Developing an Effective Pencil Grasp

Developing an Effective Pencil Grasp Cover Image

An effective pencil grasp cannot be underestimated. It helps with finger dexterity, developing fine motor skills and more. Let’s just say, handwriting practice just got a whole lot better for kids! Read on for more.

There are a number of reasons why developing an effective pencil grasp is important. When children use inefficient pencil grips, it can strain their muscles and lead to fatigue, which discourages them from writing. An incorrect pencil grasp can also cause children to struggle with finger dexterity, forming letters correctly and producing legible work. Also, consider the fingers that are used when gripping a pencil correctly: the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. It is these same fingers that children need to use when performing tasks involving fine motor skills such as doing up a zipper, using a spoon, and unscrewing lids on containers. 

Types of Pencil Grips for Kids

Many toddlers grip a pencil using a palmar supinate grasp. They hold the pencil in their fist, with their thumb on top. This is a “primitive grasp” and is typically used when toddlers are first exploring the use of writing tools, like pencils, pencil crayons, and markers. It is often during this developmental phase that children “write” by scribbling. 

Around age two to three, children may develop a pencil grasp known as a “digital pronate grasp.” This grasp resembles a more developed means of holding a pencil. The fingers point downward towards the bottom of the pencil but all the fingers are involved in gripping the pencil. One challenge this pencil grasp poses is the need for the child to move his arm significantly when writing, which can lead to fatigue. 

Children may also develop a static tripod grasp around age three to four. They begin using their thumb and two fingers to grip the pencil. However, in this case, while holding a pencil, they grasp it with the pads of their fingers instead of the tips. They also tend to hold their pencil quite vertically, instead of on an angle. The word “static” describes the lack of movement in their fingers. They, instead rely more on moving their wrist and arm as they write. Again, this can lead to fatigue and hamper finger dexterity.   

Many children develop an effective pencil grasp, known as a “dynamic tripod grasp,” around age five to six. The grip is similar to the last stage, but with the tips of the fingers being used to grip the pencil and the pencil being held at an angle. It is during this stage that children begin to move the pencil using their fingers, with less involvement from their wrist and arm. 

Some children may opt to use a “quadruped grasp,” which is also considered an efficient way of holding a pencil. It is very similar to the dynamic tripod grasp, except instead of three fingers on the pencil, there are four. The little finger is the only one not directly involved with gripping the pencil. It is typically curled below the ring finger and not making contact with the pencil.  

It is important to note that the timing of a child’s pencil grasp development is an approximation based on averages. Children may develop an effective pencil grasp earlier or later than the timelines expressed above. If there are questions about children’s development, an occupational therapist is a professional that can evaluate their pencil grasp and recommend ways to support it. In the meantime, there are lots of activities children can participate in at home to support their pencil grasp development.   

Home Activities to Support Pencil Grasp Development

  • Have children try writing with a short writing utensil, such as a piece of chalk, pencil, or pencil crayon, that is only 1.5 to 2” long. They will naturally find it more difficult to grasp the writing tool incorrectly. The palmar supinate grasp becomes impossible because the writing utensil is not long enough to grip in their fist. Involving too many fingers in the grip also becomes challenging because the writing utensil is not long enough to allow space for every finger. 
  • Activities that require children to use their thumb, index finger, and middle finger, support the fine motor skills needed to write. Have children use tongs or tweezers to pick up objects like cotton balls or cereal. They could use spray bottles to water plants or use food coloring and water to “paint” the snow. Toy nuts, bolts, and screwdrivers also provide opportunities for children to use their thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Opening containers, using scissors and using eye droppers for painting also promote valuable fine motor skills.
  • Children can also participate in activities that promote strengthening of the muscles in their hands. One of the easiest ways to do this is to provide children with playdough to use. Rolling the dough with their hands, flattening it out, and forming it into shapes supports the development of their fine motor skills. You can also consider adding tools like play knives and scissors to their playdough area. Children can also love incorporating objects like gems or stones into their playdough. 

Printing and Cursive Handwriting Practice

When children are ready to begin printing letters, they can use handwriting worksheets to practice handwriting words and sentences and tracing worksheets. When children are learning to write cursive letters, they can use worksheets with a natural progression from supported writing to independent practice. All these activities provide opportunities to see letter formations, trace them, then print or write them independently. 

There are many different pencil grips for kids, which is why it is important to ensure that their pencil grasp development starts right from the beginning. Now that you know what to do, the only thing left is to actually start!

About the Guest Author

Alesia is a founder of PrimaryLearning.org, an educational website that helps elementary school teachers and homeschool parents with hands-on worksheets, activities and thoughtful articles.

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