Choosing a Pen for Handwriting

Choosing and using the right pen can help to avoid smudging; make handwriting look smarter and prevent hand strain when writing for extended periods of time. Everyone is different, so the type of pen required is different too.

There are three main points to think about when choosing a pen for handwriting:

  1. The type of ink it uses.
  2. The size and weight of the pen.
  3. The type of point it has.

1. Types of ink used:

  • Oil-based ink
    • The ink is quick drying and so does not smudge easily
    • The ink flows smoothly depending on the point style of the pen
    • Ink can stop and start for no apparent reason
    • Water-based ink
      • The ink does not dry as quickly as oil-based ink so can smudge
      • The ink flows very smoothly

2. Pen sizes and weights

Because pens come in different shapes, sizes and weights it is important for your child to try out a range of pen styles to help them find the best fit for them. Remember one pen style does not suit all, everyone’s hand size and finger length are different.

Things to consider when choosing a pen:

  • Does it feel too short or too long?
  • Does it feel too thin or too thick?
  • Does it feel too heavy or too light?
  • Some children like a smooth round pen shape.
  • Some prefer a textured round pen shape.
  • While others may prefer a hexagon shaped pen.

3. Pen points

Pens come with different point or nib widths and shapes. The size and shape of the point gives different line thicknesses and are usually purchased as point sizes: extra fine, fine, medium or bold (some will have a measurement on as well).

A fine pen point produces thin lines and some children will find this can help to make writing neater.

A medium and bold point give thicker lines which many may find smoother to write with, though the letter size may be slightly larger because of it.

Once again it is important that children try out a range of pen point sizes to help them find the best fit for them.

Remember one pen point style does not suit all, everyone’s fine motor skills and writing pressures are different.

The Move from Pencil to Pen

Last week we looked at why pencils, rather than pens, are a good first tool for learning to handwrite.

Children can’t wait however for that magic day when the teacher moves them from pencil to pen. It really is a big moment and means more than just “I can write neatly”, for them it is an acknowledgement of their maturity (growing up) and a status symbol of intellect and ability in their eyes and those of their peers.

Moving from pencil to pen can have a dramatic effect on a child’s confidence and self-esteem.  I have seen how moving a child from pencil to pen can give them a new found confidence and self-belief in their own ability, because I showed my belief in them by making that gesture. They may not have had the perfect font style in pencil but moving to pen did improve their ability to form letters more freely and become more consistent in their formation.

It is difficult to put an age on when a child should move from pencil to pen because every child is different. Schools have different policies on when this should happen, with most tending to make the move at around the age of 8/9 years old. It should really depend on the child’s ability rather than their age, as well as the potential benefits the move may have to confidence and self-esteem.

It does not make sense to keep a child working with pencil until they have a perfect handwriting style because that may never happen. For many a neat, beautiful handwriting style may never be a reality.

Advantages of pens:

  • A good quality pen will give an even ink flow.
  • A more consistent hand pressure is required, helping to develop and maintain a fluid handwriting style (reducing hand strain).
  • Fibre tip and roller pens can give the same look and writing experience as a good quality fountain pen, but are far less messy (especially for left-handed people).
  • With the right pen everyone’s handwriting can look good, (I love my fountain pen for that reason).

Limitations:

  • Cheap biro pens require a lot of hand pressure and give an inconsistent ink flow (so not very different from pencils).
  • Cheap fountain pens can be scratchy and messy
  • Some schools will insist on using a particular type of pen which is not always good for all.

My tip would be to test a few pen types and weights to find out which ones your child finds the most comfortable and enjoyable to use. I realise this can be an issue if your child’s school insist on one type of pen. But if you can prove your child’s handwriting ability is great with a different style, I think it is worth talking to them about it. Moving from pencil to pen is an important point in a child’s education, affecting their confidence and self-esteem, and like any transition stage it should be approached with thought and care.

Pencil Power!

Why do we use pencils when we start to teach handwriting?

Modern classrooms use a range of technology, such as interactive white boards, so why are our children still using pencils when learning how to handwrite?

Pencils are a great first tool for learning to handwrite!

Why?

  • They come in different widths and lengths (to cater for the different gross and fine motor skills of the children).
  • Have different lead thickness and grades (soft to hard) of lead.
  • Provide varying degrees of resistance (depending on lead grade) which slows down the letter formation process enough for young children to have the control required to start to form their letters correctly. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.
  • As a child develops their handwriting skills to a more fluid handwriting style the pencil type can be easily changed.
  • Cheap and easily accessible.
  • A drawing medium which young children are already comfortable using.

Limitations:

  • Often a one size fits all approach to the pencil type, rather than tailoring to a child’s needs.
  • Difficulty in maintaining a good writing point, results in the child needing to use different levels of pressure, making handwriting hard work.
  • Over use of rubbing out mistakes (wastes time and develops a culture where making a mistake is seen as a failure). Making mistakes is how we learn; it is not failing!

 Pencils are practical in school:

  • With pencil, children find it more difficult to write on one another and their clothes.
  • You do not have a whole class of children clicking pens (Velcro is bad enough).
  • Pen lids are not constantly lost or being swallowed.
  • Pencils seem less of a problem when stuck in ears or up the nose.
  • They are cheap.
  • Pencils do not explode, leaving a mess all over the room and any child that happened to be in the room at the time.
  • Time not wasted by trying to suck the ink up out of the pen.

Handwriting is a complicated skill to learn and having the right tools for the job always helps. It is worth spending a little time with children using a range of pencil styles and lead grades to find ones that they find comfortable to use for handwriting. These will be different from those they use for drawing. As their handwriting skills develop so the type and grade of pencil they begin to favour will change.

Too much Pressure or not Enough – #Handwriting?

Some children may hold a pencil correctly but struggle to maintain and control the pressure required to handwrite.

Here are some additional tips to help support a child who is pressing down too hard with their pencil:

Focused games and activities can develop both the physical strength and sensory perception areas.

  • Make sure that the pencil isn’t gripped too close to the tip of the pencil (check out the how to teach section for more information).
  • Play dough writing – flatten a large piece of play dough/clay on to a desk and using a pencil write or draw onto it. The idea is to create smooth lines, not torn ones, which pressing too hard will create. The advantage of this activity is it gives a child instant feedback about whether they are pressing too hard or not. When a good pressure has been found ask the child to try doing it with their eyes closed and talk through how their body feels when they are using the right amount of pressure.
  • Corrugated card – place some corrugated card under the writing paper – the aim is to try not to flatten the bumps in the card.
  • Tin foil writing board – wrap a piece of card in tin foil and place the paper on top, the aim is to not rip the foil when writing.
  • Carbon copies – use carbon paper to create an extra copy, start with two or three sheets of paper on top of the carbon paper then move to two and then one, so that your child starts developing an understanding of how much pressure is needed for a task and how that feels. Talk through with them how it feels as they need less pressure to create a copy.
  • Pattern work – look at and discuss light and dark line patterns and how to create them. Then using different writing tools ask the child to try and create their own. Talk through how it feels when they are making dark lines compared to faint/pale colour lines using the same pencil or crayon.

Here are some additional tips to help support a child who is Not pressing down hard enough with their pencil:

Focused games and activities can help develop the physical strength and sensory perception areas.

  • Crayon rubbings – when a good pressure has been found ask the child to try doing it with their eyes closed and talk through how their body feels when they are using the right amount of pressure.
  • Wax drawings – rub a wax crayon all over a piece of paper then turn it over on to a plain piece of paper. Draw on the back of the wax crayoned paper and when finished lift and see another copy of the picture. The greater the pressure the more complete the hidden picture will appear.
  • Carbon copies – use carbon paper to create an extra copy, start with one sheet of paper on top of the carbon paper then move to two so that the child starts to develop an understanding of how much pressure is needed for a task and how that feels.
  • Use a softer pencil such as a B6 or B4 and slowly change the pencils so that they work up to a HB. Each pencil change will mean they have to exert a little more pressure to create the same line mark. B marked pencils are softer than H.
  • Pattern work – look at and discuss light and dark line patterns and how to create them. Then using different writing tools ask the child to try and create their own. Talk through how it feels when they are making dark lines compared to faint/pale colour lines using the same pencil or crayon.

Hand Swapping Issues?

Hand Swapping is a normal developmental stage in infants and young children and therefore, at this stage, not a sign that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand. However, this is not ideal for a child who has started school.

Hand swapping throughout a task is not necessarily a sign that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand.

There are two routes to tackling the hand swapping issue, the one to use depends on your answers to the following questions.

1. Does the child usually start with the one hand and then swap when that hand gets tired?

You can usually tell if this is the case because they may shake out or rub the tired hand and once it is rested go back to using it again. This is probably because their fine motor skills are weak. Through focused games and activities (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-muscles.html#hand ), the muscle strength and dexterity can be gradually built up in the dominant hand, which in turn will build their stamina so that the hand swapping will reduce until they stop it altogether.

Once you are sure of dominance gently discourage swapping hands by taking a break from the activity and coming back to it a couple of minutes later using the preferred hand.

2. Does the child use their left hand if items are presented on their left-hand side and their right hand if they are presented on the right-hand side?

In toddlers and young children this is expected. In older children however it could mean that they have developed a delay in their skill to cross the mid-line point. This developmental bilateral coordination skill is vital to develop and can be addresses through a range of simple games and activities (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-muscles.html#bilat ).

Poor hand position can cause a poor pen grip

We often talk about the most appropriate grip for handwriting being the tripod grip; but this usually only refers to finger position. It is easy to forget the importance of the actual hand position in relation to the pen and paper for handwriting.

The ideal position is for the hand, wrist and elbow to be below the tip of the pencil and under the writing line for both left and right-handed writers.

Some children will hold the pencil in a tripod grip but develop a hooked hand position or move the elbow too far up the table, causing the forearm and wrist to be nearly horizontal with the table edge, because they feel they can see what they are writing more clearly.

A hooked grip puts unnecessary strain on the hand ligaments and forces the body into a poor sitting position, again putting extra strain on the body. This in turn makes handwriting a tiring and uncomfortable task, impacting on a child’s overall learning experience.

It takes time to correct a poor hand position but it is well worth the perseverance as it will enable a child to write freely and more comfortably.

When writing normally, encourage children to angle the paper appropriately as this will also help to correct a poor hand position. With the correct paper tilt they will always be able to see what they are writing. If the paper is tilted at the correct angle for them, they will find a hooked hand position, or having their forearm further up the table, more difficult and uncomfortable to maintain.

Some children will find writing on a sloped desk helpful. Not all are comfortable writing or drawing on a flat surface and may benefit from the paper being positioned on an angled or sloped board. If you are not sure, instead of buying a specialist board, you could make one. Try using a ring binder or lever arch file stuffed with magazines and newspaper to make a sloped board. Tape the edges to stop the papers falling out or you could cover it in sticky back plastic to give a smoother finish to the board. The advantage of this is that you can make them to any angle of slope. Try a few to see which, if any, your child prefers. You may find that they only need the sloped board for a short while. It may also help to reduce the angle of the slope over time so that they gradually get used to moving from a sloped to horizontal writing plane.

Alternative Pencil Grips for Handwriting

We thought we would re-run this article due to the number of questions we receive regarding pencil grips and what is OK or NOT.

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 articles, explain that there are three efficient pencil grips for handwriting:

1. The Dynamic Tripod Grip is still the most appropriate grip for handwriting (we looked at this last week using our ‘Drawbridge Flip’ method), for those with good fine motor skills, as it allows the fingers to move freely; so, the writer can form the letters more smoothly.

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.

3. The Adaptive Tripod 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.

Bibliography

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

The Best Pencil Grip for #Handwriting – Tripod Grip

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 following link will take you to the grip section of our ‘Parents’ section of the teachhandwriting.co.uk website where you will find information on the tripod grip for left and right-handed writer: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/tripod-pencil-grip.html

The Drawbridge Flip Method is a simple way of helping a child pick up a pencil and hold it correctly in the tripod grip for handwriting. This can also be used as a whole class approach to support correct pencil grip development for handwriting.

Follow this link for an instructional video for both left and right-handed writers on how to use the Drawbridge Flip method: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/whole-class-tripod-pencil-grip-teaching-ks1.html

Drawbridge Flip instructions:

  • Place the pencil on the table in front of the writing hand, so it forms a straight line up the table with the writing tip of the pencil pointing towards you.
  • Then using your thumb and index finger pinch the pencil either side of the shaft about 2 cm up from the tip for a right-handed writer and about 3 cm up for a left-handed writer. Dots or sticker may be placed on the pencil to help thumb and finger placement.
  • Pick the pencil up off the table and place the fingernail of the middle finger on to the pencil just above the tip.
  • Keep the ring and little finger gently curled in.
  • Push down with the middle finger so that the pencil moves up and over like a drawbridge, keep pushing until the pencil is supported in the cup (web of skin that joins the thumb, hand and index finger) and the pencil is resting on the inner edge of middle finger.
  • When writing, the end of the pencil will be angled towards the shoulder for right-handed writers and the elbow for left-handed writers.

The Five Stages of Pencil Grip Development

There are 5 developmental stages, that a child needs to go through, before they can successfully use a mature tripod grip. They need to work through each stage and as their hand, shoulder and arm strength and mobility increases so does their ability to move to the next developmental stage of the grip. Children develop through these grip stages over time with new experiences using different tools and drawing/writing mediums especially in the early years (0 to 4 years old).

You will find that young children will move between, or have slightly different versions of, the grips depending on the task or the effect they are trying to achieve. This is exactly what we want to happen.

Stage 1. Palmer-supinate grasp

Holds the crayon/pencil in fist (whole hand) like a dagger. They use whole arm movements from the shoulder to mark-make. Due to this whole arm movement they prefer to work on a vertical surface.

Stage 2. Palmer or digital-pronate grasp

Holds a crayon/pencil with the palm of the hand facing down towards the paper. The crayon/pencil is held by all finger and the thumb. The movement comes from the shoulder and elbow. Again, due to the way the arm moves a vertical surface is preferred.

Stage 3. Four finger and thumb grip

Holds the crayon/pencil between the thumb and four fingers with the crayon/pencil nearly vertical up right position. Movement comes from the elbow and wrist.

Stage 4. Static Quadruped or tripod grip

Holds the pencil in very nearly in the correct position however the web space is narrower than it would be if held in a mature tripod grip. This means that the movement is coming from the wrist and large finger movements.

Stage 5. Mature/Dynamic tripod grip

This is traditionally considered the most appropriate pencil grip for handwriting. Holding the pencil between the thumb and index finger with pencil supported on the middle finger. The ring and little fingers are gently curled inwards. This give an open wide web space which means the movement comes from the fingers.

For more information on the five stages of pencil grip development click on the following link: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/grip-development.html

Case Studies

For example, young Billy here is using a variation of a stage 1 – 3 throughout these colouring activities:

In this example it might look as if Billy has gone backwards in his grip development but he has not, he has learnt that the grip he is using offers him greater control:

Young William here is using different variations of stages 2 and 3 for gluing and painting activities:

Esme and Issy have both moved to stage 4 although for some activities such as drawing/painting they may use a different grip, but that is what we would expect to see.

The Right Handwriting Tool for the Job!

As with learning any new skill the right tool at the right time can make a real difference to the whole learning experience as well as the outcome. Learning to handwrite is no different.

Young children due to their gross and fine motor skills ability require chunky shafted tools so that they can grip them effectively. This means they have a greater control over the tool and can achieve a more satisfactory outcome. If they are using a tool that is too thin, they will find gripping it difficult and have to keep changing their grip. They will have less control of the tool making the experience disappointing at best and discouraging at worst.

To help young children to store patterns and letter shapes formation into their motor memory it is important that the tools used provide a resistance rather than one that flows effortlessly over the writing/drawing surface. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.

Some of the best tools for young children to begin learning to draw patterns, shapes and correctly write letters:

  • Chalk on boards, walls or paths
  • Flip chart pens or large felt tips on course paper such as sugar paper
  • Using appropriately sized paint brushes on course paper or surfaces
  • Finger painting or finger drawing in sand, paint or cornflour mix
  • Finger tracing and then trying to draw the pattern, shape or letter straight afterwards.
  • Try chalking the shape or letter onto a blackboard and have the child use a damp sponge to wipe it off again (make sure the child starts in the correct place and moves correctly around the shape or letter to the correct finish point).
  • Appropriately sized crayons and pencils on course paper or card (non-shiny side of cereal boxes and corrugated card can be good fun and different to use).

As children begin a more formal approach to learning to form their letters correctly then appropriately sized and lead grade pencils are the best tool for the job. Pencil come in all widths, lengths and shapes. The key is to find the style of pencil which best suits the child and their stage of pencil grip development. Remember one size doesn’t fit all! When a child has learnt to join their letters and has a good and consistent letter size and places all their letters on the writing line correctly in relation to each other, then it maybe they are ready to be moved to pen. It is important before moving a child to pen that they are writing with speed (appropriate for their age) and fluidity (comfortable writing all the letters of the alphabet lower and upper-case correctly). A child whose handwriting is slow and laboured may need additional support and time before being moved on to pen.