Alternative Pencil Grips for Handwriting

cartoon pencil hold

We ran this article last year but the debate around what is an appropriate pencil grip for writing is still hotly contended. This is why in the past we have tried to stay clear of the topic and only ever provided information on the Dynamic Tripod Grip, which is still considered the most appropriate for handwriting.

However it has become increasingly evident that we need to look more carefully at alternative suitable efficient grips for handwriting. It is too easy for us to say that one particular grip is best and then plough on regardless and not really address the fact that one size, or in this case one method, does not fit all.

What is an efficient pencil grip?

“A pencil hold that provides speed, legibility is comfortable and will not cause harm to the joints of the hand over time. If a hold satisfies these criteria there is no need to change it”

(Benrow 2002, cited: Foundation of Paediatric Practice for the Occupational Therapy Assistant, 2005)

The above publication, and those listed at the end of the article, explains that there are three efficient pencil grips for handwriting:

  1. The Dynamic Tripod Grip is still the most appropriate grip for handwriting, for those with good fine motor skills, as it allows the fingers to move freely; so the writer can form the letters more smoothly.
    • The Tripod Grip has an open web space. The pencil is held between the top of the thumb and index finger and rests on the middle finger with the ring and little fingers gently curled in
  2. The Quadrupod Grip, this grip is a little more restrictive because the fingers cannot move as freely as they would if using the Tripod grip.
    • The Quadrupod Grip also has an open web space. The pencil is held between the top of the thumb, index and middle fingers and rests on the ring finger with the little finger slightly curled in.
  3. The Adaptive Tripod or D’Nealian Grip developed by the Belgian Neurologist Callewaert in 1963 (cited, Ann-Sofie Selin 2003) is a functional though not conventional grip for handwriting. This grip is often more appropriate to use with children who have low muscle tone or hyper mobility of the finger joints. It can also benefit older children who continue to hold a pencil too tightly, or who hold the pencil lightly using just their fingertips (often writing using whole arm movements), as well as those children who hold a pencil with their thumb wrapped around and across the pencil and index finger.
    • The Adaptive Tripod or D’Nealian Grip has a smaller open web space than the other two grips with the pencil held between the index and middle fingers, the tip of the thumb and the index finger on the pencil, which rests against the top section of the middle finger.

Over the next few weeks we will look more closely at each of these three grips, starting with what might be considered by some the most controversial The Adaptive Tripod or D’Nealian Grip.


Ann-Sofie Selin, 2003: Pencil Grip A Descriptive Model and Four Empirical Studies; Abo Akademi University Press

A Wagenteld, J Kaldenberg (co-editors), 2005: Foundation of Paediatric Practice for the Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pub: Slack Incorporated, ISBN-10:1-55642-629-1




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