A Handwriting Without Tears training course was the first place that I heard, as a pediatric occupational therapist, how important correct paper placement (on a slight angle) really is when you teach children to write. Last week a mom who is also a licensed teacher reminded me.
Her son is very bright but has more than a few issues that make handwriting a real challenge. He has been developing a better right-handed tripod pencil grasp, but she asked me how he could see the letters he was writing. I didn’t know what to say at first, and then realized that I probably had not mentioned paper placement since I started working with him in the summer. He had so many things going on at the time, she must have forgotten my long ago handout and brief explanation. If she was placing practice sheets placed horizontally in front of him, his wrist and hand would obscure his view of his fingertips as he wrote. Time for a review. This post is for her and for all the parents and therapists that aren’t thinking about paper position, just sitting position and finger position on a pencil.
Correct paper placement is important for being able to see the letters as you write them, but also for allowing a child to use the natural and comfortable angle of the elbow, wrist and forearm. Why wouldn’t a child turn their paper in a way that feels natural? Well, writing is a new skill so it all feels awkward, but most importantly, kids follow our lead. If we place a page horizontally in front of them, they assume that we know best. They will ignore how awkward it feels. They may just say they don’t like to write. Oops.
Kindergarteners do not place their paper correctly unless one of two things has happened:
- They are born mimics and motivated writers, so they copy everything an adult does when writing.
- An adult has taught them to slant their paper when writing.
Should they slant their paper for coloring in preschool? If they are just writing one or two letters on a page, probably not. Some children do not have a solid pencil grasp well into preschool, sometimes closer to 5 years of age. They are moving their whole wrist and maybe even their forearm, and can see their brief work decently. It is the combo of mature pencil grasp and sustained writing across a page that makes it necessary to turn the paper. If they have mad skills and have advanced to kindergarten writing early, then yes, it’s time to teach paper placement.
Lefty alert! Some lefties need a greater paper angle and parents who are righties need to make sure they are reversing the paper angle for a left-handed child. BTW, if your child has a different dominance than yourself, you need to allow them to cross letters like “T” and “J” in the other direction if they choose to do so. It is totally acceptable.
BLOG OP-ED: With the advent of push button toys and daily tablet play giving toddlers less of a chance to build coordination, some OTs wonder if fine motor development milestones will need to be recalculated and skewed older!