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Helping your child with handwriting

For effective handwriting a person needs to develop their fine motor skills and motor control. A variety of activities that require body in space awareness, dexterity, manipulation and finger isolation will help in this development.

Seated Position

  • Feet supported i.e. flat on floor or foot rest (covered telephone books can be used for footrests)
  • Bottom well back in chair
  • Hip and knee at approximately 90˚ (make sure chair seat not creating a lot of pressure on the back of the legs)
  • Rest forearm comfortably on the table (no shoulder elevation or slouching over desk)

A guide for desk to chair height

  1. Person seated at desk;
  2. Bend elbow into fully flexed position;
  3. Bring other hand across body and place middle and index fingers against forearm at base of elbow, see diagrams
  4. Top of index finger is appropriate desk height
  • Hold head away from the paper
  • Stabilise paper with non-dominant hand
  • Paper/Book Position
  • Paper/book positioned so that writing done from the midline of the body.
  • Page slanted at an angle – lower midline corner closest to the body.

Holding the Pencil

  • Hold the pencil between the thumb and index finger and rest on the middle finger.
  • Fingers should be approximately 2-3 cm from the tip of the pencil.
  • (Use a rubber band or other mark around pen/pencil to indicate finger position if person holds pencil too close to the tip)
  • Use a pen/pencil with a larger barrel to encourage a better grip initially or if person has a weak grasp.
  • Use of pencil grips may also be of benefit .

Tripod grasp

…With open web space: The pencil is held with the tip of the thumb and index finger and rests against the side of the third finger.


Go Fingers

The thumb and index finger form a circle. (We refer to these as “Go Fingers”). The ring and little finger rest in the palm and are called the “stop fingers”.


Quadrupod Grasp

…With open web space: The pencil is held with the tip of the thumb, index finger, and third finger and rests against the side of the fourth finger. The thumb and index finger form a circle.


Adaptive tripod grasp: The pencil is held between the index and third fingers with the tips of the thumb and index finger on the pencil. The pencil rests against the side of the third finger near its end.

Other Considerations

Desk should contain only those items required for the writing task at hand.

  • Position desk within the classroom to enable student to see and hear the teacher without undue effort

If person is distractible, position at the front of the room facing the front.

  • Length of time engaged in writing task should be gradually increased.
  • Intersperse any written work (including drawing) with short rest periods – (relaxation exercises include:- having the person clench and relax hands, wiggle fingers, shake hands, roll shoulders for-ward and backward, up and down and slowly bring head forward with chin on chest then slowly extend head backwards.)

Some Helpful Hints for Handwriting

  • If pressing too heavily when writing – try writing on different surface textures including foam and balloons.
  • If holding the pencil too lightly – try increasing the size of the pen barrel (different size foam rubber tubing is available)
  • If holding pencil too tightly – try pens with textured grip support or use a foam “grab on” grip
  • If holding pencil too close to the tip, place some tape or a rubber band on pencil at correct position. This provides tactile feed-back to child of where fingers should be placed.
  • If bending over work or bringing face close to work surface, trial a slope desk or board. Degree of slope can be altered to suit individual. Ensure work surface to large enough for comfort and stability.

Warm up exercises

  • Stand, pushing whole hands down onto the desk several times so taking weight through hands like push-ups
  • Give hands a vigorous rub until they feel warm and tingly
  • Get Clancy Crab to do his push-ups so all fingers push into table
  • Push thumb tips into each finger tip of the same hand
  • Give fingers a massage and a shake

This article was published in Issue 5 of our print magazine, August/September 2014.

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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