Grass Line, Magic C, Spacing, Oh-My!

Different handwriting programs use certain words and terminology that can be confusing to parents, new teachers, and therapists. It’s so much easier for our kids when everyone uses the same language.

Language matters when it comes to handwriting.

  1. Use the same language consistently when teaching
  2. Follow the language of the program the child is learning
  3. Get the team on board! Send information to the parents so they use the same language, too!

50 common handwriting terms that parents should know

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Handwriting Terms & Definitions

  • 90-90-90 position – the ideal position of the body for writing; having one’s elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, hips at a 90-degree angle, knees at a 90-degree angle, and feet flat on the floor.
  • Automaticity – the ability to automatically and accurately form letters through motor planning, requiring little to no effort.
  • Ball and Stick – lifting the pencil and making a second stroke to complete the letter formation. For example, using ball and stick, the letter b is taught by making a vertical line and then lifting the pencil to draw a circle. (Ball and stick is NOT best practice!)
  • Baseline/Bottom Line – the line on which most letters rest.
  • Capital Letter – an uppercase letter or a letter that is not lowercase
  • Center Starting Capitals – Capital letters that start in the center such as C, O, Q, G,S, T, I, J, A.
  • Developmental Teaching Order – how to teach the letters in the sequence that children are physically and developmentally ready to learn them, rather than from A to Z.
  • D’Nealian – A handwriting program that uses letters with tails in manuscript printing, to make the transition to cursive simpler.
  • Dotted Line – the middle line, halfway between the top and bottom line
  • Dysgraphia – a learning disability that may cause difficulty with handwriting, motor, and processing skills.
  • Fall Letters – letters that go below the baseline (bottom line)
  • Far Point – copying letters from a board, requiring distance vision skills and the ability of the student to read and hold information to transfer to the paper
  • Fluency – ability to access, retrieve, and form letters reliably
  • Frog Jump Capitals – a term from the Handwriting Without Tears program, these are letters that start at the top left corner with a big line down. Next, the pencil jumps back to the start spot to complete the letter (Examples: E F D B P).
  • Fundations – a reading program that incorporates a supplemental handwriting component.
  • Graph Paper – paper used for focusing on letter size and spacing between letters and words.
  • Grass Line – the bottom writing line, aka baseline.
  • Gray Box Paper – paper with uniformly sized boxes to aid with sizing and orienting capital letters and numbers (from the Handwriting Without Tears program).
  • Handwriting Without Tears – a developmental handwriting program that uses simple strokes: big line, little line, big curve, little curve.
  • Left to Right Progression – the basis for reading and writing, tracking from left to right.
  • Legibility – readability of handwriting
  • LegiLiner – a self-inking, rolling stamp that draws handwriting lines
  • Letter Formation – ability to form letters of the alphabet correctly
  • Letter Groups – tall, small, and fall letters
  • Letter Size Boxes – boxes to correctly form the size of letters and correctly place them on the line
  • Letter Sizing – the height of letters, determined by the space the letter takes up, referring to forming tall, short, and fall letters.
  • Letter Spacing – the distance between letters, words, sentences, and lines
  • Lowercase – a letter that is not capital or uppercase
  • Magic C Letters – a Handwriting Without Tears term having the student write the letter “c” to begin writing a letter such as a, d, g, o, q.
  • Manuscript – print writing that is made up of lines and circles, often taught in elementary schools
  • Memory – the ability to produce a letter without a visual cue.
  • Narrow Lined Paper – a type of adapted paper
  • Near Point – copying letters from a paper on the desk, which is an easier task than far point.
  • Orientation – refers to letters and numbers that are facing in the correct direction.
  • Plane Line – The middle dotted handwriting line
  • Posture and Proper Positioning – 90-90-90 having feet flat on the floor, knees at a 90-degree angle, back is straight, and forearms/elbows on the table at 90 degrees.
  • Primary Paper – three-lined paper with a dotted middle line, helping students size
    letters properly
  • Redi-Space Paper – adapted writing paper designed to improve legibility by providing visual cues for proper spacing between letters and words.
  • Retrace – going back over the same line for a short distance when forming letters.
  • Reversals – writing letters facing the wrong direction.
  • Size Matters Handwriting Program – a developmental handwriting program that uses the terms of size 1, size 2, and size 3 letters
  • Skyline – the top handwriting line
  • Slant Board – a slanted writing surface used to create a position to reduce strain for the wrist, arms, hands, and shoulders and encourage a proper grip.
  • Small Letters – letters that do not go above the middle line, such as a, c, e, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, and z
  • Space Stick – a handwriting spacing stick used as a visual cue for handwriting, such as a popsicle stick
  • Spaceman Space – an image to remind students to use spaces between words
  • Speed – refers to how quickly one can write letters and sentences.
  • Start Spot – an indicator for where the letter starts.
  • Starting Corner Capitals – Capital letters that start in the top left corner such as B, D, E, F, H, K, L, M, N, U, V, W, X, Y, Z
  • Super “C” Letters – a Size Matters Handwriting Program term for letters that start with a “c” and turn into another letter (o, a, d, g, q).
  • Tall Letters – letters that touch the top line, such as b, d, f, h, k, l, t, and all uppercase letters
  • Top Line – the line at the top of the writing space where tall letters will touch.
  • Tracking – the ability for our eyes to move across a paper and scan words and letters
  • Traditional Paper – regular lined looseleaf paper with a top and bottom line.
  • Traditional Teaching Order – teaching letters starting with the letter A and ending with the letter Z.
  • TV Teacher – a developmental handwriting program that uses video modeling to teach handwriting
  • Worm Line – an additional line below the grass line to draw fall letters such as g, j or y
  • Woo Tape – adhesive tape that can be used to add writing lines to a child’s paper
  • Zaner Bloser – a Handwriting program with writing straight up and down in manuscript printing and slanted in cursive.

Developmental Progression of a Pencil Grasp:

  • 1 to 1.5 years – Palmar Supinate – the pencil will be held in the palm with the thumb resting on top of the pencil while using larger muscle groups.
  • 2 to 3 years – Digital Pronate – the pencil will be held in the palm with the index finger pointed down to the paper.
  • 3.5 to 4 years – Static Tripod –  holding the pencil with the thumb and index finger and use the middle finger as support. Writing will be using larger movements from the shoulder and elbow instead of the fingers.
  • 4.5 to 5 years – Dynamic Tripod – thumb and index finger holds the pencil with the pinky and ring finger pinched in. Dynamic means that the fingers and wrist will provide more movement instead of the shoulder and elbow.

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