Get a Grasp on Handwriting Skills: A Guide for Parents

July 26th, 2017

Parents often want to know at what age they should be encouraging their child to grasp the pencil correctly. While it is important to facilitate the development of a functional pencil grip, it is crucial to understand the normal development of a pencil grip to avoid forcing your child to use a grasp he or she may not be ready for.

Typically, the development of a pencil grip in young children follows this predictable course:

Palmar-Supinate Grasp (1-1.5 years) ​​the crayon or writing tool is held in the fisted hand (with thumb up and little finger down) with movements deriving from the entire arm
​Digital-pronate Grasp (2-3 years)​the crayon or pencil is held with the fingers (thumb down and little finger up) and the arm moves as a unit
​Static-tripod Grasp (3.5 – 4 years)​the writing tool is held with the thumb, index, and middle fingers (with the ring and little finger bent) and the hand moves as an entire unit
Dynamic-tripod Grasp (4.5 – 6 years) ​​the writing tool rests on the middle finger and the thumb and index finger are holding the pencil in a more efficient and controlled manner

​An efficient and functional pencil grip is one that allows the child to write neatly in a timely manner without fatiguing the hand muscles. Poor pencil grasps engage the incorrect hand muscles, leading the child to fatigue quickly and produce messy handwriting.

How Occupational Therapy Works on Pencil Grasp Development
Occupational therapists facilitate the development of a functional pencil grasp through the use of various therapeutic activities and exercises. Sometimes the use of an adapted grip is implemented to facilitate a functional tripod grasp. There are many grips to choose from so please consult with your child’s occupational therapist on this matter.

Activities that facilitate the development of a tripod pencil grasp…
-Coloring with small or broken crayons is a great activity as it facilitates the use of the thumb, the index, and middle finger as there is limited space for the other fingers to come and join the party

-Coloring on a slanted surface – this promotes the wrist to extend backwards, which facilitates controlling the writing tool with the finger joints instead of using the entire hand

Hand Strength
Manipulating Theraputty or Play-Doh is a good activity to strengthen those hand muscles needed for sustaining a pencil grip during writing activities. You can hide beads in Theraputty and have your child find them. Other ideas include:

-Attach clothespins to the brim of a cup
-Operate trigger spray bottles

Fine Motor Control and Finger Isolation
-Play Lite Bright
-Roll 1/4 inch balls of clay or theraputty between the tips of the thumb, index, and middle fingers
-Pick up small objects (pom poms, pegs, cheerios) with a tweezer or tong
-Lacing activity
-String beads

As a child’s postural control and shoulder strength improves, the child’s ability to control the pencil with the fingers will begin to emerge.

If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact your occupational therapist.

Written By: Nalleli Reyes, MS, OTR/L for Oceanside Therapy Group

Case-Smith, O (2010). Occupational therapy for children. Missouri: Mosby Elsevier.
Fleming-Castaldy, R. P. (2014). National occupational therapy certification exam: Review & study guide. Evanston, IL: TherapyEd.