Correct Paper Positioning for Handwriting. The Crocodile Mouth®

There is a best position for your book to be in when you are writing!  I am a straight-line girl.  I like my furniture against the walls; I love it when the books are shelved in a straight line; and I like the handles of the coffee mugs to be lined up in the cupboard.  But when it comes to writing, it is the one time I make an exception and let go of all of that!  Every time I see a picture of a child writing with their book straight with the edge of their desk, I want to grab it and angle it.  I have a thing about the correct paper positioning for handwriting!  And it is all about biomechanics.

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If you are sitting at a conference or workshop taking notes and you look around, you will see the greater percentage of people tilt their page.  Very few of the delegates position their book at 90° to their body.  We don’t think about it, it is unlikely that anyone taught us to do it, but we subconsciously find the correct paper positioning for handwriting which is the most efficient.

If we place our forearms on the table in front of us, and move our hands towards and away from each other, they will in all likelihood move at a 45° angle.  That is just our biomechanical make up.  Our arms do not move in a 90° angle at the side of our bodies like a robot.  Not only do they not rest there, our forearms do not move towards and away from our bodies at 90°.  They move more like windscreen wipers on a car, than like a robot.

Why is tilting your book best practice for handwriting?

We don’t think about our children’s biomechanical make up when they are writing.  We place their books parallel to the edge of the table.  “Put your books straight in front of you” rolls off our tongues without a second thought.  It looks neat and tidy and all looks good to go!  But is it best practice?

Wikipedia describes best practice as:
A best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard way of doing things.

Best practice for book position when handwriting is slanted.  Not straight.

If our children place their books straight, we are forcing their arms to move in a way their bodies were never designed to.  Either they end up writing with their arm in a side-on approach, or they have to make an sideways adjustment of their trunk and wedge their elbow into their body to keep their arm below their hand.

When do we start teaching correct paper positioning?

We call the triangular space between the bottom of the book and the table created by the tilted book, the Crocodile Mouth®.

Left handers have the open mouth on the left-hand side and write downhill.  Right handers have their mouth on the right and write uphill.

We introduce the Crocodile Mouth in Grade R when our children start with basic letter formation.  We have the crocodiles at the bottom of the left and right-hand side of the page.  The children all put their writing hands in the air and then choose the crocodile on the side of their working hand.  They ring that croc and then “open up his mouth” on that side.  If you aren’t lucky enough to have the Crocodile Mouth in your child’s books, he works just as well if you stick him on the table!  He is where it is at when it comes to correct paper positioning for handwriting.

Another method is to have your child place their arms on the table in front of them with their hands on top of each other.  The correct angle for the book is when it is lying parallel to the forearm.

It really is quite simple.  We need to angle our children’s books parallel to their forearm.  If we achieve this position, their forearm will naturally move towards and away from their bodies as they write, and will do so in keeping with their their God-given body biomechanics.

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If your child has always held their page straight, It may well feel strange when they first change the position.  But with time spent consistently using the correct position, it will be as if that straight book phase in their lives never happened!   If they struggle to remember, you can put tape at the bottom of their desk at the Crocodile Mouth angle or better yet, stick the crocodile in place – he is way more fun!  By the time the tape or croc has lost its luster, your child will probably have mastered the correct paper positioning for handwriting

The downside of the Crocodile Mouth® position

The downside of the Crocodile Mouth® position is that with little ones who are just starting to write, they do tend to get “dog ears” on the corner of their books.  In fact they don’t tend to.  They do.  And it doesn’t look pretty.  The edge of their book can overhang the edge of the table and as their body presses against the book, it can cause the corner to become bent and battered.  And none of us like that!  We like their books to look neat and tidy.  Neat and tidy books reflect both on us and our children.  I am a neat freak when it comes to my books.  I cover them all with plastic and try to keep them looking good.  So it isn’t that I don’t understand!  But sometimes we need to make sacrifices to achieve the ultimate goal.  Our ultimate goal is speed, quality and flow of handwriting.  And we are not going to achieve that fluid handwriting while the book is straight.  Our bodies just weren’t built that way.

Does the Crocodile Mouth® apply to both lefties and right handed children?

Absolutely!  Both lefties and right-handed children need this position.  The lefties need it because if they don’t tilt their books they are not going to able to see what they are writing.  Then they will most probably flex their wrist or “hook” their hands which is going to cause all sorts of other problems.  The right-handed children need it because it will allow their arms to move freely in their natural plane of movement.  And that is always better than forcing them to adapt to an unnatural one.

Working with, and not against, our body mechanics is going to facilitate the development of fluidity and flow of handwriting.  We have to get this right for our children.  Correct paper positioning for handwriting needs to be reinforced everyday and every time our children are writing.  The page positioning police are now watching you!

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

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