Positioning the paper correctly for handwriting
The paper position and tilt on the desk, for both right and left-handed writers, can make a big difference to a child’s handwriting experience and comfort and yet it is an element which is often neglected. By positioning and tilting the paper correctly the writing hand stays in one comfortable position on the table and the non-writing hand moves the paper diagonally up the table (while maintaining an appropriate paper tilt angle). With the non-writing hand moving the paper up the table the writing line stays in the same place which means eye movements are less, helping to make the writing experience less tiring and stressful. If the paper is positioned and tilted correctly, with their writing hand under the writing line, they will also be able to see more easily what they have just written and where to place the next letter, word or section of text on the page. This is especially important for left-handed writers.
The key elements to positioning the paper when handwriting
Supporting a child to position and tilt their paper correctly for handwriting
- Writing paper can be angled between 20-45 degrees to the left (anti-clockwise) for right-handed children and between 30-45 degrees to the right (clockwise) for left-handed children. Handwriting specialists tend to have a slightly different view on the best paper position angle of the slant. Try different angles to see which is most comfortable and makes writing seem easier.
- A tip for keeping the paper positioned at a 45 degree angle, until it becomes a habit, is to fold over the left hand lower corner of the paper for right-handed writers and the right hand for left-handed writers. The fold is then positioned so that it is parallel to the edge of the table closest to the child.
- The paper position should NOT be on the edge of the table but be raised so that the elbow of the writing hand is resting on the table to maintain the head and elbow triangle. This will also allow the writing hand to remain below the line of writing. For a right-handed child the lower left hand corner of the paper should be close to, but not crossing, the mid-line point (the line that goes down the body through the middle of the chest and belly button). For left-handed writers the lower right hand corner should be close to, but not crossing, the child’s mid-line point.
- Not all children are comfortable writing or drawing on a flat surface and may benefit from the paper being positioned on an angled or sloped board. If you are not sure, instead of buying a specialist board, you could make one. Try using a ring binder or lever arch file stuffed with magazines and newspaper to make a sloped board. Tape the edges to stop the papers falling out, you could cover it in sticky back plastic to give a smoother finish to the board. The advantage of this is that you can make them to any angle of slope. Try a few to see which, if any, the child prefers.
- When copying or doing spellings it may be best to place the writing to be copied on the child’s left side for right-handed writers and on the right for left-handed writers, so they can clearly see what they are copying.
Hand position for handwriting
We often talk about the most appropriate grip for handwriting being the tripod grip; but this usually only refers to finger position. It is easy to forget the importance of the actual hand position in relation to the pencil and paper for handwriting. The ideal position is for the hand, wrist and elbow to be below the tip of the pencil and under the writing line for both left and right-handed writers.
Correct Paper Positioning for Handwriting. The Crocodile Mouth®
There is a best position for your book to be in when you are writing! I am a straight-line girl. I like my furniture against the walls; I love it when the books are shelved in a straight line; and I like the handles of the coffee mugs to be lined up in the cupboard. But when it comes to writing, it is the one time I make an exception and let go of all of that! Every time I see a picture of a child writing with their book straight with the edge of their desk, I want to grab it and angle it. I have a thing about the correct paper positioning for handwriting! And it is all about biomechanics.
If you are sitting at a conference or workshop taking notes and you look around, you will see the greater percentage of people tilt their page. Very few of the delegates position their book at 90° to their body. We don’t think about it, it is unlikely that anyone taught us to do it, but we subconsciously find the correct paper positioning for handwriting which is the most efficient.
If we place our forearms on the table in front of us, and move our hands towards and away from each other, they will in all likelihood move at a 45° angle. That is just our biomechanical make up. Our arms do not move in a 90° angle at the side of our bodies like a robot. Not only do they not rest there, our forearms do not move towards and away from our bodies at 90°. They move more like windscreen wipers on a car, than like a robot.
Why is tilting your book best practice for handwriting?
We don’t think about our children’s biomechanical make up when they are writing. We place their books parallel to the edge of the table. “Put your books straight in front of you” rolls off our tongues without a second thought. It looks neat and tidy and all looks good to go! But is it best practice?
Wikipedia describes best practice as: A best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard way of doing things.
Best practice for book position when handwriting is slanted. Not straight.
If our children place their books straight, we are forcing their arms to move in a way their bodies were never designed to. Either they end up writing with their arm in a side-on approach, or they have to make an sideways adjustment of their trunk and wedge their elbow into their body to keep their arm below their hand.
When do we start teaching correct paper positioning?
We call the triangular space between the bottom of the book and the table created by the tilted book, the Crocodile Mouth®.
Left handers have the open mouth on the left-hand side and write downhill. Right handers have their mouth on the right and write uphill.
We introduce the Crocodile Mouth in Grade R when our children start with basic letter formation. We have the crocodiles at the bottom of the left and right-hand side of the page. The children all put their writing hands in the air and then choose the crocodile on the side of their working hand. They ring that croc and then “open up his mouth” on that side. If you aren’t lucky enough to have the Crocodile Mouth in your child’s books, he works just as well if you stick him on the table! He is where it is at when it comes to correct paper positioning for handwriting.
Another method is to have your child place their arms on the table in front of them with their hands on top of each other. The correct angle for the book is when it is lying parallel to the forearm.
It really is quite simple. We need to angle our children’s books parallel to their forearm. If we achieve this position, their forearm will naturally move towards and away from their bodies as they write, and will do so in keeping with their their God-given body biomechanics.
If your child has always held their page straight, It may well feel strange when they first change the position. But with time spent consistently using the correct position, it will be as if that straight book phase in their lives never happened! If they struggle to remember, you can put tape at the bottom of their desk at the Crocodile Mouth angle or better yet, stick the crocodile in place – he is way more fun! By the time the tape or croc has lost its luster, your child will probably have mastered the correct paper positioning for handwriting
The downside of the Crocodile Mouth® position
The downside of the Crocodile Mouth® position is that with little ones who are just starting to write, they do tend to get “dog ears” on the corner of their books. In fact they don’t tend to. They do. And it doesn’t look pretty. The edge of their book can overhang the edge of the table and as their body presses against the book, it can cause the corner to become bent and battered. And none of us like that! We like their books to look neat and tidy. Neat and tidy books reflect both on us and our children. I am a neat freak when it comes to my books. I cover them all with plastic and try to keep them looking good. So it isn’t that I don’t understand! But sometimes we need to make sacrifices to achieve the ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is speed, quality and flow of handwriting. And we are not going to achieve that fluid handwriting while the book is straight. Our bodies just weren’t built that way.
Does the Crocodile Mouth® apply to both lefties and right handed children?
Absolutely! Both lefties and right-handed children need this position. The lefties need it because if they don’t tilt their books they are not going to able to see what they are writing. Then they will most probably flex their wrist or “hook” their hands which is going to cause all sorts of other problems. The right-handed children need it because it will allow their arms to move freely in their natural plane of movement. And that is always better than forcing them to adapt to an unnatural one.
Working with, and not against, our body mechanics is going to facilitate the development of fluidity and flow of handwriting. We have to get this right for our children. Correct paper positioning for handwriting needs to be reinforced everyday and every time our children are writing. The page positioning police are now watching you!
©Bunty McDougall Occupational Therapist
Get your Correct Paper Positioning for Handwriting graphic by entering your details in the form below:
" * " indicates required fields
Get your Correct Paper Positioning Crocodile Mouth® graphics by entering your details in the form below:
In the mood to shop?
- Terms & Conditions
© 2023 The Happy Handwriter, The Wall & Bunty McDougall . The Content On This Site May Not Be Reproduced, Republished Or Mirrored In Any Shape Or Form.