Occupational Therapy Tips for Pencil Grip
Top 5 Tips for improving your child’s pencil grip.
If your child is in the early stages of learning to write, you might find yourself observing an ‘awkward’ or strange pencil grip. You might be constantly instructing your child to use ‘the right grip’ or maybe you’re just not quite sure how to help.
First things first, your child is holding a pencil! Great! For some children, this can be something that is really difficult and challenging to hold and manipulate an object with their fingers.
A pencil grip is a common concern for many parents and teachers of children who are learning to write.
Children at school are expected to be able to express what they have learnt in written form. What is often not valued are the intricate and precise movements that the muscles in our forearm, wrist and fingers need to perform with each pencil stroke.
An ‘ideal’ or ‘correct’ pencil grasp presents as some variation of a pincer grasp. This grasp includes the index finger, middle finger and our thumb to support and manipulate the writing tool. However, there are other variations of this grasp that are still suitable for functional handwriting.
A functional grasp enables us to perform writing movements from our fingers.
This type of grasp increases control and fluidity of writing and reduces fatigue and pain that can be associated with strenuous and excessive writing. Grasps that block or inhibit our fingers moving cause extra force from the wrist and forearm are not functional and immature.
Think about it as if you’re holding a pencil and writing; if you hold the pencil naturally, most of us hold the pencil towards the base, we use our fingers to move the writing tool freely, and we can naturally support the pencil without extra input from the elbow or shoulder. Now try and hold the pencil with your fingers blocking the movement of the pencil (for example like you’re holding a dagger) naturally you can feel your wrist, elbow and shoulder try to help move the pencil, your pencil movements are slower and it requires more effort!
So what are some things that you can try with your child to help them improve their pencil grip? Here are my top 5 tips for encouraging a more ‘functional’ grasp.
- Cut your pencil/ crayon in half so they have to use their finger tips: If you have an old crayon or pencil that you can sharpen all the way down to about 7-8 cm, or snap in half, this encourages children to only be able to use their fingertips to draw, scribble and write. It encourages the fingers to start moving and takes away their reliance on the whole hand and wrist to make these movements. *Disclaimer- this will be really tricky for some children and they will say they don’t like it.
- Change positioning (vertical surface, lying on the floor): Changing positioning encourages correct positioning of the shoulder, elbow, forearm and wrist. Using gravity to optimise the correct position of the joints and activation of muscles, reduces your child’s reliance on the larger joints when drawing or writing. Try and encourage your child to ‘anchor’ their wrist to the surface. A fun way to change position is writing on a whiteboard/ chalkboard, painting on a canvas, blu tacking a piece of paper to the wall, or writing in the steam when in the shower.
- Try an alternate pencil grip (cross over, flower, grotto): Using a pencil grip can help provide children with positional modelling for how to correctly hold a pencil. It anchors the child’s fingers to the base of the pencil and provides support so that your child doesn’t fatigue and revert back to a non-functional grasp.
- Play board games and other activities to build strength, isolation and opposition: For a child to be able to hold a pencil correctly without fatiguing, your child needs to be able to confidently move the fingers in isolation, have appropriate in hand strength, and be able to open the webbed-space between the thumb and the index finger appropriately. These fine motor skills develop with time and exposure, try playing board games with smaller pieces (like connect 4, operation, pick up sticks) or getting your child to help peg clothes on the washing line etc, to help practice developing these skills through fun activities.
- Squish don’t Swipe! Play with playdoh, squishy balls or tennis balls to encourage an ‘open’ webbed space between the thumb and index finger. This helps with opposition and being able to support a pencil in the hand. Swiping on the iPad is fantastic for somethings, holding a pencil.. Not so much…
These are my top 5 tips for encouraging a ‘functional’ pencil grip. Remember, to be consistent and try these strategies for a few weeks to see if this helps. If you feel that your child is continuing to have problems holding your pencil, contact your local Occupational Therapist for further support and strategies.
If you are interested in what ages different grasps develop – click this link to follow to another article on this topic!
Occupational Therapist, Cooee Speech Pathology.