Help Your Child Master Pencil Grip
Getting your child to hold their pencil properly is an art. Not so many generations ago, teachers and parents would use the tactics of smacking the back of a child’s hand with a ruler until they held the pencil “correctly” and in the right hand. Today there are many friendlier techniques you can use to help your child learn to hold their pencil properly. Also be aware that pencil grip is not only a work in progress in terms of motor development but also muscle development. Here are some of the common stages of pencil grip development
What is the “proper” way to hold a pencil?
While there is no right or wrong way to hold a pencil, the tri-pod grip is one recommended by many Occupational Therapists and Educational Bodies. Children should be aiming to use this grip by around 5-6 years of age. The tri-pod grip involves the thumb, forefinger and middle finger forming a triangle and then the fourth finger and pinky supporting the middle finger. This grip is preferred as it helps the child have good control of the pencil and allows for greater comfort and longevity in writing.
Encourage your child to avoid making a fist or gripping the pencil too tightly. If they are holding on too tight they will tend to break the pencil lead and put holes in the paper, which becomes very frustrating for them. Gripping too tightly can also lead to cramps in the hands and fingers, impacting the length of time they can write for.
You can familiarise yourself with the stages of pencil grips in this publication put out by the Northern Territory Education Department (pages 83-85). You can also download free fact sheets here http://www.pld-literacy.org/Pencil-Grip-Drawing-Skills-Fact-Sheet.html
Tips for helping your child with the tri-pod grip
1. Pencil grips: Lots of parents and teachers swear by these to help their children learn the proper grip. They are readily available from all stationery suppliers. If you are unsure which grip to try, have a chat to your child’s kindy or school teacher about the options. There are plenty of different types to choose from.
We also found this DIY pencil grip you can make at home with video instructions thanks to Occupational Therapist Tiffany Birt
2. Triangular-shaped pencils: The triangle shape of these pencils helps the child work out where to put their fingers. It also makes it uncomfortable for the child to not use the tri-pod grip.
3. Holding something in the hand: Have your child hold a scrunched up tissue or piece of paper, or use a blob of blu-tac or a small pompom in the bottom three fingers of their hand. While writing, this helps them keep those back fingers off the pencil. This is especially useful for left handed kids who always find this a difficult task.
4. Car story: Explain when showing the grip like a family in a car. Mum and Dad in the front and three kids in the back. Putting fun and relative scenes to instructions help kids remember and make sense of them. This story featured in the Oakey Primary School prep handbook gives a good example (page 19).
5. Seek support from an OT: If your child is really struggling to hold their pencil in a way that is comfortable and allows them to form the letters, then an Occupational Therapist is a great person to seek support from. OTs have a plethora of tricks and techniques to help your child develop the grip that will help them write easily and comfortably.
6. Allow time and patience: You only have to try to write for a long time yourself to see how quickly your hand tires. Imagine you had NEVER picked up a pencil and imagine how quickly your muscles would struggle to hold what would seem to be a fairly easy grip. How you feel after 10 minutes of writing is probably how your child feels in the beginning. Practice will allow them to develop their muscles.
7. Lead by example: Do lots of writing and colouring in front of and together with your children. The more they see you do it, the more they will follow your lead.
What to remember about developing pencil grips
Remember, all kids are different and while the tri-pod grip is recommended and most kids will get it, it may not suit all kids though this will be the ideal outcome. Communicate with your educational provider and speak to an Occupational Therapist if you are concerned. While many kids turn up to the classroom on day one unable to hold a pencil correctly, it will certainly give them an advantage if they can. The most important thing is to make sure your child is able to comfortably hold their pencil in a way that allows them to form letters and write for as long as they desire. In this age of swiping and clicking technology, the art of handwriting is a precious one that we need to encourage and inspire in our children.