Handwriting - Ideas for b/d reversals, dysgraphia, dyslexia

Copywork, Cursive, Dictation, Grammar, Handwriting, Letter Writing, Memory Work, Narration, Read-Alouds, Spelling, Vocabulary, & Writing (many of these topics apply to other subjects such as Bible, History, and Science)
MJ in IL
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Handwriting - Ideas for b/d reversals, dysgraphia, dyslexia

Unread post by MJ in IL »

TracyLee01026 wrote:Hello ladies! My 9 yo dd has very messy writing. I have tried to figure out why. She use to have an unusual grip on her pencil, but we corrected that, but her writing didn't improve much. She doesn't seem to apply even pressure when writing a word. She may start out okay, but end sloppily.

She also reverses many letters. We tried Handwriting Without Tears in kindergarten, but it didn't seem to help much. I have tried to make her slow down and concentrate on writing with the same pressure throughout, but this is very tedious and seems to be difficult. Now she just cries when I bring it up. Does anyone have any advice on what to try with her to improve her writing and correct reversals?

Also, I have delayed teaching her cursive (even though she wants to learn) until she prints neatly. Maybe I should just move on to cursive? I wonder if writing in cursive will help her to keep the even pressure and maybe moving on to cursive will help her feel better about her writing. Any thoughts? Blessings,
I have a lefty 11 ds who has messy printing and slightly less messy cursive. I try to spend a short time daily with him, focusing on letter formation. MFW's review of the letters at the beginning of the year have gotten us into good habits in that area. He also has learned to type on the computer as I think this will be his best bet in later years for schooling.

He continues to improve slowly. I try to keep the tone light as he does try and I don't want to frustrate his efforts.
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Unread post by mom2woii »

Hi Tracy,

I would go to cursive. I have an 11yos who has the worst printing. I don't mean to sound cruel, but it has been this way since he first began using a pencil. When I first started teaching him his letters, he would be insistent about how he wanted to form them. I finally gave up trying to conform him to the "proper" way and decided that there were more important things to spend our time on. Maybe I was wrong in doing that, but it became too much of a frustration for me and thought it just wasn't worth my getting upset over.

When it came time for him to learn cursive, I was very hesitant because I thought it would be atrocious. Surprisingly, his cursive is better than his printing, but he prefers to print. When he does his math, however, his numbers are fairly neat and he keeps them lined up under the appropriate columns. Go figure.

We tell him he's destined to be a doctor since they notoriously have illegible handwriting!

Hopefully you'll be able to corret your dd's handwriting, but if not, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

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Unread post by kellybell »

Well, you ladies beat me to the punch here too!

We use Dianne Craft's eights (but I am inconsistent) and that helped with reversals. We still get some reversals though (with my just turned 7 yo).

And, my ds has awful printing. It's just all over the place. Cursive is better for him too (although he'll never receive a penmanship award!). Cursive helps with reversals because the pairs that are often reversed (p-q, b-d) are written differently. Did I say that right? Cursive b is written differently than cursive d (same with p and q), and it is harder to goof up and reverse in cursive.

You might want to introduce keyboard (computer) skills. I can type quickly and pretty accurately while my handwriting is laborious and tiring. And sloppy. I type my shopping list each week, for example. Much better for me. Might be better for your 9 yo too!

Oh, and give it time.

And, remember, some folks, try as they might, will never have really neat penmanship. That's me. In elementary school, we'd get grades of 1 (great), 2 (okay) and 3 (the infamous "needs improvement") and while I'd get a good mix of 1's and 2's on just about everything, my penmanship grade was nearly always 3. Sigh. I tried and tried (and cried and cried) but couldn't (still can't) get my pencil or pen to move as I imagined it in my head. I remember being envious of those girls that had such pretty, swirly, even handwriting. Other subjects were also hard for me, but I could always improve them with work and studying. But, try as I did, I never could make much improvement on my handwriting.

To this day, I sort of panic if I have to use my handwriting on something more than writing a check. If I have to write a card to someone (something that wouldn't be appropriate for a computer, such as a sympathy or thank you card), I just dread it. I usually keep plenty of spare cards around because I know I'll probably mess one up. Sometimes it takes three cards to get my ideas out somewhat legibly.

About the only thing I've ever found to make me feel a LITTLE better about my handwriting was marrying someone who was worse than me! Tee hee hee.

Just keep practicing but also accept that this child may never be a strong handwriting.
Kelly, wife to Jim since 1988, mom to Jamie (a girl, 1994), Mary (1996), Brian (1998) and Stephanie (2001).
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Unread post by HSmommi2mine »

cursive letters can't be reversed so I would start that.

It sounds like your dd's hand gets tired very easily and so while she starts out ok ends up quite sloppy. It sounds like she could use help working on hand strength.

Frequently kids with disgraphia will reverse and have weak hands. This is something I would look into if you are concerned.

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Unread post by TracyLee01026 »

You guys are awesome. Not only did I get advice on what to use to correct the problem, but I also got a first hand account of what my dd is probably going through and how she is feeling. I did not expect that. I have been getting impatient with her and somewhat accusing her of just not trying very hard. In my head I was thinking she was just being lazy about this. Now I feel ashamed.

Dysgraphia--I had not thought of this. Perhaps I will see if that is what is going on, even though we are feeling therapy-overload at the moment, I realize now that this is a possibility that needs to be checked out.

Since she is excited about learning cursive, I think I will just move on to that and give her lots of praise and encouragement and maybe I will try to find out about some exercises to strengthen her hands--any ideas?

I will look at Dianne Craft's "eights" and I may get Handwriting Without Tears Cursive, since it worked great with my son who has beautiful handwriting. My 13yo dd doesn't have very neat printing or cursive and I know that this bothers her because sometimes she comments on it.
Well, now I'm just rambling.

Thanks again for all your help and for the invaluable insight. I love this message board. God Bless you and your families,
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Unread post by JenniferF »

Tracy, a cursive program you might want to look into is Peterson-Direct handwriting. They have you work with the large motor skills learning the strokes in the air first, then do finger tracing on the paper before ever trying to write the letters. My 9yo daughter is in vision therapy and it has helped a great deal. I took this info in to the therapist and she thought Peterson looked good.

Something else that came to mind today: Where is your daughter doing her writing? It is at the kitchen/dining table? Or do you have a table or desk which is sized correctly for her? If she is doing her writing on a kitchen table, look sitting at her height and see what her perspective is of the paper. This is especially important for younger kids. When I got down and looked at the paper at their height, it's amazing to see the slanted view or angle they are seeing it at. Just something that popped into my mind today.
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Unread post by TriciaMR »

RachelT wrote: Sun Mar 09, 2008 10:38 pmHello! I hope you don't mind me tagging another few questions onto this thread. After reading the above posts and doing a little internet research, I feel like my ds may be "dysgraphic".

How do I know if his writing abilities are just a little delayed or if he is truly dysgraphic?

And do I really need to know, or would I just keep doing all of the great things in MFW to help him?

And now that I've read all of this information it has me worried that we need to make sure it is not dyslexia (I wouldn't know the difference). But do we really need to go through a bunch of testing when he has only just turned 7 and is in 1st grade? (After reading one of the lists of information about dyslexia, it says that typically people wait to test for dyslexia, when it would really be better to know early on). I guess I could talk to some ps teachers who are friends of mine and see what they would do.

What do some of you think? I am hoping that this still applies to the original posted message on this thread, too, and if it doesn't I apologize!


I was just reading in my Spelling Power book, and they said reversals are common up until age 8. After that it should get better...

As a side note, we switched from print to cursive between K and 1st. It did help my dd in reading not to reverse d's and b's (is that bed or ded?). But, when she prints now (she's 7 1/2) she still gets some letters wrong (like hooking j's the wrong way). She does occasionally start a lower case cursive b like an upper case curse I, but she usually catches herself now. She also sometimes goes the wrong way when doing the tail on a lower case cursive q.

So, doing cursive doesn't always "fix" those thing.

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Unread post by HSmommi2mine »


Yes, it is important to get the testing early. An occupational therapist can do testing and it will probably be covered by insurance. Many disorders are intertwined or what they call "co-morbid". If you suspect dyslexia, and it is more than just reversals, all other disorders get a bump in possibility.

My ds has a speech disorder so he is more likely to have other language issues and sensory issues, physical dyspraxia exc.

The kids usually find testing fun so don't worry about that part.


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Bs and Ds

Unread post by TurnOurHearts »

Dannielle wrote:My ds mixes up his b's and d's all the time. Unless he has already memorized the word, he always gets his b's and d's mixed up, even when writing them (every single time). Has anyone else encountered this and what are some things that I can do with him that might help.
Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 1:09 pm

Halle mixes them up all the time, nearly every time. I'm looking forward to hearing some of the responses, though I think it's just a "give it time" thing. Max went through it & he eventually grew out of it. I'm hoping for that with Hal.

Oh, and just FYI, I stopped by Education Station yesterday & they have the clear, colored reading guides - you know, you put the colored sheet over their work and it's supposed to help them focus? I used it for the first time today & it seemed to help Halle not seem so overwhelmed by the page (I bought the blue 3x7 one). Just in case you're interested in trying it out with Brandon.
Dannielle wrote:I am hoping for the same thing that it's just a time thing. But maybe there is something I can do to help him. Just thought I would throw it out here.

About the reading guides. I have been meaning to pick one up. Right now I use an index card, sometimes two and it really helps him to focus one just one sentences instead of all of them.
MJ in IL
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Unread post by MJ in IL »

Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 1:24 pm

I drew a picture of a bed with the word "bed" if that makes sense. They liked that.

Also, I emphasize that with writing "b" you move down, up and around...while with "d" it is around, up and down.

With that said, I think it takes time. Even my oldest will sometimes mis-writes the b/d if he is thinking & writing! He typically catches it on his own though. For us, the reading of the sounds came more easily than the correct writing...probably because of visually "clumping" the letters in the word. (I'm sure there is a more techincal term for that:))
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Unread post by ShanMom »

Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 2:48 pm

I don't know if this would be helpful. My son mixed his up a lot and I had heard of a little way to remember that helped him.

Teach him to make the word "bed" using his hands:

Hold your hands up in front of you and connect the pointer and thumb of each hand (kind of like making the "okay sign". Your left hand will make a "b" and your right hand will make a "d". If he imagines that it spells the word bed with an e in the middle, then he can use that trick to help him remember which one is which.

Hope this makes sense.
Jenn in NC
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Unread post by Jenn in NC »

Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 3:45 pm

I don't know if you are all using (or have used) mfw 1st grade or not, but Marie covers this really well towards the beginning of the year in that program. It has helped my son tremendously.
Margaret Schrock
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Unread post by Margaret Schrock »

Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 5:20 pm

Last year we struggled all through First Grade with b and d. The bed thing just wouldn't soak in.

After I heard Dianne Craft at our convention at the end of the year I came home and drew a baseball and bat on the b and he got it in one day!I told him you use a bat to hit the ball. this year the Kindergartener got confused so I did the same thing and made a dog out of d. The dogs head comes first and then it's tail. I usually start crying when the lights come on in their eyes.
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Unread post by inHisgrip »

Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 6:27 pm

My ds is on the 2nd day of K today and we went through the a, b, c, d game cards. He knows his capital letters, but we are reviewing lowercase. Today was the first time this came up for him (and here it is on the board, amazing!).

I love the "bed" idea, but I don't think he will understand that completely yet. I tried to show him that the b's tummy was on the same side as the B's tummy, but the d's tummy was on the other side (make sense?). He got it after that, we'll see if it sunk in during our next lesson.

I'm loving these other ideas, and the info that Marie covers this in 1st too.
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Unread post by wisdomschool »

Posted: Thu Apr 10, 2008 10:08 pm

I just had to say that after I showed my son the dog thing about "d" and the bat and ball thing about "b" he got it--I mean he really got it! He hasn't mixed them up once since--I can't believe it--thank you so much!!!!!

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Handwriting Woes

Unread post by TriciaMR »

courthart246 wrote:My ds is 6 and a half and doing MFW 1st Grade. We are absolutely loving our year. We are about 6 weeks in.

However, he is really struggling with writing his letters and numbers backwards. He seemed to be doing fine, but now with more writing this year I am definitely noticing a regression. He especially has troubles with 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, b, d and s. Sometimes he gets them right, and sometimes he doesn't. He hardly ever gets his b and d right. If he is making a row of letters (all the same), he may be writing them all correctly and then will do one backwards. Also he does his double digits backwards - like 61 for sixteen.

With the b and d I am trying to use the bed thing from the workbook. I also posted a number chart for him to refer to, but it doesn't seem to be helping. Do I need to give him extra practice? Is there a curriculum that some of you have tried with a child who struggles with this? Is this something he will just grow out of as he practices? Any advice would be appreciated!
Some suggestions:

1. Have him write the numbers/letters on a chalkboard (more tactile feedback).
2. Have him write the numbers/letters in a tray with just a slight coating of sand (again, tactile feedback).
3. Have him write the numbers/letters big in the air (large muscle movement).
4. Go over the instructions on how to write the letter, and have him say them as he writes.

A trick for "b" - notice that when you say it, you start with your lips pressed together like a line. A trick for "d" - notice that when you say it, your mouth is open, like the circle part.

Another recommendation: Don't do ball and stick. Lowercase letters should be made using a single stroke. In other words, for "b" - start at the top, go straight down, bounce straight up off the line, then curve around your circle. For "d" - start with your circle (at the right at 2 or 3 o'clock), then as you finish your circle, slide straight up high, then straight back down, exactly over the line. You might consider Handwriting without Tears as they have lots of tactile activities, and very specific instructions for writing each letter.

I don't have many ideas for the numbers. My dd has gotten better about not reversing double digits, but it still happens some days. I just keep working with her.

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Re: Handwriting Woes

Unread post by NJCheryl »

I know when my daughter was in public school they said that this was common and usually works itself out. They said even through second grade to not really worry about it. My son is currently doing MFW1. He occasionally will write letters or numbers backwards. I bring it to his attention and have him correct it, but I don't make a big deal out of it.

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Re: Handwriting Woes

Unread post by doubleportion »

My dd mixed up her b and d up until the end of last year (2nd grade). She also tended to mix up 12 and 21 when she was your child's age. I think that some of it is very age appropriate. I would just gently correct it or draw attention to it, but don't make a "big" issue out of it. If he is still doing it by 3rd grade you might have to be concerned. The mixed up numbers sometime go hand in hand with really grasping the place value. I know that took my dd a while to get fully. Once she did, the flipping numbers stopped.

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Re: Handwriting Woes

Unread post by courthart246 »

Thanks so much for the encouragement. I think I just need to be patient for now and see if this passes. I am going to check into Handwriting Without Tears, as this is the 3rd time I've heard this suggested...not just on this board, but from my home school support group. But I am glad to know that this is not abnormal for a child his age. Thanks again for your imput!
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Re: Handwriting Woes

Unread post by RachelT »

Hi Courtney! First, I think that these reversals are common and they do take some time to work themselves out. My ds is dyslexic and has some of them at 8.5 yrs old, but my dd is not and is reading well for her age and she still makes some reversals, too, at 6 yrs 9months. If I catch them reversing a number, I just point to the number chart at their desk and say does this number look like that one? Then they correct it.

With letters, I do the same thing, but I learned a trick for a couple of letters from our reading curriculum. Hold your left hand in a fist with your thumb pointing up and it makes a "b". We say "balloons go up in the air", then we flip our left hand over so the thumb is pointing down and say "pigs go down in the mud" and we move our hand up or down while we are saying the words. Now my ds now knows how to check "b" and "p" and that "d" is on his "other" (right) hand.

We also have used Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) and it is so helpful!! One thing that it helps with is in giving the children a starting point for the letters as we practice them (so we can't reverse them). The double lines also simplify placement of the letters on paper. One way to practice some of the trickier letters would also be to use a little chalkboard or magnadoodle or whiteboard. HWT uses little chalk slates and they work well. There are lots of wonderful tricks and tips in the teacher manual now and they seem to keep expanding that section. I just received our new HWT books after taking a few weeks to decide if we needed them again. We do and I'm looking forward to more fun handwriting practice!

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Julie in MN
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Finished K and still not writing properly

Unread post by Julie in MN »

Caryn wrote:I just finished K with my ds who is a lefty, and who turned 7 on 3/29. He still doesn't know how to write his letters :( He's not having any trouble at all with reading, but when I ask him to write a letter, he has to stand and think about it, and invariably ends up writing it backwards. He only recently stopped writing from the right side of the page to the left.

Obviously his "lefty" tendencies are still very strong, and I don't know how to combat this. I also don't know how to move forward with first grade, when he's not writing his letters confidently.

***ETA: I do know that the advice in the beginning of the 1st TM is that we should practice - salt on a tray etc etc, but this kid is now 7, and we took TWO YEARS to do K while tagging along with his older sisters stuff too, so I feel like he really should be able to move on...yet he isn't.***

Does anyone have any advice? Thank you!
You should listen to David Hazell talk about their son who was almost 8 when he finally learned how to read, and now has graduated college at age 21 with two majors & more :)

In fact, you might call the office to find out exactly what they did. But my impression is that he moved on in general subjects with the family, but kept in K for language arts and math until he got it. If you do continue with K-level language arts, I wouldn't even hesitate to do salt trays unless he balks. My oldest might have balked, but my youngest would love salt trays (he's 14) :)

Also, if it's not really a reading problem but just a writing problem, you could conceivably move forward with language arts orally. Much of early writing is really observation and attention to detail, which can be done visually and orally. Then just continue working on writing at the intro level.

My dh requested that I go back over letter formation with my 8th grader this year, in hopes of improving his handwriting. He was a child who learned to read on his own and never spent enough time on the basics such as letter formation -- so time spent in those areas is never wasted, even on a reading child, IMHO. Another thing I used with him for a while (3rd-4th grade?) was HWT. That program has a way of starting with a "magic C" so the child simply must begin various letters with the formation of a nice round "C" which starts from the right side (and then continue to create the c, d, a, g, q, and on with variations from that).

Just some thoughts,
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Re: Finished K and still not writing properly

Unread post by jasntas »

Could there be another possible issue? Dyslexia, dysgraphia or some other issue? We believe my ds is dyslexic (which is why I brought that up.) Only we just haven't had him tested. Mainly due to the cost of the evaluation and right now there is no need since the evaluation is mainly for special accommodations in the classroom. We already have our own special accommodations. ;)

Anyway, last fall I taught my ds a trick for remembering the direction of b and d. I told him, "b chased c and it ran into d". And I would write b c d at the top of his papers until he felt he didn't need it any longer. He still sometimes forgets but for some reason it seemed to stick.

Another trick I recently learned for b, p and d (from the Barton System for dyslexics). Using your "left" hand make a fist, turn it so you can see the tips of your fingers, then raise your thumb. Look at the shape. (It's in the shape of a b). Notice your thumb is pointing up in the air. Balloons go up in the air. Using the same hand point your thumb down. Now it's the shape of a p. Pigs go down in the mud. If it's a d it won't match either direction. That's the condensed version but hopefully you get the idea. (I hope it’s ok to post this).

Agreeing with Julie. Handwriting Without Tears sounds like a good option for him. You could start over the summer, see how he does and go from there.

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Re: Finished K and still not writing properly

Unread post by cbollin »


((hugs)) friend. It is frustrating when we had a kid who just isn't like the others.....

have a letter writing strip on his desk to look at. It's ok if he needs it.
I've seen those in 2nd grader and 3rd grade class rooms so you can use one at home too.

figure out if there is something else going on like Tammy was suggesting.

HWT has been good for my leftie. It has visual and "verbal" cues.
I'm sure my friend Melinda Boring at HeadsupNow.com has something for handwriting stuff.

and a little perspective might help..... in my Life Group (at church), there are several group school teachers. One, a 4th grade teacher, was telling us the other night that she still has students who look at the paper and can't figure out the "front" from the "back'.... it's May already! said the frustrated school teacher! ack!

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Re: Finished K and still not writing properly

Unread post by dhudson »

My dd (almost 9) just recently stopped writing her numbers and letters backwards after much handwriting practice. She's been reading since she was 3 and has been reading chapter books since she was 6. Writing requires different skills than reading. After much research and talking to David Hazell and others, I found out that they usually don't diagnose writing problems until 8 or 9. You still have plenty of time, just patiently keep working at it and I would suspect that it will turn itself around by 9.
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Re: Finished K and still not writing properly

Unread post by TriciaMR »

One suggestion I have would be to do stuff 3-D. For example, draw a 3 on a 4 x 6 card, then have him roll out play dough or use string or sticky-sticks (whatever those are called) and "trace" over the number with the play dough. Put a starting dot and arrows, so he knows where to start and what direction to go. A little time consuming to do all the letters and numbers, but I think that helps. Or do it with legos or k-nex. Writing in sand or salt. Use sidewalk chalk on the driveway, and then have him drive his cars over it, going the right way (you may need 2 or 3 cars for 2 or 3 stroke letters/numbers - x, y, Q, X, Y, A, H, D, E, F, I, J, etc...).

My lefty has a problem with b/q/p/d, so I got out the Lauri letters and showed him how the were different. Showed him how to trace his finger over the letters in the right way for writing. I think that in writing, direction is important. For a d, the circle part MUST come first, and then the line has to be above the lines. So, I had to show him how they were different. It's funny, because we look at a dog, and no matter which angle we look at it, it's always a dog. But letters are different. A b is not a d, a q is not a p - direction does matter.

Some kids just take longer in the writing department. Go slow and gentle.

Trish - Wife to Phil, Mom to Toni(18), Charlie(14), and Trent(14)
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