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  • Ben Ho

To Pencil Grip Or Not To Pencil Grip, A Handwriting Tale



As our little people soldier on during the school year, some feedback that you might receive includes having poor handwriting, grasping grey leads differently compared to their peers, or having difficulty orienting their letters. As concerned parents do, we fall down the Google-rabbit-hole to try to see how we can best help (which is probably how you landed on this article). Here are some common questions that you might have.

“There are different kinds of pencil grasp patterns?”

Just like learning to walk, there are stages involved that help us develop our writing skills. A cylindrical or fisted grasp, generally associated with power, is seen in children ages 1-2; a digital grasp is commonly observed between the ages of 2-3; and, a modified tripod grasp and tripod grasp are seen between 3.5 years to 4 years and 4 years onwards respectively. These latter grasps are more associated with precision and fine motor control.

“My child is 4 years old but uses a digital grasp to hold his grey lead!”

While the age range provides us with a general guideline on where we should be, it is important to keep in mind that every child develops at a different rate and that we should be focusing on function instead. Examples of this might be whether our child able to keep up with the rest of their class, if they get tired quickly, or if it hurts for them to write for short periods of time.

“What is a pencil grip and does my child need one?”

A pencil grip is a tool placed over the pencil or crayon to support our hands and fingers being in an appropriate position during our writing activities. Like training wheels on a bicycle, this tool reduces one variable in handwriting, allowing us to focus and build on the other aspects. This, however, does not address the underlying factors of why we are struggling with handwriting and or our pencil grasp and further exploration is required.

“So what could I do to further develop my child’s handwriting skills?”

There are two approaches that we can take to build on our handwriting skills. A top down approach looks at handwriting as a whole, and strategies might include writing a letter to Santa at Christmas, while a bottom up approach focuses on the individual components that enables us to write, such as making objects in playdough or playing threading games to build on hand-eye-coordination. A common theme in both approaches is engaging with your child’s interest and mixing it up may help keep your child motivated to continue practicing their handwriting skills. Speak with your occupational therapist if your child is experiencing difficulty with handwriting, to develop and implement the best strategies appropriate for your child.