How to improve school children’s handwriting.

children & calligraphy

Out of sixty children, only a handful have beautiful handwriting, the rest display varying degrees of legibility. The worst resemble the footprints of a lame spider dragging itself across the page.

This post follows on from  SPACE ILLUSTRATIONS, and will give you a brief idea of one way to introduce children to Calligraphy.


Having discovered a dusty box of calligraphy ink floating around my school, and some rather rubbish calligraphy pens, I thought of a way to capture the children’s curiosity and make calligraphy a little more approachable. With my mother’s advice (she’s a calligrapher) readily available I  began to collect bird feathers, and other objects that could be made into pens.

Straws, feathers and lolly-pop sticks, were what I decided on. I spent half an hour with a scalpel sharpening the end of the 60 lolly sticks to a point. I then snipped the end off some straws, at an angle and tried my newly made pens out. I left the feathers as they were.


Straws (just a few per table), Lolly-pop sticks for everyone (cut a point on them), larger feathers, calligraphy pens (if you have any), ink, mason jar lids (to put ink in), square paper (we used tracing paper for the see through effect), scrap/warm up paper, tissue, hand writing pens, pencils, rubbers line guides, paper clips.


As always, I presented a series of stunning calligraphic images to inspire the children. And I introduced them to the gorgeous book of Kells. We journeyed through time, exploring calligraphy from different cultures and looked at calligraphy portraits.

Here are some of the images, Arabic/Welsh dragon, Michael Jackson, Little guy sitting in a ‘C’, Show them this armless man doing calligraphy with his mouth! (That should put any complainers in their place!!!)


  • Do they know what calligraphy is? Greek word meaning beautiful writing. (Kalei-beautiful & Graphay-to write)
  • Talk about illumination. What is it? How can it be used effectively? Illumination should compliment the words it illuminates. Get them to give examples of good illumination.
  • Why is the Michael Jackson image so effective for the modern eyes? (think about image, who he is, how size of writing changes, exciting, modern, keeps interest).
  • How is calligraphy useful for them? (card making, impressing someone e.g. job, hand written letter, thanking a teacher)


On each table were a selection of the hand made pens and ink in mason jar lids (between two children). I then instructed them to be absolutely silent as their eyes rested on where the pen met the paper. First get them to do the following, make sure you demonstrate on the white board.

  1. a series of straight lines, IIIII
  2. a series of horizontal lines, ==
  3. a series of semi circles that resemble CCC, but more open.
  4. a series of semi circles facing the other way.

You can just see the warm up sheet below.


Our theme was SPACE, so that was our chosen word to write in calligraphy. Because we’d been looking at Pattern & Symbols I showed them some ancient world symbols which they loved including in their illumination. You could adapt this to your own topics and bring in some cross curricular illumination and calligraphy.


After the warm up you will need to model on the board the steps to writing each letter.

  1. Start with the big capital. In pencil. Check round the class to make sure no one is working too small.
  2. Make the capital double lines in certain parts.
  3. Then move from letter to letter, breaking it down into manageable steps. Always do the circles first when a letter has one. Then do it’ s straight line. (Complete circles by doing the ‘C’ shape of it and then the other side ‘O’).
  4. Try and make sure that the serifs are parallel on the top of the letter and on the bottom.
  5. Go over the pencil lines in quill/pen and ink.
  6. Create a simple border.
  7. Keep an eye on left handers, they will need to be careful not to smudge their work. Remind them of this first!

Tell the children that calligraphy is like a mindometer! Every time they have a thought/get distracted there’ll be a little wobble in their work. This kept them quiet!

Most importantly! If you make a mistake on the board, it’s not a problem. Just point out why it’s not right and try again. No one’s perfect and they’ll be comforted by the fact that even you find it hard.


Space Calligraphy and Illumination

Space Calligraphy and Illumination

IMG_1557 IMG_1556 IMG_1555 IMG_1553Once the calligraphy was completed, the children then used hand writing pens to illustrate their work. They used the ancient symbols and the previous lesson’s illustrations to inform their illumination. You might notice an Oroborous, the Sun face, planets, black holes, stars, double spirals. I played them some quiet music at this point (Holst ‘s planets wasn’t so quiet though!!!)

IMG_1558 IMG_1560 Space Calligraphy


I stuck the tracing paper calligraphy onto some marbled paper that the children made last lesson and put the work up around the school.

  • Compose a haiku, write it in calligraphy and illuminate it. Maybe just illuminate a fancy capital letter for it.
  • Try writing on dried leaves.
  • Make paper old with tea bag and write a Tudor style letter from Anne Boleyn’s ghost to Henry VIII.
  • Make a calligraphic card for a pupil/teacher that is leaving.
  • Compose a calligram.
  • Just write and Illuminate the initial letter of your name.
  • Make your own class calligraphic manuscript.
  • Write a traditional tale in calligraphy and illuminate the first letter of the story.
  • Make a thick illuminated border for a piece of writing.
  • Marble some paper and then write calligraphy straight on it. (Turkish marbled calligraphy).
  • Try writing calligraphy in chalks, on the play ground.

NB Ancient symbols have many meanings developed over time. I always find the most uplifting and universal meanings for these to pass on to the children.


One thought on “How to improve school children’s handwriting.

  1. Pingback: SPACE Illustrations – 10 year olds | flaircreationsblog

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