Help left-handers get it right

Around 10 per cent of the population is left-handed. Left-handedness is not considered to be a special educational need in itself, but it is widely accepted that left-handed children may need extra support

You can help them to adapt to a right-handed environment by familiarising yourself with some of the potential pitfalls for left-handers. There is also a wealth of resources and equipment available to help left-handed children, their teachers and their parents.

If you don’t know what it feels like to be left-handed in a right-handed world, attempt to write your signature with your non-writing hand. Better still, go online to the Left-Handers in Society website and click on ‘basic problems’ (this can work well as a topic for students to explore as well).

Left or right? Developing handedness

It is generally agreed that hand-preference is established early on: between 18 months and three years of age. But it can continue to develop until the age of nine. There are varying degrees of left-handedness: some children write with their left hand but use their right for other tasks. Until the 1940s children who showed a preference for their left hand routinely had their left hands tied behind their backs at school. This was to force them to use their right hand. Psychologists nowadays stress the importance of allowing children to develop hand-preference in their own time.

* With younger children who are developing hand-preference, it is essential to make sure that objects such as pens or pencils are presented to them in the middle of their body. Do not push writing objects into either their left or right hand.

The write stuff

Many children, not just left-handers, experience difficulties in producing clear and legible handwriting. Left-handers may be more likely to slip into mirror-writing (flowing from right to left on the page) or to smudge their work. Some left-handers may write more slowly than others. This can be especially problematic for exams and tests.

The good news is that much of the equipment designed for left-handers is geared towards writing. Mainstream shops, such as the Early Learning Centre, stock useful products. Specialist pens with left-handed nibs, pencils and pencil-grips are widely available (see ‘resources’ below).

Softer lead pencils are recommended for left-handers.

Children who struggle with drawing lines neatly may benefit from a left-handed ruler (with a zero on the right and numbers running towards the left).

Left-handers are likely to find it easier to write leaning on pads and books, rather than on single sheets of paper.

Specific guidance for teachers on helping left-handers with writing is given in the Left-Handers Handbook and training video (see ‘resources’).

Whiteboards with wipeable pens can pose a challenge. Left-handers have a tendency to wipe off what they have just written as they go along. Tilting the board to the right may help (for left-handed teachers as well!).

Left-handers are actually at an advantage with the normal QUERTY keyboard as 57 per cent of typing is done with the left hand. However, the position of the numeric keypad on the right may cause problems for some. Specialist keyboards are available.

More commonly, left-handers experience difficulties with a right-handed mouse. Either supply an ergonomic left-handed mouse, or ensure that one mouse is set up for left-handers.

Children who experience real difficulties in writing and drawing may benefit from a sloping board. Handwriting experts suggest a sheet of hardboard to help promote good positioning for writing.

Positioning matters: of the child, of the hand, of the pen, of the desk.

If a left-hander is seated to the right of a right-handed person they will bump elbows. This is particularly problematic where space is limited. Keep left-handers to the left of a double desk. Ideally, they should not have a wall to their left.

Make sure they have enough room. Left-handers may need more space as they will be working at a different angle to right-handers.

Left-handers write into their bodies and may develop an awkward writing posture. This is usually to avoid smudging their work, or so that they can see what they are writing. Be sensitive to this when positioning them for activities.

Some workstations or conference-style desks with a right-handed rest will be impossible for left-handers to use.

Get a grip

Triangular pens, special nibs and certain pencil-grips can all prove problematic for left-handed children. But remember that everyday tools may also be harder for left-handed children to use. A survey of children for the Centre for Left Handed Studies found that 43 per cent had difficulty using potato peelers and 26 per cent could not master knitting or sewing skills. At an even simpler level:

Left-handed scissors are essential. Make sure there are enough pairs available and that they are easily identifiable. Mark left-handed equipment or keep in different-coloured wallets.

Many left-handed children struggle with compasses. Left-handed ones are produced and many children find these helpful.

Fun and games

If you are demonstrating an activity, such as craft or a sporting technique, it will help to face left-handers. This means that they can see a mirror-image of themselves. The exception to this method is writing, as it may induce mirror-writing.


Diane Paul is the author of The Left-Handers Handbook (see ‘resources’). She warns that a wealth of mythology and misinformation surrounds left-handedness. ‘There is no proof that left-handers differ from right-handers in terms of educational attainment or IQ. They are not all geniuses or members of an elite group, any more than they are all disturbed, schizophrenic or low achievers’.

See this lesson plan to explore the perspective of left-handed people coping in a right-handed society. It also links to famous left-handers webpage.

Encourage left-handed children to join the Kids club at

Leftie parents

Some parents may be concerned about their left-handed child, particularly if they do seem to write in an awkward fashion, or if their writing appears illegible. They can be directed to sites such as which has practical advice for parents. It also lists equipment, school packs and educational games to help left-handed children achieve their potential.


Visitado em 17/06/07