Pencils: Help Your Child Get a Grip! {part 2}

> Getting a Grip     { part 2 }
Games to Improve a Child’s Grasping Skills

While helping your school-age children with homework or coloring pictures with your toddler, you might have noticed that your child holds his or her writing utensil awkwardly. If so, included in this post are games 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. The activities in this post will help a child to develop the shoulder strength and stability, hand strength, hand separation, and hand coordination necessary to hold a pencil with a functional grasp that allows them to write legibly in a time-efficient manner.

Spending more time playing games like the ones below will not only help children to build up the hand skills that are the root of a good grasp but will also decrease the time they spend putting a utensil into a hand that isn’t equipped with the motor coordination to control that utensil.

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.

To read about modifications for improving your child’s grasping skills, click here to read my previous post, Pencils: Help Your Child Get Grip Part 1.


> 3 Games to Play for Improving Grasping Skill

GAME 1: Penny or pompom pick up race

Set up:
Make 2 lines of 3-5 pennies or pom-poms (pennies are more challenging).

How to play:


  1. Each player puts one hand behind his or her back.
  2. With the fingertips of the other hand, pick up the objects one at a time (no sliding to the edge of the table).
  3. Move the object into the palm of that same, freeing the fingertips of the hand to pick up the next object. Player must keep all objects in the palm while picking up remaining objects.
  4. Once objects are all in the palm, the player wins!

For an added challenge, continue the race by moving the objects one at a time from palm to fingertips and then place them back on the table or into a slot of a container (such as a piggy bank).

Why play?
This activity helps develop the hand coordination and separation necessary for holding and controlling a pencil as the child is learning to control and move objects with one hand while part of the same hand remains stable.

GAME 2: Clothespin game

IMG_4194Set up: Grab a bowl filled with clothespins and a die.

How to play:
Players take turns cupping hands to shake the die and then roll the die. The number rolled is the number of clothes pins that the player will attach to the opponent’s clothes. The player with the most clothespins on his/her clothes in the end wins.

Why play?
Shaking a die with two hands cupped together helps develop palmar arches of the hand. Squeezing the clothespins will develop strength of the child’s pincer grasp. For an added challenge, have your child try to use the pinky and thumb to pinch open the clothes pins.

GAME 3: Bear or drag racing

IMG_4196Set up:
Clear some space on the floor and establish a start and finish line.

How to play:
For bear racing: In the bear crawl position (all fours), race you child.

For drag racing: Sit with legs straight in front of body and turn your backs to the finish line. Put arms on the floor behind you with fingers pointing toward your toes. Scoot your body toward the finish line only using your arms and dragging your legs.

Why play?
These two activities will improve strength and stability of your child’s shoulder. Establishing a good stable base at the shoulder increases distal control of the hand.

*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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