying to include words and short phrases. You can download U.S. States trace and copy pages like the one below (and lots of other themed pages, too) for FREE from!

primary tracing copying page US states

I remember getting all hung up on which size lines were the “right” size for my kids. I finally just asked them which size they felt helped them write their best. I made the writing size page below and had them write their name on each line to determine the best fit for each of them. Download it FREE here! 

blank handwriting page different sized lines

Step 3 – Copying Near Model Text

As copying skills improve, you can drop the tracing work altogether and increase word/phrase length. In the beginning, it still helps to keep the source text immediately above or next to the blank line where the child is writing. A lot of coordination is needed for writing so it helps if their eyes don’t have to travel too far at first.

The type of page below helped my left-handed boys since they could still see the model text on the right side of the page when their left hand was covering up the model on the left side of the page. Get the A-Z set here for FREE!

Kids handwriting copying page letter a

Move to short phrases or sentences, like in the example below, once they’ve got the hang of copying without tracing first. Download the FREE A-Z set of the sample below here.

handwriting practice page letters o and p

Step 4 – Copying Farther From Model Text

For some kids, it’s a big step to copy text that isn’t immediately above or next to their writing space. As your child gets more comfortable writing, move the model text to the top of the page and let them do their work on the bottom half of the page.  This sample of Hubbard’s Cupboard 10 Commandments Copywork is a great example of a transition from Step 3 to Step 4.

primary lines 10 commandments copywork

If your student has no problem moving their eyes from model text to their hand, but still needs work on letter formation, you can always review skills from previous steps. I made the page below using a free worksheet generator to provide my oldest son some additional tracing review (Step 1 & 2) with primary copying lines farther from the model text (Step 4).

Alphabet and numbers tracing and copywork page

Step 5 – Copying Text That’s Presented Differently or Not on the Same Page

In the early stages, it’s easiest for kids if the text they’re copying is presented in the same exact style and on the same type of primary lines that they write on. It also helps when the source is close in proximity to their own writing area.

As their letter formation becomes automatic, you’ll eventually be able to present text without the primary lines and in a slightly different font than they’re used to like this example from I Can Teach My Child demonstrates.

Proverbs copywork primary lines

In time, they’ll also easily be able to copy from a source not on their page (something written on a whiteboard across the room or a book that’s next to their writing paper). 

I love it when they get to this stage! It opens up a whole world of opportunity to use pretty much any resources you already own for copywork. They’ll be able to copy passages directly from any book. Different fonts, text sizes and formatting won’t interfere with their writing. 

Step 6 – Switching from Primary Lined Paper to Wide Ruled Paper

As copying becomes second nature to them they can eventually start using writing paper with just baselines (like wide-ruled notebook paper). We found this transitional paper to be a great in-between step from primary to notebook paper. It provides subtle help for correct letter and word spacing and introduces the concept of margins with green and red cues to “start” and “stop” writing. 

Some kids who already have highly developed hand-eye coordination and a good visual memory of the alphabet might move through these steps very quickly, maybe even skipping some steps. 

For others, more time might be needed on certain skills which is very common and no problem at all!

With a skill-based approach, you can work through these stages at their pace so your child feels successful in handwriting!

Check out this post for links to many of the free and inexpensive resources I’ve used to create a custom, skill-based handwriting program for my kids!

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Achieving Handwriting Success with a Skill-Based Approach - title on dark background with pencils