Pencil Grip

Pencil grip is just what it sounds like – the way you hold a pencil or pen (assuming, of course, that you received the coveted ‘pen license’ in primary school!).

This is probably going to be like that time your friend bought a new car and then all of a sudden you saw that car everywhere, but if you look around now, you’ll probably notice all kinds of pencil grips.

How kids hold their pencil is also a very common topic of discussion between teachers and parents because it really affects the quality and speed of their writing.

But how do you know which pencil grip your little miss or mister should be using?

In short, the key to a good pencil grip is whether or not it’s functional. In order to figure out what a ‘functional’ pencil grip is, let’s first look at how this skill naturally develops.

How does pencil grip develop?

The development of pencil grip generally follows a fairly predictable course, with most children naturally developing a pencil grip that’s comfortable for them. Here are the general stages:

  1. Fisted grip
    This grip is typically the one that your rascal will have used as a toddler when they first started picking up crayons… and drawing on your walls! With the fisted grip, most of the movement comes from the shoulder.
  2. Palmar grip
    The palmar grip sees the pencil being held in the palm of the hand with the elbow held out to the side. In this stage, the shoulder muscles have become more stable, resulting in more control and most of the movement coming from the arm.
  3. The 5 finger grip
    It’s typically 4-year-olds who use five fingers to hold a pencil. Their wrist is usually lifted off from the table and most of the pencil movement comes from the wrist.
  4. The 4 finger grip
    This is an acceptable grasp, as long as moving the pencil stems from the fingers rather than the shoulder.
  5. Tripod pencil grip
    The tripod (three-fingered) pencil grip is considered the most functional of the grips. Generally, by the time kids are 5 or 6 years old their hand muscles are strong enough to manage this grip.

With this grip, the pencil is held between the thumb and middle (3rd) finger with the pointer (2nd) finger on the pencil shaft. As the grip becomes more skilled, most of the pencil movement will come from the fingers.

What does a ‘good’ pencil grip involve?

  1. A strong, stable core
    For your little one to form a functional pencil grip they first need to develop the strength and stability in the larger muscles within their core (the lower middle section of the body that includes the pelvis, lower back and abdomen) and shoulders.
  2. Strength in the hand muscles
    The next step is the development of their strength in the smaller hand muscles. As little miss or mister hones their fine motor (small hand and arm movement) and gross motor (bigger body movement) skills, their pencil grip will also mature.
  3. Patience
    As tempting as it is, it’s important not to 'force' a grip that your youngster isn’t ready to use. Instead, focus on helping them develop the other foundation skills that will enable them to hold a pencil correctly.

    This includes fine motor (small hand and arm movement) and gross motor (bigger body movement) skills, as well as the strength and stability of their posture.

    Head over to the Positive Reinforcement page if you’re interested in tips on how to best encourage your tyke. It involves focusing on their progress (i.e. ‘the positive’) towards the ideal pencil grip so they’re motivated to keep trying and continue repeating the ‘good’ behaviour.

What’s the ideal school-aged pencil grip?

The ‘dynamic tripod pencil grip’ (where the thumb, pointer/2nd and middle/3rd fingers hold the pencil) is the most appropriate pencil grip for school children because it maximises the fluency and speed of the writing. The reason it’s called ‘dynamic’ is because the movement of the pencil comes from the fingers.

The older junior gets, the more important this will become as they learn and write more and more.

The dynamic tripod involves the:

  • Pencil being held between the thumb and middle (3rd) finger with the pointer (2nd) finger sitting approximately 1–2 cm from the tip of the pencil shaft
  • Pencil movement coming from the fingers while the wrist rests on the table and slides with the forearm across the page
  • Ring (4th) and little (5th) fingers curling up into the palm of the hand
  • Wrist bending back slightly and the forearm resting on the table

As well as the following foundation skills:

How do I know if my child is having difficulty with their pencil grip?

Your child may have difficulties with their pencil grip if they struggle to write:

  • Legibly (i.e. in a way that’s easy to read and understand)
  • At a reasonable speed
  • Without experiencing pain or tiring quickly
  • With appropriate pencil pressure (i.e. not too light or dark)
  • Using appropriate letter spacing (i.e. not too close or far apart)
  • While adopting a good posture (i.e. sitting upright with their feet flat on the floor, without rocking in their chair or leaning on the table)

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Ways you can help your child with their pencil grip

If you think your little one would benefit from developing their pencil grip skills, have a go at the following activities and strategies:

  • Drawing and writing using many different types (and therefore sizes) of textas, crayons, chalk, coloured pencils and so on
  • Drawing and writing on both vertical/upright (e.g. blackboard, chalkboard, easel with paper) and horizontal surfaces (e.g. desk, table)
  • Singing songs with hand and finger actions (e.g. ‘Incy Wincy Spider’)
  • Picking up small objects with tweezers (e.g. beads, dry cereal)
  • Using playdough (e.g. rolling, pinching, squeezing)
  • Tearing paper to make a collage
  • Playing with construction blocks (e.g. Lego)
  • Threading and lacing activities (e.g. threading macaroni or beads onto string)
  • Playing board games that have little pieces, such as blocks to build with, coins to insert into slots and so on

Head over to our Fine Motor Skills page for even more techniques for building up your tyke’s hand strength!

Some additional tips for improving your child’s pencil grip

  • Encourage junior to practise using a correct pencil grip for a few minutes each day until the grip becomes consistent and automatic – while remembering to give positive feedback
  • Try a rubber pencil grip attachment (that you’ll usually find in newsagencies, therapy tool stockists) – though you’ll need to show your youngster how to use it
  • If you notice that the pencil shaft is standing upright in little miss or mister’s hand you can use a rubber band to place the pencil correctly so it rests on the little bit of natural ‘webbing’ between the thumb and pointer (2nd) finger

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Combined Videos

Combining several foundation skills, our PlayBiz Play-a-Long videos run for 10 minutes or so. We’ve carefully ordered the activities so they enable your youngster to have an optimal learning experience and develop the skills they’ll need for school by joining in the ‘teachable moments’. Picture a fun and educational TV program like PlaySchool crossed with an occupational therapy session that’s chock full of strategies. Ready, steady, learn! Please note: The Play-a-Long videos don’t need to be viewed in any particular order.