Posture, Paper Placement, & Pencil Grip: 3 Links to Handwriting Success

Seating height is an important link to correct posture!
Seating height is an important link to correct posture!



Handwriting mastery is a complex skill. Yes, I admit that it is. But, just like any other skill, there are some basic procedures that must be learned before a beginner can hope to become a master. For handwriting success, there are 3 performance areas that simply need to be taught right from the start.



Let’s have a look at them, shall we?


1.  Posture

A writer’s sitting posture should be comfortable and provide a sturdy foundation for a smooth handwriting style. It’s very simple to figure out, really, if you remember the “90-90-90 Angle Rule.”

When students are seated at their desks:

  • Their feet should rest flat on the floor with a 90-degree angle at the ankles.
  • Their knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle about an inch away from the seat of the chair.
  • Their hips should be positioned at a 90-degree angle and nestled comfortably into the back of the seat.


These angles will allow the students to rest their elbows on the desk in a comfortable flexed position. For right-handers, it will also place their arm in a neutral position with a slightly flexed wrist for a smooth glide across the page. Left-handed writers should maintain a straight wrist position to avoid a “hooked wrist” handwriting style.


Important Note: This Angle Rule can only be followed if the chair is the appropriate height for the writer!   Why?

  • If the chair is too low, students may sit on their feet or hunch their shoulders to get a better look at their work.
  • If the chair is too high, their feet will dangle beneath them.   Students may sit on their feet to stabilize their bodies or slouch so that they can get closer to their work.

But, don’t fret! There are easy solutions to both of these problems.

  • For chairs that are too low, have the students sit on a book or sturdy cushion to bring the ankles, knees, and hips into the 90-degree angle.
  • For chairs that are too high, place a book under the students’ feet to provide the stabilizing 90-degree angle at the ankles.



2.  Paper Placement

Slanted paper and a 3-ring binder can facilitate a fluid handwriting style.
Slanted paper and a 3-ring binder can facilitate a fluid handwriting style.

There are two schools of thought about the appropriate placement of paper for handwriting success. The following is my preferred guidelines!

Handwriting mastery requires smooth wrist, elbow, and shoulder movements.   A slanted paper position allows the writer to use the hand, arm, and shoulder efficiently.


  • For all writers, the paper should be positioned at the student’s midline with the bottom angle placed about 1” from the lower edge of the desk.
  • For left-handed writers, the paper should be slanted to the right at about a 30-45-degree angle. This allows the writer to “push-rather-than-pull” his pencil across the page and to see where he is writing. This also helps him avoid smudging his work as he smoothly moves his arm across the page.
  • For right-handed writers, the paper should be slanted at about a 20-35-degree angle to the left.


The student’s helper hand should be placed on that side of the paper to stabilize and move it to facilitate a legible handwriting style. Each student will find his most comfortable paper slant as he begins to master his handwriting skills.


A tripod grasp is optimal.  But functional is more important than pretty!
A tripod grasp is optimal. But functional is more important than pretty!


3.  Pencil Grip

My Pencil Grip Motto is “functional is more important than pretty.” Although the tripod grasp is considered to be the optimal grasping pattern, many efficient handwriters have developed their own functional pencil grip. If a pencil grasp does not affect a student’s handwriting by making it illegible or causing him pain, then it is probably best to let sleeping dogs lie.


There are some simple rules that should be followed with any type of pencil grip.

  • The student’s hand should rest on the paper using the ring and little finger for support.
  • The fingers on the shaft of the pencil should provide stability using a comfortable pressure that does not cause hand or finger fatigue.
  • Smaller pencils are easier for students to learn and manage a pencil grip.


There are some unique rules for left- and right-handers to facilitate their handwriting success.


  • Left-handers should hold their pencils about 1 to 1 ½” from the point with the pencil top pointed toward the left elbow. This allows them to see what they are writing and helps to avoid smudging their work.
  • Right-handed writers can hold their pencils closer to the pencil tip if they can maintain flexible finger movements to guide their pencil strokes. If they find that their thumb, index, and long fingers become cramped, they should also use a higher position on the pencil shaft. Their pencil top should point toward their right shoulder.


Handwriting success depends upon a solid base of support. Posture, paper positioning, and pencil grip are three of the table legs that handwriting mastery stands on. Of course, the fourth leg is a structured, guided handwriting instruction program.


As always, I thank you for reading! Please be sure to comment, as I look forward to your feedback and learning from you!


See you soon,



Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

Author: otchic

Hi! I am a pediatric occupational therapist with a passion for handwriting! I have dedicated my practice to the assessment and remediation of children's handwriting skills and the education of teachers and therapists in handwriting development and remedial strategies.

6 thoughts on “Posture, Paper Placement, & Pencil Grip: 3 Links to Handwriting Success”

  1. Hi Katherine- First, let me say that I love reading your blogs. I have been practicing in the schools for the past 14 years. Although, I understand the need for proper positioning, I am finding it harder and harder to achieve. Many of the children I have assessed recently are using reflexive patterns while writing. No matter how I position them, their bodies always find a way to move back into the patterns I am trying to break. Are you seeing this same as well? They can have the best 90-90-90 position but as soon as their head turns to look at what they are copying, you can visually see the tonal changes occurring throughout their extremities and next thing you see is the child wrapping their legs around the chair, standing up, sitting sideways, etc. Any suggestions?

    1. Thank you, Stephanie, for reading my work! I appreciate your taking the time to do that. And thank you for reaching out with your question. Whenever I witness the behaviors that you are describing, my thoughts naturally turn to two things: vision skills and body awareness. They both require deep concentration to overcome their insufficiencies, thus they don’t allow for any attention that needs to be paid to posture. And, worse yet, they both interfere with posture if they are not efficient! A double-edged sword, you might say. So, what I do is go back to the basics and check on body awareness first. Test them with gross-motor activities such as cross-crawl, jumping jacks, Simon Says or crab walks. Then test their fine-motor skills with activities such as pat-a-cake, some of the Brain Gym Lazy 8’s and Double Doodle, and I especially like Mary Kawar’s Astronaut Training activity where the child stands with his back to a wall and turns to touch pictures on his left and right alternatively. (Sure wish I could remember the name of that one! My books are still packed from moving!) It is very effective for both visual and body awareness assessment and remediation. For Vision, I use simple gross-motor activities such as ball toss or tapping a soft ball hung from the ceiling in a rhythmic pattern. Then I assess their close vision skills with our typical OT scanning and tracking “follow the pencil” activities, as well as careful observation during all of the above activities to watch for the Red Flags that indicate the possibility of a vision concern. (I have a free download of Vision Red Flags Checklist on my website’s Resource Page.) If I find one of these to be an issue, I refer the parents to a developmental optometrist in the area for a full assessment. Vision skill deficits can result in postural adjustments to compensate for them. Body awareness deficits usually result in a child’s inability to determine where his/her body is, and therefore cannot determine where it should be for efficient use of it. After a while, a pattern develops where they have “found” a comfortable spot for their body to be in, and they just naturally revert to that position. Then, I work on those skills that I’ve noticed that are causing the handwriting/postural problems, with about 5 minutes at the end of the session on the actual production of handwriting or sitting in an efficient postural position. I hope I have helped. If you have further questions, feel free to email me again and ask for me to reply via email. Thanks again for reading! PS: Anyone else who has suggestions, please pipe in!

    1. Dear Katherine, as always I enjoy reading everthing you write. Than you so much. I call you my friend from Canada, but is that where you stay??? I also try to get my grandson to sometimes write with his closed eyes, to use just his brain and hand to form the letters. He does that, but prefers open eyes. I believe it helps with checking to see if he knows his spelling words, Have a good Easter. Marina