Writing Posture

We know the complexities of handwriting, and one of the contributing factors is good writing posture while sitting at a desk to write. Handwriting posture is a postural skill that impacts handwriting more than it might seem. When good posture is used at a desk, students have a sturdy foundation to complete school work. Look at it this way: even when there are other underlying issues contributing to handwriting challenges, an efficient writing posture at the desk gives the student one more tool in their toolbox. 

This blog post on writing posture was originally written October, 11, 2016.

Writing posture

Writing Posture

Writing posture makes a significant impact in handwriting skills. When handwriting challenges exist, taking a quick look at the seating position of the student is the first place to look. 

Occupational therapy providers often remind parents and others the value of proximal stability allowing for distal mobility. This concept is true in mobility tasks. Thinking about the proximal stability of the core of the body has on distal mobility and dexterity in the fingers, hands enables for refined dexterity and smooth motor skills in fine motor tasks.

The same is true for handwriting posture. 

When seated at a table or desk, the writing posture is everything. If a child is positioned with sloppy posture, they will not be able to utilize refined motions in the hands to write. 

Sitting posture during handwriting is a common problem for kids with sloppy written work. 

Try the techniques listed below to start from the beginning with proximal stability to help kids sit up and stop the slouched chair posture while writing.                        

writing posture

What does writing posture look like?

So often you see it.  A child sits at his desk with his feet stretched out into the aisles, his back rounded and slid down in his seat, with his arms stretched out over the desk and his upper body leaning to the side.  

Sitting Posture during handwriting matters.

Or you might observe this sight in any random classroom: The child hunched over his desk with his upper body held up by one bent elbow, legs stretched out under the desk in front of him, and his face almost touching the paper as his writing arm’s elbow is spread way out across the desk.  

Sitting posture during handwriting matters.

You can see all of the posts related to handwriting in the series over on the Easy Ideas for Better Handwriting Page which is a completed series of 30 handwriting quick tips. 

Be sure to join us in the Sweet Ideas for Better Handwriting facebook group.  There are so many lovely Occupational Therapists, educators, and parents who all strive to help kids with their handwriting. What a resource!

So, after you’ve tried all of the other methods, one way that can quickly improve legibility of written work is to address sitting posture during handwriting.  Asking kids to sit up straight can become a burden which is greeted with sighs but that upright sitting positioning can be a real game changer when it comes to legible written work.

Sitting Posture When Writing

Sitting is a dynamic task.  It is not a static position even during a fixed task like completing written work.  When a child is seated at a desk, there are many (MANY) variances in positioning and (sometimes more often than others) changes in those sitting positions. 

When a child is seated at a desk and are attempting to work on written work, functional positioning is a must.  Typically, this means a general 90/90?90 degree position at the hips, knees, and feet.  When we talk about the 90-90-90 angle rule positioning, we are referring to the joints at the ankle, knee, and hip. 

Starting at the floor, the feet should be flat on the floor positioned directly below the knees. The quad muscles should be parallel to the floor, which shows a 90 degree hip flexion. 

Slight Variences to Handwriting Posture

Students in the classroom move all day long. Sustaining a fixed posture throughout a class is simply not possible. Movements in the desk is typical. Given that, a sustained 90-90-90 angle rule will not be in place all day long. This is especially true for children using excess energy through movement in their seat.

Knowing this, there are adjustments to the handwriting posture that are acceptable. 

  • Slight forward lean (of hip flexion) so that the student leans toward the desk just slightly is typically effective. 
  • Classroom supplies won’t always have desk chairs that allow for proper positioning when writing. Especially for the middle school and high school stuedents that switch classrooms throughout the day, there may be many different chairs used during a typical school day. Slight adjustments as a result of discrepancies of 1-2 inches in different in seat heights may be acceptable.

Factors impacting Writing Posture

There are several underlying contributions that have a large impact a child’s posture.

The factors that play into proper posture during writing include:

  • Poor core strength
  • Flexion at the hips with an upright back
  • Strait on positioning so that the student is square to the desk
  • Legs parallel and in neutral position
  • Feet flat on the floor
  • Dominant arm slightly abducted at the shoulder with the elbow flexed
  • Elbows even with the desk surface
  • Wrist slightly extended enabling a functional pencil grasp (Read about wrist extension)
  • Non-dominant arm is slightly abducted with a flexed elbow enabling stabilization and re-positioning of the paper.
  • Ability to make quick fixes related to posturing
  • Proper desk size
  • The child’s chair size
  • Habit: A child might be used to slouching at their desk and this as well as other bad handwriting habits can have an impact

When these positions are unable to be used during written work, handwriting may suffer.

Slouched writing posture

Slouching at desk

You have probably seen many students that are slouching at their desk. Did you ever wonder why are they so slouched??

There are many reasons why students might present with poor posture while writing:

  • Chair or Desk Size (An appropriately sized desk and chair is essential. Read more about an Occupational Therapist’s opinion on this pet peeve in the classroom.)
  • Fatigue and discomfort
  • Inattention
  • Cognitive reasons
  • Sensory needs (fidgeting or wiggling)
  • Physical disabilities
  • Core weakness: poor core strength can be a result of lack of physical activity, loose ligaments, etc.
  • Boredom
  • Visual difficulties (students may adjust their posture to accommodate for lacking visual skills)
  • Retained primitive reflexes (Retained Spinal Gallant reflex)
  • Lower back pain (this can be related to poor posture as a result of tablet use)

When addressing posture when writing, it is important to consider the underlying reason.  To address correct posture, start at the pelvis.  

The pelvis provides a stable base for support while sitting.  Following appropriate positioning and tilt of the pelvis, the legs should be parallell and neutral so that the length of the thighs are supported by the chair. When the feet are resting flat on the floor, the thighs are provided with appropriate weight distribution through the pelvis.

Once the lower body is positioned appropriately, the upper body can be positioned into a functional placement.

Good upper body posture while sitting follows pelvic symmetry.  The child that leans over to the side while writing is most likely shifting their weight through the pelvis in a lateral tilt, rotating the thighs, and elevating the feet. 

Proper and appropriate posture utilizes a similar curve of the spine that happens while standing. A slouched position of the shoulders and upper back can pull the whole body down to the desk surface. 

Manipulation skills of the hands depend on the stability and symmetry of the trunk in order to allow the child to control the pencil and paper.  For the child who positions the elbow tucked in at their side, there may be underlying core weaknesses or pelvic/thigh positional problems. 

Writing posture cue cards

Handwriting Posture Cue Cards

These handwriting cue cards are great for the student who needs a quick visual reminder of proper positioning.  These cards can be placed on the desk or reproduced on a large scale and hung on a bulletin board.

These are a great way to talk over the parts of sitting posture that make up the “write” way to sit.  Simply work through this activity with kids in a whole classroom activity.  This is a great way for school-based Occupational Therapists to “push in” to the classroom while working on a valuable writing goal area.

Hand out a colorful index card to each student.  A brightly colored card may be just the pop of color that adds a high contrast visual prompt when taped to the desk.  Work through the parts of appropriate posture as you draw a person and chair in step by step parts on the blackboard or at the student’s desk.

Students can copy and create their own cue card.  Once the student has drawn their “write” way posture card, they can be checked over for accuracy as a way to recap and double check the student’s understanding of good sitting posture.

More tips good seating posture when writing:

Affiliate links are included in this post.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

  • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
  • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
  • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
  • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
  • Tips to improve pencil grip
  • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

writing posture

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