Handwriting - It's All In The Details

Posted: September 10, 2020 | Updated: September 10, 2020
Created by: Ms. Sylvia

Handwriting is very much a study in details. Carefully forming each letter, carefully paying attention to the height and placement of your writing… all that is important, but the details that truly set you up for optimal learning go beyond precision. I’m talking about the ergonomics of writing.

Good Posture

One of the keys to good handwriting is good posture. What does good posture look like? Here’s my answer: sitting up straight in your chair (“like the king or queen you are”, I used to tell my youngest students) with feet on the floor, shoulders rolled back and relaxed, so that your chest is “open” and expanded, chin slightly tucked, head raised as if a magical thread sprang from the very top of your head and were held gently taut by an invisible fairy hovering one foot above you. (Whew!)

Setting the Scene

Finding a space where you can assume this posture is not always easy, especially when working at home. The writing surface a child uses has a huge impact on the quality of their writing, so it’s important to set up a working environment thoughtfully.

Desk and chair height are the most important considerations to take into account. When seated, a child’s hips, knees, and ankles should be at right angles and the desk should be about 1 inch above the child’s bent elbow. Ideally, their feet should touch the ground.

If the desk is too high, it causes tension in the shoulders, which can lead to headaches and fatigue. Of course, you can add cushions to a child’s seat to raise them to the height of the desk, but it is ideal for feet to touch the ground. If the desk is too low, we end up hunched over our work. This can be solved by inserting wooden blocks below the legs of the desk, though the desk then becomes less steady. For this reason-- if you have the time and resources-- setting up your children’s desk at the ideal height is a great investment.

Children come in all shapes and sizes and their desk space needs to be right for their specific needs. As we know, growing children also change those shapes and sizes through the school year, so finding an adjustable seating option is ideal.

Of course, our homes come in various shapes and sizes, too. Staking out an optimal oasis for each person in the home to work in can sometimes seem to be an impossible task! I can relate. I’m writing this on a TV tray that we’ve turned into my desk due to space constraints. As long as it’s at the right height and I am using good posture, I can write on it for long periods of time and I appreciate the flexibility it gives me to work in different rooms. Take a look around your living space and take note of the constraints and possibilities.

With those constraints in mind, it’s time to start planning your work spaces! How you ultimately set up your learning space depends on your children’s needs and, of course, any constraints that you may have, but I found this article from the New York Times extremely helpful in reviewing my options.

I also love the idea of creating and installing your own fold-down desk, if it works in your space. My parents made me one as a child and I loved it! It was very simple, like this design, but I also love the more elaborate look of this design from HGTV. Whatever version you choose, the benefit of installing your own fold-down desk is that you not only save space when it is not in use, but you also can choose the height to fit the needs of your child.

Pencil Grip

One more material is helpful, but not necessary, for developing or correcting pencil grip. Using these ergonomic supports can form good habits. I recommend exploring products from The Pencil Grip. If you’re only ordering for your family and not a class, I recommend this beginning set from The Pencil Grip, which includes their “writing claw”, or the three-step training pack for progressive learning.

Of course, pencil grip is much more than tricks and tools. The tripod grip gives students the best control over their motions and optimizes hand muscle movements.

However, it’s not only the hand that influences pencil grip. When we hold a pencil to write, the shoulder and arm muscles are also involved. Gross motor skills need to be built in order to improve their strength, so activities like jump roping, climbing, crawling, and pulling.

For more information about improving pencil grip, I turn to the recommendations of an occupational therapist. Your school may have a wonderful occupational therapist available for consultation, but if not, these general recommendations from “OT Mom” for developing a proper pencil grip are a wonderful starting point.

Further Reading

To learn more about the importance of handwriting and the importance of its ergonomics, Audra Mccallen’s excellent book “Teaching Children Handwriting” is a wonderful resource for more information.