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18 Aug, Thursday
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Montreal Families

The right way to treat left-handed kids

It started with the scissors at daycare. The educators mentioned that my son, who is left-handed, was having difficulty cutting. They weren’t particularly worried about it, but just felt I should know that sometimes he got frustrated because cutting took him longer than his peers. I made sure that he was using left-handed scissors and we agreed on a wait-and-see approach, with the adults figuring that he would master the fine motor skills in due time.

But when he started kindergarten, his teacher echoed the same concern. Once again, I made sure he had the left-handed scissors to use. But mid-way through the year, the teacher explained that he was also having trouble with his printing. Like cutting, he took longer to accomplish printing tasks than other children in his class. The teacher had tried a pencil grip as well as a three-sided pencil, but he was still struggling. So we were faced with the question: what to do?

My husband and I are right-handed but come from families where left-handedness is common. We weren’t surprised at all when Nathan turned out to be a “lefty”, in fact we expected it. I still see it as a source of pride, something that helps make my child unique. I think it’s cool that he has something in common with Paul McCartney, Leonardo da Vinci, and Barack Obama.

But our own parents weren’t able to give us advice. My father-in-law had been forced to write with his right hand, and my father’s grade one teacher had tried to do the same (until my grandfather stepped in). My mother bemoaned her ‘battle axe’ teachers who smacked her left hand when she smudged the ink. As right-handed parents, my husband and I had no idea about what to say or do for our child.

Website resources for lefties

After a bit of research, we discovered that Nathan is part of the 10 per cent of people who are left-handed. Boys are one and a half times more likely to be left-handed than girls. Psychologist Ludmila Girvan explains that children tend to show a preference for one hand early on, although between the ages of 3 to 5 they may switch back and forth between using the right or the left hand.

However, once they have established a dominant hand, they must develop dexterity in fine motor skills, such as cutting paper or printing letters. And this is where left-handed children struggle. If the tools they are using, such as scissors or pencils, make it hard for them to do a task, they aren’t going to achieve fluidity and accuracy in their tasks.

As Montreal kindergarten teacher Toni Caban says, “Without the proper tools, children can get frustrated and will not demonstrate their true abilities.” She takes the example of a left-handed child trying to cut with “regular scissors.” Firstly, the blades obscure the cutting line. Then, the hand’s cutting action also tends to push the blades apart, which bends the paper and tears it.

Caban says that learning to write is also challenging for left-handed children. For languages like English that are written from left to right, left-handed kids can’t see what they’re writing – their hands are in the way. Lefties also have to push the pencil in order to write. By comparison, right-handers enjoy the more natural pulling action across the page.

She also says that struggling with the mechanics of writing can end up slowing down a child’s ability to grasp the meaning of letters, words and sentences because their energy is focused on the actual act of writing and less on the meaning of what is written.

Luckily for parents and educators, there are several websites that offer ideas and explanations for helping left-handed children learn how to write. Some of these involve tilting the actual page on which the child is writing while others involve teaching kids alternative ways to form letters such as E, F and T.

However, we found a good solution was an ergonomic pencil, called the Yoro. It was not specifically designed for left-handed people, but its offset tip helps left-handed children see what they’re writing. While its design looks foreign (and felt equally strange when I tried it), it did the trick. Nathan’s teacher noticed a big difference in his comfort level. He’s now graduated to a regular pencil for grade one and his printing has improved greatly with daily practice at home.

I’m grateful that my left-handed child is no longer forced to use his right hand for writing. He still faces many challenges in a world where computer and sports equipment, musical instruments, and even simple kitchen tools such as can openers are generally designed for a right-handed world. But with a little sensitivity and creativity, I’ve found that we can help our little southpaw flourish.

Resources

www.handedness.org/action/leftwrite.html
Website for the Handedness Research Institute, which advocates for research into handedness. The site includes a good article on teaching left-handed children how to write.

www.lefthandedchildren.org
Tips and ideas for helping left-handed kids as well as lessons on alternative letter formation, handwriting and using scissors.

www.indiana.edu/~primate/lspeak.html
An interesting site by Dr. M.K. Holder on left-handedness.

www.lefthandersday.com
A fun site filled with trivia, history and products for lefties.

www.leftyslefthanded.com
A U.S.-based company (they ship to Canada) featuring all kinds of products for left-handed people.

Advice for teachers and parents

Sit left-handers where they won’t bump arms with other students.

Provide proper tools, such as left-handed scissors. They can be purchased online or at an art supply store

For computer use, switch the mouse if necessary. If your child’s school has a computer lab, consider asking the school to configure one or two machines for lefties.

For older students, three-ring binders and spiral notebooks can be awkward and uncomfortable for left-handers. Allow students to write on the back side of the page.

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