When we are at school, holding and controlling a pencil to write words and sentences is the most complex motor task we will have to learn. Learning to use a relaxed, efficient pencil grip can make the world of difference in the amount and quality of writing, not to mention the comfort of the person writing. So let’s look at some of the questions parents commonly ask about pencil grips, along with my top tips for improving your child’s grip.
What is the best pencil grip for writing? When it comes to pencil grips, the holy grail is the dynamic tripod pencil grip. A tripod grip involves three fingers holding the pencil – the thumb and pointer finger hold and control pencil movements, while the pencil rests on the middle finger. The grip is dynamic, when the small muscles in the fingers move to control the direction of pencil strokes. If a child uses a tripod grip but uses wrist and arm movements to move the pencil, it is called a static tripod grip.
What’s the big deal? I have a really strange pencil grip & I do ok! There is an enormous variety in the way people hold their pencils and many people manage ok with this. If you talk to people with unusual pencil grips, they will often say that their hand really hurts after writing for a short time, or they have developed calluses on their fingers because of their grip. A dynamic tripod grip is the most efficient grip for writing as it provides a great degree of accuracy while not using too much muscle energy or putting too much pressure on any fingers or joints.
My child holds the pencil with all their fingers. What can I do? We use our whole hand and all our fingers for power grips. A power grip is handy for jobs like hammering or opening the lid on a jar. We use our thumb, pointer and middle fingers for jobs that need precision, such as holding a pencil, fork or scissors. If we use all our fingers for precision jobs, it is very difficult to achieve the amount of accuracy needed. To encourage your child to use a tripod grip, place a marble or small object in their palm so they can hold it with their ring and little fingers while the rest of the hand works on a precision activity. While they are holding the marble get them to use objects like tweezers, eye droppers or pegs.
Madeline’s top tips for helping children develop an efficient pencil grip:
- Put paper on a slopeboard, easel or on the wall for drawing and writing. Using a vertical surface encourages the wrist to extend. When the wrist is extended, the small muscles in the hand and fingers can move freely to control the pencil.
- Swiping is not writing! Swiping does very little to develop the fine motor strength and accuracy needed for an efficient pencil grip. Instead young fingers need to be pinching, pulling, pushing, digging, squeezing, turning and manipulating a range of materials (eg: sand, playdough, biscuit dough, mud, paint, slime etc).
- If your child is reluctant to use a pencil, try drawing and writing without a pencil instead. Writing on concrete with chalk, painting with water on bricks, making patterns with a torch, drawing in shaving cream or tracing patterns on someone’s hand are activities that help develop confidence for writing while having fun.
If you are concerned about your child’s pencil grip and handwriting, contact Madeline at Jump Up For Kids to discuss how Occupational Therapy can support your child’s fine motor and handwriting skill development. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Madeline Avci. Mum of 3 active boys. Occupational Therapist. Owner of Jump Up for Kids (including Jump Up Outdoors). Madeline is passionate about making the outdoors part of everyone’s day and supporting families to navigate the challenges of our modern world.