Handwriting Without Tears “Wet-Dry-Try” App Review

HWT 001-001

The search for the perfect app can easily become overwhelming. I have to admit, I feel inept as a therapist if I don’t have the latest and greatest program on my iPad. I’ll see another therapist working on something with a client and say, “Hey, what’s that app? Why don’t I know about that?”

However, there have definitely been a few front runners in the OT world. One of those just happens to be the Handwriting Without Tears “Wet-Dry-Try” app.

Just to review: Handwriting without Tears is a handwriting program I use frequently in the clinic. (To brush up on the different handwriting programs, check out this post: The Handwriting Debate: Which Program is Best?)

As I’ve mentioned before, I really like the Handwriting Without Tears program not only because of its effective verbal instructions and letter groupings, but because of the many different modalities or multisensory activities that you can use to teach the letters.

One of those activities is called the “wet-dry-try” slate board. The child uses a small chalkboard to write a letter in chalk, erase it along the same lines with a wet sponge, dry it with a paper towel, and then write it all over again:

HWT Chalk Board Sequence

This process does a few things:

– Reinforces letter formation sequence due to the fact that the child is going through the motions several times to erase, dry, and then copy each letter.

– Provides strong visual cues, because even when you erase and dry the letter, you still see the faint outline on the chalkboard.

– Gives kids a ton of confidence because they feel as if they are making the letter by themselves, even though they can still see the outline on the board.

-Using a short piece of chalk, small sponge, and small piece of paper towel all promote a tripod grasp without the child even realizing it.

In the digital age that we live in, Handwriting Without Tears decided they would turn this activity into an “app”, so that it could be replicated on a tablet device. When I first heard of this idea, I was SO excited. There are many writing apps that use Handwriting Without Tears letter formations, but to have the real deal? Shut up and take my money!

Ok, wait, let me admit, the $4.99 price tag was annoying for someone like me that loves free apps. When I pull up an app on iTunes and it doesn’t say “free” next to it, I pout like a little kid. What?! $0.99 for an app? Whoa, $2.99? How dare you, evil companies?! Ok, ok, so it’s not that bad. I downloaded it and tried it out immediately with some of my clients.

When you select a letter to practice, some sweet old lady voice instructs you in the letter formation as a demonstration.

HWT 001

Then she has you erase the letter with the small sponge.

HWT 004

Then you dry the letter with the little towel.

HWT 006

Then it’s the child’s turn to write the letter. (Note that you can still see the letter outline, just like if you were using a real chalkboard.)

HWT 007

Great right?

Yeah, not so much. This program is ridiculously sensitive, meaning that if you aren’t exactly on top of the imaginary lines while you are tracing the letters, it kicks you back to start the stroke again. You can adjust the difficulty level somewhat based on the “star level” you choose from the main menu (and they did release an update to give it a little more leeway). Regardless, if I can’t even reach across the table to assist a child in making a correct stroke, then it is too darn difficult.

Each time you slide off of the guideline, that sweet old lady lets you know. “Oops, try that again.” (This starts to get old quickly.) And then, after a few trials of missing the line, the program makes you watch the entire letter demonstration again. This delay usually frustrates my clients, and they quickly ask to do something else.

Remember when I said this activity is all about confidence and letter strokes? That becomes lost in this app.

You also lose the opportunity for the child to manipulate those small items like the chalk, sponge, and towel. You can still work on finger isolation to use one finger on the iPad, or use a small stylus to promote an appropriate grasp. Still, this is not a multisensory or kinesthetic task.

I know you can’t always drag out a chalkboard, wet sponge, and chalk in your day to day life, but in therapy, I think it is always the better choice. However, if you want your kids to practice at home, at least you know this program will not allow your child to make an incorrect stroke. I also have to admit that the verbal cues are nice for parents who might not remember all of the Handwriting Without Tears cues.

So yes, I have recommended this app to families. I remember one family in particular that was trying out home school, and wanted something they could use at home besides the Handwriting Without Tears workbooks. Plus, their child was way more motivated by the iPad than traditional paper and pencil tasks. (Gee, sound familiar to anyone?)

They came back the next week renaming this app “Handwriting With a LOT of Tears”. They had to completely stop practicing with this app because it made their child so upset when he couldn’t get his strokes right on the money.

I know, I know- I work with children with special needs, so this program might be a little more challenging for them. However, I feel like as a (mostly) typically functioning adult, this app shouldn’t be that challenging for me. But guess again. I’ve been so frustrated with it that I’ve had to toss it aside a few times. How can an app make me question my own letter formations?

So weigh the pros and cons for yourself before you buy. You probably know best if your child will become way too frustrated with this program. In the grand scheme, it’s only $5, and I’ve wasted way more money than that on therapy tools that didn’t work out.

I will probably still recommend this app to parents, but with a warning. In all honesty, I’m more likely to recommend an app like Dexteria ($3.99) that has uppercase and lowercase letters to practice. Plus Dexteria has additional games that promote fine motor control and pinch.

If anything, I’ve learned that an app is more than just a brand name.


About TheAnonymousOT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist
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6 Responses to Handwriting Without Tears “Wet-Dry-Try” App Review

  1. I feel that the benefit of Wet-Dry-Try in “real life” is the sensory input that a child receives from the chalk, the sponge and the paper towel action that is so essential to giving them the sensory motor input for learning. I wondered about the App and that’s why I never purchased it. Thanks for the feedback.

  2. Ina says:

    I agree with you, I’ve tried the app as well, and it’s too sensitive and frustrating. I had my (typical) pre-K son try it out, and he quickly got frustrated with it and refused to use the app. I can’t even imagine using the app with a special needs kiddo. I haven’t tried the update yet though, might as well see if it’s improved the app any.

  3. Tiffany H. says:

    Have you tried Letter School? It also teaches correct formation but is more “fun” in my opinion. My little guy (3.5 years) in therapy for sensory and fine motor help will spend a long time on Letter School and I help with the letters he can’t do yet but it’s great practice.

    • Letter School rocks! I really like it for kids learning their letters, plus it is great for visual “form constancy” because it presents the letter in many different ways. Thanks for the tip Tiffany!

  4. meg says:

    I agree with the comments about the HWT app. There is a setting to decrease the sensitivity but it is still very sensitive. I work with the Deaf and hard of hearing and without any sort of auditory feedback it’s even more frustrating. The HWT online tools for the Smartboard is good however. As far as letter writing apps, I love both Letter School and Dexteria as well as an app called My Name. and Ready to Print. All good apps for practicing letter formation. Nothing beats paper and pencil practice but it’s not quite as much fun as the apps!

  5. Deb Wolke, OT/L says:

    I looked at the HWT app and decided not as well. Cost was one thing, but seemed limited as well. I use Write My Name, Ready to Print, Dexteria, Injini. Great apps! I have a couple other apps, but don’t use them.


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