Pencils: Help Your Child Get a Grip! {part 1}

By: Marcy Martin OTR/L

> Getting a Grip   { part 1: modifications }

Now that school has started back again, maybe you have noticed that your child holds his or her writing utensil awkwardly. If so, included in this post are modifications that can help your child develop a more appropriate grasp.

The primary reason that children hold a pencil in a non-functional grasp is that a pencil was placed into their hands before they developed the skills needed to hold and control it correctly. If children are required to write but lack some needed skill, they will adapt by holding the pencil with their whole fist, putting every fingertip on the pencil, hyperextending the fingers, or pressing down really hard or too lightly.

In preschool and early elementary years you can correct your child’s grasp by helping him or her to develop the skills needed to hold a writing utensil more effectively–increasing writing speed, endurance, and legibility.

It is important to note that you should only try to change your child’s grasp if the grasp is not a functional grasp–meaning that the grasp slows down writing, makes writing sloppy, or makes the child’s hand hurt. It is also important to realize that changing a grasp can be very difficult for a child who has a strong and established pattern. For example, if you have an older child who has been using an ineffective grasp for a long time, you may have to work harder and wait longer to see progress.

> 5 Modifications to Help Develop Good Grasping Skills

1. Correct set-up.

Help your child learn how the pencil should be situated in his hand. Hand the child the utensil with the tip toward his body, instruct him to pinch just above the tip, and then flip the utensil into his hand.

Below is a link to a free printable with a song and image that teaches your child how to set up the pencil correctly in his hand:

Free Printable Pencil Hold Rhyme Poster by K3 Teacher Resources

2. Pencil grip.


Many different kinds of pencil grips are available. The image pictured here shows one of my favorites.

The most important things about choosing a pencil grip is how your child’s hand looks using the gripper and that the child likes it (otherwise it will just sit unused in a bookbag).

3. Use a short pencil or break crayons.

Sometimes less is more and that’s the strategy here: Less space to wrap fingers will sometimes encourage the child to use fingertips.

Be careful using this strategy with younger children because we never want to make writing or coloring more frustrating for children than it may already be for them.

4. Hold a ball.


Have a child hold an object with her ring and pinky fingers to help with hand separation. It is impossible for a child to put all of her fingers on the pencil if she is holding something as well.

A small Play·doh ball works well because it is light and can be easily made into a size perfect for your child’s hand.

5. Vertical surface.

To create a vertical writing surface, use an easel, hang a clipboard on the wall, or use magnets or tape to hold paper on the smooth surface of the refrigerator. Have the child practicing writing or drawing from this new angle.

This technique uses gravity to pull a child’s wrist into a better position for grasp development.

Click here to read the next post in this series for games to improve a child’s grasping skills for using pencils and utensils in “Pencils: Help Your Child Get a Grip {part 2}”.

*Note:  If you have concerns for your child’s grasping skills and/or functional hand use, have your child evaluated by a Pediatric Occupational Therapist. The tips and adaptations included in this post cannot replace the clinical observations and therapeutic activities provided by a licensed therapist.



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