How does a right-handed person teach a lefty how to write (etc)?
May 16, 2014 5:59 AM   Subscribe

How does a right-handed person teach a left-handed person how to write (and do other stuff)?

I have never helped anyone learn how to write before, but I may soon. I can at least imagine how I would show a righty how to write. Won't it be different with a righty teaching a lefty? If so, how does the righty adjust the demonstrations so that they won't confuse the little lefty? (And I suppose this really extends into other areas - any skill you use your dominant hand to do.)
posted by pracowity to Education (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My mother is lefty and I am righty. She would sit across from me at the table so our hands were mirror images. That worked okay for me, though it means everything is upside-down.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:11 AM on May 16, 2014

I think you're over-thinking this. Most lefties learn to do just about everything from righties without any trouble. I don't specifically remember learning to write, but I don't think it was "confusing" at all. It might be easier, in fact, since the motion is a mirror-image, if you're sitting across from each other.

Of course, you should realize that the motions really will be different in some ways by necessity: writing in a binder or a spiral notebook, for example, is really difficult, so lots of lefties will either write from back-to-front in the book or turn the whole thing sideways or at a severe angle to write.

Also remember that not all lefties are created equal. I write left-handed and handle a fork left-handed, but I absolutely cannot handle scissors or a knife with my left hand. Teachers shoved lefty scissors into my hand for years before they got the message that I just couldn't do it.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:12 AM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

In simple terms, you're teaching the pen strokes, not the hand motions necessary to make them. Which is why you see those dotted letter shapes which give you a starting point (a big dot,) arrows, and sometimes numbers to indicate the order of strokes. The system works equally well for left- and right-handed writers.

Children tend to learn how to make lines and curves with a pen long before they actually tackle writing, so you don't really have to worry about that part, except to correct them if (for example) they're holding the pen/pencil in their fist.
posted by pipeski at 6:12 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a left hander who was taught to write by right handers, and the only "special" thing I remember being taught was how to slant the paper (with the left corner raised, as in the diagram on this page). I still do that to some extent, and have a slight but not super pronounced lefty hook.

Overall, I'd say to be patient, but don't sweat it too much. One of the nice things about being left handed is that you learn pretty early on to adapt and automatically switch things around that right handers try to teach you.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:13 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're determined enough, you learn to do things with your left hand. I can print and write cursive about as well as a teenager with my left hand.
posted by tilde at 6:13 AM on May 16, 2014

Knitting was the only skill that posed problems for my right handed grandmother but my great aunt (a rare fellow leftie in those days) stepped in for that.

Don't worry, you'll be fine - we lefties learn to adapt in a right handed world!
posted by humph at 6:15 AM on May 16, 2014

I'm a lefty and have been mostly taught to do dominant-handed things by righties. I've found it helpful to mirror actions (having the righty do things as they normally would across from me).

Suggestions for writing:
1. I believe I first learned writing by tracing big sandpaper letters with my fingers. (See
2. Let the kid figure out what grip is most comfortable/works best. Show how you hold it and if possible, demonstrate other grips.
3. Let the kid figure out the angle of the paper works best. Straight, tilted to the right, tilted to the left are all options. I angle mine so the right side of the paper is higher than the left.
4. I don't believe it's as much of an issue in early printing, but the kid might choose how their letters slant. Mine slant to the right, but I've seen slanting to the left and straight up.
5. Writing left to right with the left hand does have a couple of its own challenges: often covering up what you've just written (or going up and over in a curved hand), accidentally smearing letters you've just written, getting pencil or ink on the side of the hand. I've found that some pens and pencils work better than others for reducing the mess, but still often end up with some pencil on my hand. I just clean it every so often. Experimenting with different writing utensils might help.

Good luck!
posted by wiskunde at 6:15 AM on May 16, 2014

Thinking about this further, if you'll be teaching these lefties in a class rather than on a one-on-one setting, do try to avoid singling them out too much in front of everyone. I was in a guitar class once, learning to play left-handed, and after EVERY BLASTED THING the instructor taught us, he'd turn to me and say "Now DingoMutt, you should do everything I just said the opposite way." It got uncomfortable pretty quickly.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:17 AM on May 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

When given the opportunity, I will write in binders/notebooks from back to front like uncleozzy mentioned. It's also easier to flip through notes from back to front if you're using your left hand. Notebooks that have the spiral at the top work well too. When possible, stress that the kid can try different options and choose what works best for them so that they can get clear handwriting.

And on the paper angle thing: my sister, a lefty, is still mad nearly thirty years later that her first grade teacher used to "correct" the angle of her paper (from tilted to straight across) when she was writing.
posted by wiskunde at 6:27 AM on May 16, 2014

I'm left-handed, taught by right-handed. What you do is teach the form, which you can hold in your left hand if they don't get it based on your right-handed example, and the strokes/patterns, which should be a dotted line or you drawing them in the same order that they will, just with a different hand. It works fine.
posted by michaelh at 6:28 AM on May 16, 2014

Okay, I'm going to disagree with most of the above comments.

I'm right handed. Every so often (perhaps a few times a year) someone will see me taking notes at a meeting and say something like "That's weird, you hold your pen like you're left-handed!". Then I have to explain.

When I was in first grade our elementary school principal was observing the classroom during a penmanship lesson. I was gripping the pencil near the eraser. He wisely corrected me on where to grip the pencil, but unwisely "corrected" the way I held the pencil. This was the "principal" (and we all know what a big deal this guy can be to a 6 year old). I listened, and forever held writing instruments in the way he instructed me to. It wasn't until many years later I discovered the type of grip he taught me was meant for left-handed people (I guess he was left-handed!).

What's the difference in grip? We write from left to right and from top to bottom. Because of the angle I hold my pen at, my hand is constantly rubbing over the prior lines writing, blurring the ink and getting ink all over my hand. With the classic right-handed grip this doesn't happen. Unfortunately, I'm an old dog and you can't teach me new tricks.

Because of my experience with this, I insist that my wife teach our children how to hold a pen -- as I refuse to do so. YMMV, but I think a left-handed person should teach a left-handed person how to write and a right-handed person should teach a right-handed person.

Check it out!
posted by Mr. X at 6:51 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm left handed and all three of my kids are right handed and I taught them all to write pretty easily. If just write and let them copy.bIt's was a bit harder to show them how to hold the pencil correctly. One advantage is that if I sit to their left, they can see me write while I'm doing it and I can see their writing. No hands in the way! It's harder to hold their hand and write with them but I could do it with my right hand well enough.
posted by artychoke at 6:52 AM on May 16, 2014

Augh. With handwriting, do not try to just mirror what you do. There are books and websites and Youtube videos and stuff on proper form for left-handers. There are multiple options for how it can go, especially as far as how much back-slant you consider acceptable in letters. But my mom the lefty wasn't really paying attention at the time, my dad the righty didn't know, and my elementary school teachers got me writing in a way that was really the worst possible habits to pick up. I could never understand why my left-handed grandmother had back-slanting writing, because I certainly didn't. What I had was a hooked hand position that has proved incredibly hard to get out of.

Seriously, if at all possible, look up the info on the internet and print out some practice sheets and actually get comfortable yourself with how to hold the pencil and arrange the paper, even if you aren't coordinated enough to do very well at forming the letters. Right-handed is how basically all English handwriting systems were designed to be written. Left-handedness requires deliberate modification.

Other things are less of a big deal; left-handed scissors can probably be used just fine by demonstrating how you do it with your right and having them practice, say. But follow the kid's lead; most people don't reverse silverware, for example, although I know one person who does, and I personally always use right-handed scissors and I'm perfectly comfortable with that. Let them try both, ideally.
posted by Sequence at 6:53 AM on May 16, 2014

Let your lefty be your guide. The reason why your lefty is a lefty is because they naturally pick up pencils and things with their left hand. They will be doing this hundreds of times a day without any input from you every time they hit a light switch or turn a door knob or pick up a toy or pet a cat or do a zillion other things you don't feel the need to show them how to do. This experience means that they will automatically figure out the best way of doing things with their left hand without you trying to figure out how they should tilt the pencil.

If your kid holds the pencil in his fist it means he doesn't feel confident in getting fine control with his fingers, not that you have failed to show him how to hold the pencil, or that he has failed to observe how you do it. Let him scribble and draw using his fist until he wants to use his fingers. Some kids have rubber fingers with double joints and not very strong finger muscles and may develop some kind of a funny grip. If their fine motor control gets better they will change, otherwise they will have to use an adaption anyway.

The thing to watch for is when things give her trouble. The spiral in a spiral notebook for example may get in her way. The adaption is to go get a notebook that doesn't have a spiral. If your standardized teacher requires a spiral notebook and can't be flexible about it because all the kids have to have a red spiral notebook for spelling and a blue spiral notebook for maths, your lefty can simply flip the book around so the spiral is on the other side. Another thing you may want to do is get them a cover sheet if they are smudging their writing by dragging their hand through it as they write, but this also applies to righties who drag their hands across the paper.

Most things won't give them trouble. Things that do like can openers and scissors come in lefty styles. Just for fun get two pairs of lefty scissors and while they cut with their pair, you use the other one. It will help teach you sympathy for a small person learning fine motor coordination skills and is good for your brain.

You could always demonstrate knitting by sitting in front of a large mirror and getting them to look at the image in the mirror instead of you.

My son was also visually impaired so everyone told me to get large print books. I did, but he found it easier to read smaller print than larger print. Basically his field of vision was very small, no peripheral vision and only about and inch and a half square was in clear focus for him. I mention this because it reinforces my point about letting the kid be your guide. Let your kid lead and then watch for ways you can be helpful. He almost certainly will need only minimal help, no more than your righty will need. And when he does need help it will probably be specific to his own idiosyncracies not because he is a lefty.

Being lefty is an advantage. Lefties are usually as good with their dominant hand and much better with their non-dominant hand than righties. She is likely to be notably better than average at video games because she will get skillful at using the controls faster, especially WASD keys on a keyboard. Your lefty is more likely to excel than to lag unless there are additional issues other than simply having reverse brain wiring.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:00 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for mirroring / sitting across from each other - a right-handed friend taught me, a lefty, to knit. I just mirrored what she did - she sat directly across from me, instead of beside me.

Try to teach a few things that use both hands first. Learning to follow directions and make their own way will help later when they are using the hand opposite from the person teaching.

Focus more on the mechanics and results of what you are doing and less on the hand being used, i.e., step 1, step 2 - and how you reach each step is less important than accomplishing an entire A or B or whatever.

Get spiral notebooks with the spiral on TOP.

Make sure scissors are either left or both, not right-handed. Right-handed scissors are painful on the left hand.

NEVER EVER SAY "THE HAND YOU WRITE WITH" when you mean "right." To this day, I still turn left when someone says it. NEVER SAY IT. Fortunately this is not as common an expression now, but I had a grandmother who said it constantly and then would laugh when I went the wrong way. Don't do this.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 7:51 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also asked today and perhaps of interest:
posted by AllieTessKipp at 7:53 AM on May 16, 2014

As a lefty myself, I think mirroring is the way we learn everything like this. When I (tried) to learn golf, I found it immensely helpful that illustrations in books were set up just like I was looking at it in the mirror! I never became a great golfer, but being left-handed wasn't a handicap (not having a trust fund was the biggest problem I found).

I play guitar in the conventional way, and actually find it maddening that when I watch my friend do something as we're facing each other, I have to flip everything around.

I'll leave the question of whether mirroring everything is a learned skill to compensate for the "hand" we were dealt, or whether it's a neurological feature that's part of whatever weird thing happened that made us left-handed, to more able minds than mine, but it's a big part of being left-handed. .gnitirw rorrim ta doog neve er'eW

Also, to second uncleozzy -- some lefties are as left-handed as you are right-handed (that's me), and some are basically ambidextrous. Follow their lead, and don't be alarmed or try to "figure it out" for them if they switch up a lot, or eat with their right hand and write with their left, etc.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:03 AM on May 16, 2014

As a lefty, I will mostly agree with others and say that mirroring is useful to a certain extent, but that really - as with everything - practice makes perfect and kids will need repetition to get their form right. I mostly feel like I figured stuff out by watching others and then doing it in a way that made sense to me. It probably helped in some small way that my grandmother was left handed too, but we didn't see her all that much as kids so I don't really know.

The one unhelpful thing that people (usually not my parents, thankfully, but other adults) would do is stand across from me making a motion and say "Do what I'm doing but backwards!" To me, especially as a little kid, that was really frustrating. In some ways it would have been better to get no instruction at all. It wasn't specific enough for me to be able to figure out what I was supposed to do and why what I was doing was wrong. In instances where people would do that, it would have been much better if they had said "Okay, swing the bat like this only keep your left hand on top and your right foot in the front."

As for other stuff for lefties, the main things that have always bothered me are righty scissors and spiral bound notebooks. Righty scissors suck - they're painful to use in the left hand, and for some reason though I do a lot with my right hand I can't really use scissors with it. Ambidextrous scissors solve that problem just fine. Spiral bound notebooks are annoying for me to use with how I write, and one of my adaptations was to use either bound books or take notes on individual pieces of 3-hole punched paper and put them in a binder.

I will say in favor of left-handedness that I think being forced to figure out how to do things from watching other people and following vague or poor instructions has probably helped my problem solving and critical thinking skills tremendously. Plus, I frequently get complimented on my handwriting. (Seriously. In the last couple of weeks there have been several instances of coworkers coming into my cube to ask me a question, who then looked at my papers and said "Wow is this your handwriting? It looks really good!" It is weird.)
posted by malthas at 10:44 AM on May 16, 2014

Another vote for the lefty will take care of themself, by 'mirroring' the righties around them.

I was the only lefty out of five kids; my right handed parents didn't care --- as my mother used to put it, she didn't give a damn which hand any of us used, as long as we held our forks properly and didn't drop food on her carpets...... which, believe it or not, was a bit of an enlightened outlook: back in those dark ages, children, it was NORMAL to force lefty kids to use their right hands instead. Someday, ask me about the abuse teachers would routinely dish out in the cause....

Anyway: pretty much all lefties grow up automatically flipping how righties hold things to fit: it's not something most of us have to even THINK about much, it's just something we do our whole lives. Just show your student the correct grip and let them take it from there.

I really feel I ought to get one of my right handed coworkers to comment on here: every time he sees me using chopsticks, he laughs his head off: he says I --- a left handed Anglo from the US --- use those chopsticks faster and neater than either of his right handed Shanghai-born parents!
posted by easily confused at 2:48 PM on May 16, 2014

I worried about this when I was homeschooling my kids (My youngest is and was a lefty.)

Shouldn't have worried a bit. Her handwriting is better than the rest of ours put together.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:52 PM on May 17, 2014

Dexter Kozen's On Teaching Left-Handed Children to Write
posted by at at 10:45 PM on May 17, 2014

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