Surprisingly there are few differences when teaching left and right-handed children to handwrite. A left-handed child needs a slightly different pencil grip, and needs to hold the pencil slightly higher up the shaft, as well as a different paper position and tilt. Some left-handed children do find handwriting challenging to start with because they naturally want to draw straight lines right to left rather than left to right.
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.
The correct paper position and tilt enables your child to handwrite comfortably while being able to see what they are writing. It also allows the non-writing hand to move the paper up the table so that the writing hand elbow can stay in the same position. The aim is to have the paper move up the table, rather than the writing hand moving down and eventually off the table.
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 most appropriate paper tilt angle is generally suggested as anywhere between 20 to 45 degrees anti-clockwise for right-handed writers and 30 to 45 degrees clockwise for left-handed writers.
For more tips and advice on developing a good paper position and tilt:
Young children love drawing on walls due to the stage of their physical development. They draw from the shoulder, rather than the elbow and wrist, using large arm movements. At this stage they prefer vertical drawing and painting surfaces as it allows a free range of movements. This is why they will write on walls (often newly decorated), not because they are meaning to be naughty but because it just feels comfortable and so more enjoyable.
Drawing and writing on a vertical surface is important at this stage as it helps young children develop the wrist strength and flexibility needed later to hold a pencil correctly for handwriting. Having the freedom to move more instinctively without restrictions means that a child is free to focus on other aspects, such as feeling the movement as they make shapes and gaining the confidence to have a go without fear of getting it wrong.
Esme at the age of 3yrs 9mths was very happy to draw (more scribbling) and colour sitting at the table but Mum was not quite sure how to move her on. So, the following idea was suggested; to tape some large pieces of plain paper up on a suitable wall for her to draw on with appropriately sized pens, crayons or chalks.
This was the response:
Message from Mum was:
“She’s loving this idea. She did a triangle and a ‘s’ all on her own with no encouragement.” As the day went on Esme revisited the drawing wall and later on that day this photo arrived:
Message from Mum: “She just did her name.” This had been the first time she had done this.
An easel was then ordered!
The jump from a vertical to a horizontal writing surface can seem too great for some children; due to their stage of development. If they are still using some large whole arm and/or big elbow movements then they may benefit from the paper being positioned on a sloped board.
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 pen 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.
Some children will hold the pencil in a tripod grip but develop a hooked hand position or move the elbow too far up the table, causing the forearm and wrist to be nearly horizontal with the table edge, because they feel they can see what they are writing more clearly.
A hooked grip puts unnecessary strain on the hand ligaments and forces the body into a poor sitting position, again putting extra strain on the body. This in turn makes handwriting a tiring and uncomfortable task, impacting on a child’s overall learning experience.
It takes time to correct a poor hand position but it is well worth the perseverance as it will enable a child to write freely and more comfortably.
When writing normally, encourage children to angle the paper appropriately as this will also help to correct a poor hand position. With the correct paper tilt they will always be able to see what they are writing. If the paper is tilted at the correct angle for them, they will find a hooked hand position, or having their forearm further up the table, more difficult and uncomfortable to maintain.
Some children will find writing on a sloped desk helpful. Not all 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 or 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, your child prefers. You may find that they only need the sloped board for a short while. It may also help to reduce the angle of the slope over time so that they gradually get used to moving from a sloped to horizontal writing plane.