Education Occupational Therapy

Tips to promote a Functional Pencil Grip

Occupational therapists are often approached by professionals and parents with concerns related to their child’s pencil grip development. This concern is a very common concern, mostly because it can have impact on the child’s participation in writing and drawing tasks. Some of the most common concerns are related to:

  • The development of pencil grip in preschoolers.
  • The correction of a child’s pencil grip once they have already established a grasp. 
  • The correction of a child’s grip once they have started writing.

The assessment of a child’s pencil grip development is considered to be important as it can indicate various aspects of their overall development. It can also indicate their performance in other skills in the scholastic environment. 

What is the best pencil grip?

There is a general perception that the “dynamic tripod” grasp is the best and most suitable grip for a child.  This type of grasp involves holding the pencil against the middle finger, thumb and index finger. 

The current research indicates that there are variations to this and other grips have been found to be almost equally efficient. An efficient and functional pencil grip needs to enable the child to:

  • Have an open web space (space between the thumb and index finger)
  • Control the pencil by moving only the fingers rather than the whole hand 
  • Participate in writing tasks without getting tired
  • Participation in writing tasks with good writing quality 

There are mixed opinions as to what age a child matures their pencil grip. The key point is to keep in mind that the development of pencil grip has its stages of development. As a general rule this developmental process starts to mature at Kindergarten age. This is when your child starts to experiment with colours and other writing tools which in turn will further promote the development of the pencil grip.

At this stage you should demonstrate the proper finger position to your child, however, you should allow for the developmental progression to take its course. This means that you need to encourage your child to experiment with various writing tools, carry out fine motor activities and avoid the use of pencil grips in Kindergarten. Remember children are still learning how to adjust and correct their grip.

Immature Grip

An immature or inefficient pencil grip does not allow a child to use efficiently finger movements. In this case movements during writing can be static and come from the wrist or whole arm. Children who experience an immature or inefficient pencil grip need more than just practicing with crayons or pencil in order to develop a better pencil grip. Activities to target the underlying skills need to be carried out. 

Activities to Promote efficient pencil grip

  • Strengthen the core and shoulder muscles

Your child needs adequate core stability, alignment and posture in order to efficiently use fine motor skills. This will provide a stable base for the development of an efficient pencil grip. Activities to strengthen the core and shoulder muscles include; Wheelbarrow walk, animal walks, tug of war, climbing, playing on all fours, pulling activities and crawling.

  • Practice Fine Motor Activities rather than Pencil and Paper activities

Fine motor skills involve movements using the small muscles of the hands and wrist. They are complex motor movements which are based on the refinement and stability of gross motor movements. Fine motor development includes: grasping, finger isolation, development of the arches of the hand, use of the hand, manipulating small objects and bilateral skills.  To promote fine motor development you need to carry out fun activities that require the manipulation of tactile media and exploration with hand muscles. Pen and paper activities on their own will not promote fine motor development. 

An interesting activity involves painting with just one finger at a time. This will promote finger isolation. Encourage your child to use their pointer finger to paint with red, their middle finger to paint with blue, their ring finger to paint with yellow, and their little finger to paint with green.  For more fine motor activities read ‘Handwriting Readiness: Is my child ready to write?‘.

  • Bilateral activities 

In addition to fine motor activities you need to practice activities that require your child to use both hands together. This is an important skill to achieve as many of our daily tasks involve actions that require the use of both sides of our body. For example during writing tasks your child would need to be able to write with one hand and manipulate the pencil while holding the paper steady with the opposite hand. 

  • Hand Strengthening Exercises

Hand strengthening activities will help your child to improve adequate muscle tone, develop arches of the hands and improve endurance. These activities should be carried out in conjunction to the above mentioned core and shoulder activities. Therapeutic putty or play dough is an important medium to be used for such skill. You can also use items such as clothes pegs, water pipettes, large tweezers. Refer to ‘Handwriting Readiness: Is my child ready to write?’ for ideas.

A word of Advice….

If your child experiences challenges with pencil grip development you will need to consider an assessment by an Occupational Therapist. Your child might need a professional more in-depth assessment of his muscles tone, postural skills and motor coordination.

At WonderKids paediatric centre Malta we can help you out.