Understanding Handwriting Terms and Phrases

Grass line, magic c, spacing, Oh-My!

Different handwriting programs use certain words and terminology that can be confusing to parents and 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

(Get the printable below!)

Free Handwriting Terminology


Get it now!

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.

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 a90 degree angle, back is straight, and forearms/elbows on the table at 90degrees.
  • 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.

Free Handwriting Terminology


Get it now!

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.

Motor Memory and Handwriting

Motor Memory Matters!  

Research shows that practice and repetition are the best way to teach children how to form their letters.  It turns out that Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid was right.

Remember “wax on, wax off?”  We need to practice the same motor movements again and again for them to become automatic.

The same is true when it comes to handwriting

Turns out, it makes a lot of sense NOT to teach the letters in A to Z order.  


Because it’s a lot easier to learn to write “F and E” on the same day than it is to learn “A and a”.  

Research shows that 1 in 4 children need more help with handwriting in order to grasp the concepts. This year, schools are full of kids who missed months of “typical learning” due to COVID-19. 

The truth is, there is less time for handwriting instruction in school. 

But here’s a trick that makes the process easier.

Teach the letters in groups by formation. Children learn better when the motor components of letter formations are grouped. Teaching “A” and “a” in the same week expects children to learn two totally different motor tasks. Teaching “F” and then “E” or “n” and then “m” is much easier.

Want to learn more? 

Here’s a FREE Handout about How to Teach the Letters in Groups 


Teaching Letter Formation in Groups!


Get it now!

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

This simple process of teaching letters in a developmentally appropriate way JUST MAKES SENSE!

Don’t miss out on the webinar! 


CEUs are available: The course is AOTA approved, and you can purchase the webinar, slides and CEUs here

  • The webinar is approved for .2 AOTA CEUs.
  • Applies to any handwriting program your child has been using.
  • Taught by a certified handwriting expert and school-based occupational therapist with 20 years experience.

Teaching Letters in Groups Workbook: This 120+ page digital handwriting workbook is on sale for $14.99! It features all the capitals, all the lowercase, and all the letters that can be taught together on the same page.

BONUS: This week, when you purchase the workbook, you’ll get a 32-page FREE handwriting in groups packet. These handouts are perfect for centers, sensory writing, rainbow writing and more.

Watch Miss Jaime, O.T. teach how to “Mr. Miyagi” our kids!

Please keep in mind when teaching letters…

There’s a developmental progression to letters, too!   Children understand straight lines first, then circular lines, then diagonal lines.

So doesn’t it make sense to learn letters like H, L, T, F, E first as opposed to A, B, C??

Look at the letters of the alphabet and categorize them by straight lines, circular lines, and diagonal lines and teach them in that order.


Teaching Letter Formation in Groups!


Get it now!

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

Miss Jaime, O.T.’s Favorite Developmental Toys

Have you ever wished for a personal shopping assistant? 

If you’re looking for a special toy that is both fun and educational, your personal shopping assistant has arrived!

A parent once said to me, “You have the BEST toys, Miss Jaime!”

And I thought, “well, toys are important!” We need to get our kiddos engaged in hands-on games and toys that help them to learn and build important foundational skills like motor coordination, eye-hand coordination, visual perception, and sensorimotor skills.

As a school-based occupational therapist, I’m definitely a little picky about my toys.

So I decided to make a list of my top picks from Birth to High school. I’ve picked toys that address important developmental skills, but of course, are FUN!

 ➡ ​Click here for the complete list!

Teaching Letter Formations in Groups Resources -New in progress

Recently, I hosted a FREE Webinar!

How (& why) to Teach Letter Formations in Groups

Here’s what you need to know:

You can view the on-demand webinar with a private link on my YouTube page.

( No registering required!)

(This packet covers all the basic letter groupings that you need to know!)



If you’d like more than the basics, you can check out my 100+ page digital Letter Formations in Groups Workbook for $24.99.

If you’d like AOTA approved CEUs for the course, you can purchase the assessment and slides for $39.99.

5 Ways to Work on Pencil Grasp Without A Pencil

For an OT in the school system pencil grasp can be a big focus for our students. Knowing how to encourage proper pencil grasp is helpful for all of our young students.

A tripod grasp is functional and it helps with a reduction of pain and hand fatigue.

Many teachers and therapists believe that the dynamic tripod is the only grasp that’s functional. However, there are other functional grasps that are just as sufficient as the tripod grasp.  A tripod grasp does help with more things than just writing like utilizing math manipulatives and engaging in kinesthetic learning with wiki sticks, Play-Doh, and clay.

It’s important  to encourage good pencil grasp early on. After 2nd grade, a grasp becomes “locked in”, and is difficult to change.

How to work on grasp without a pencil

Here are the 5 ways I use to work on pencil grasp with my students.

  Use a Stylus

  • A stylus is convenient to  utilize whenever my students want to engage in an activity on the IPad.  (I am truly passionate about the fact that the students I see have learned to use their index finger so heavily (with technology at an all time high than ever) that the use of a pencil has become very difficult to learn.  Anytime your student is using an IPad, incorporate a stylus. I particularly like the crayon shaped styluses for the younger ones (they are fun and relatable to them).  You can check them out here:

Use Skinny Dry Erase Markers

  • Dry erase markers and chalk are always fun and engaging for the students
  • Writing on a dry erase board/table or utilizing sidewalk chalk
  • Use chalkboard paint to turn any wall or table into a fun writing surface
  • Break the chalk into a shorter piece will aid in enforcing the proper grasp

Magna Doodle & Aqua Doodle

Magna Doodle and Aqua Doodle are awesome tools that make our students feel as if writing and drawing is play and not work (our specialty). Most children haven’t ever seen them.

  • Introduce this tool to draw pre-writing shapes or scribble. They normally come with a short writing utensil (always a plus) and only requires minimal storage space.

A Peg and Clay

Use a short stick (it can be a spare peg, craft stick, etc) to draw in clay, Play-Doh, or shaving cream. You can make this into a creative game with your students. Have them draw a smiley face or a house. Practice shapes and lines.  This works on developing pencil grasp as well as pre-writing skills and visual-motor skills.

Use Fine Motor Toys

There are so many fun fine motor toys to help the development of our student’s pencil grasps.

  • threading beads
  • pegboard activities
  • peeling stickers
  • utilizing tongs
  • stacking blocks

Want more ideas?  Get a free printable handout!








Related Reading:

crayons, grip, tripod grasp. OT, therapy bag, therapy organization, OT toys, Best therapy toys, School therapy supplies pencil grip, how to change grasp, digital pronate
manipulation, fine motor, OT, manipulative scissors, fine motor, manipulation, OT, development, gross motor, MissJaimeOT occupational therapy, OT, MissJaimeOT, special needs,

About the Author: 

Brittany Turner is a COTA/L (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant) and a new member of the Miss Jaime, O.T. team. She has been in the OT field since 2014. She currently works full time in the public school system in Henry County Virginia with students ranging from 2 years of age-5th grade. She is also working PRN in a skilled nursing facility and inpatient rehabilitation. She’s busy in the OT field but she loves seeing the variety of patients and learning new things constantly.

Brittany graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation Studies from Winston Salem State University. She enjoys exercising, spending time with her family, and being involved with church activities.

Vision 101 Scholarship Application – August 2020

We’re offering scholarships for our course!

If you’ve been following me, you know that I LOVE to help grownups HELP THEIR KIDS. Whether it’s our students, our own children, or our grandchildren,  our kiddos need us.

So many children are walking around with undiagnosed vision issues, and we understand that this pandemic has caused financial hardship for so many wonderful hardworking therapists out there.

As healthcare and educational professionals, My co-host Robert and I want to give back to our community of followers who may be facing financial hardship.

So we’re offering TEN people a FULL SCHOLARSHIP to Vision 101 for School-based Occupational Therapy Practitioners.

This is a needs-based scholarship for School Occupational Therapists and OT Assistants.

We’ll notify the winners via email and post them on this page.

Scholarship Rules:

  1. Ten people will be chosen by August 18th.
  2. We will notify the winners by email and update this page with the winners.
  3. Winners can take the course and obtain AOTA credit FREE.
  4. Winners will be chosen based on their scholarship answers.
  5. Winners who paid for the course will be refunded.


Kathy Castrataro

Jenna DiLissio

Dimitris Voutsinos

Joyce Kalsch

Hetal Lakhani

Erin Stiles

Michelle Davis

Brittany Lynn Cegielski

Kayla Banks

Tamar Solomom


Learn more about the course here. 

Learn More about Vision:

Vision, Vision exam, OT, children vision, eye exam, Vision, Vision exam, OT, children vision, eye exam,

The Eye Exam Kids REALLY Need


Did you know that the eye exam that the school gives just looks to see if the child may need glasses?  There are actually WAY more problems that a child can have that would interfere with their progress in school.

There are different kinds of eye care professionals and different models of treatment. Some doctors may only check the health of the eye and if the child needs glasses. Others also check eye movement and if the eyes work together.

Unfortunately, many children are walking around with undiagnosed vision deficits. The parents get them glasses so they think they’ve crossed vision problems off the list.


The most common vision problem (besides needing glasses) that school Occupational Therapy practitioners encounter is binocular vision deficits.

But there are a huge number of vision problems that may be impacting a child’s schoolwork. It’s really important that children have a complete eye exam. Not just finding out if they need glasses.

Visual Efficiency NEEDS TO BE ASSESSED

Binocular Vision Disorders  – when a child’s two eyes aren’t working together as a team.  This may include strabismus, convergence and divergence.  Binocular vision issues are more common in children with with learning disabilities, developmental delays.

Ocular Motor (Eye Movement) Disorders – Eye movements include pursuits, saccades, and fixation.

  • Pursuits – The reflex to follow a moving visual stimulus
  • Saccades – A single eye movement from one thing to another, such as words in a sentence.
  • Fixation – The ability to keep the eyes focused on a stationary object.

Accommodative Disorders are also called Focusing Disorders. Children who struggle with looking from near to far and back again are among 5 to 6 percent of the general pediatric population (Scheiman, 2104).

Think of how many children have trouble copying from the board.  That could be due to Accommodation.

Many children struggle with reading. Despite tutoring, they don’t make progress.  That could be a problem with the near vision system.

A child who tends to avoid sports and doesn’t want to play catch may struggle with convergence, and can’t see the ball as it’s coming toward them or they may see double.  



A COMPLETE eye exam follows  the Three Component Model of Vision:

  • Checks the health of the eye and if the child needs glasses
  • Visual Information processing skills (aka visual perception)
  • Checks the child’s visual efficiency
            • Accommodation
            • Binocular Vision
            • Eye Movements

An annual eye exam done by an Optometrist may not include all three of these components.  It depends on the doctor’s training.  It can be difficult to find an optometrist who will do an exam that looks for more than just glasses.  But for some children, it makes all the difference in the world.

It’s time to UNCOVER those hidden vision problems!


School Occupational Therapy practitioners can screen and remediate many different vision deficits.  It’s important to receive training so you feel competent.

Sign up for Vision 101 for School Occupational Therapy Practitioners, an AOTA approved on-line training for school occupational therapy assistants and therapists.

Click the image!

vision, kids vision, children's vision, kids glasses, vision in classroom, convergence, divergence therapist, guilts, occupational therapy, speech therapy, therapist burnout vision, children, glasses, kids glasses, kids vision, eye exams, ADHD, vision issues, vision problems, convergence