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.

Left hand hook pencil grip

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, a 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.

The Adaptive Tripod Pencil Grip for Handwriting

Adaptive grip copyright image

The Adaptive Tripod pencil grip is identical to the Dynamic Tripod grip (still considered the most appropriate for handwriting) in that the pencil is held between the tip of the thumb and index finger and rests on the middle finger. The main difference is that the shaft of the pencil rests in the ‘V between the index and middle finger. This gives an open web space which allows the fingers to move freely so that a fluid handwriting style can be achieved.

This grip is often more appropriate for 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
  • Hold the pencil lightly using just their fingertips (often writing using whole arm movements)
  • Hold a pencil with their thumb wrapped around and across the pencil and index finger.

Changing to the Adaptive Tripod grip is not a quick fix for children who have poor hand and finger strength. These strengths still need to be developed to make handwriting more comfortable.

How to form the Adaptive Tripod Grip for Right & Left-handed Writers

From the research I have done I cannot find any information that the grip needs to be adapted for left handed writers. So, our step by step guide applies to both left and right-handed writers and can be accessed using the following link and scrolling down the page:  http://bit.ly/2XpuI8I

The Quadrupod Grip for Handwriting

quadropod-grip

We explained last week, that this grip is classified as an efficient grip for handwriting.

I have to confess that I‘m not totally convinced.

This grip may not put as much stress on the finger joints as other inefficient grips but it does restrict finger movements and therefore the fluidity of the handwriting.

The Quadrupod Grip is where 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.

I would normally see this as a developmental transitional pencil grip in younger children as they then move on to develop a Dynamic Tripod Grip, considered the most appropriate grip for handwriting.

Older children who have not moved on to develop the tripod grip may require more focused support in developing gross and/or fine motor skills. It is important to check that they are sitting correctly at the table and that the paper is positioned and tilted correctly for them. If they have a poor sitting posture it may be that extra work needs to be done on helping them to develop their gross motor skills. If this area seems fine then it could be that their fine motor skills require additional attention. See our ‘Key strengths needed for handwriting’ section for more information: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-key-strengths.html

It can be very difficult to get an older child to change their pencil grip especially if the old grip, like the Quadrupod Grip, is very similar to the new Dynamic Tripod Grip. This is when it becomes difficult to know whether to continue to try and make a child change their pencil grip or not.

I think what we have to remember is:

“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 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)

So if the child is complaining that their hand or fingers hurt or ache when they use the Quadrupod Grip, or that it is hindering their handwriting fluidity and speed, then we do need to support them in changing their grip. For some it may be more appropriate to introduce them to the Adaptive Tripod Grip rather than trying to force them to use the Dynamic Tripod Grip.

We have to remember that every child is different and try our best to cater to their needs rather than our own preferences.

Alternative Pencil Grips for Handwriting

cartoon pencil hold

We ran this article last year, however due to the number of questions we receive regarding pencil grips and what is OK or not, we thought it would be useful to cover the topic again.

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, explain 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.
  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 was 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.

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 Grip.

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

Web-sites:

https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com/correct-pencil-grasp.html

https://www.otplan.com/articles/pencil-grasp-patterns.aspx

https://www.pediastaff.com/resources-pencil-grasp-patterns–may-2009

The Move from Pencil to Pen

pens 1

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

pencil power 1

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.

The Right Handwriting Tool for the Job!

writing tools 2

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 off-putting 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 flow 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 to 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.

Warm up For Handwriting!

tommy-thumb

Well the festive holidays are over and many of us are back at work and school. So it is time to get back into good habits for the New Year!

So, before you try to encourage your little darlings to sit and write, get them to do a few physical handwriting ‘Warm Up Exercises’.  Not only do they help to prepare the hands and fingers for the task ahead, they also help to release any tension that has built up. They are fun to do, which usually brings a smile and often laughter, an added tonic to any learning experience.

The warm up exercises can be accessed through a number of ways:

  • Teachers through the content section for the Key Stage you are teaching by clicking on the Handwriting warm up activities button.
  • Parents through the getting the most from our website section by clicking on the picture under the Taking the tension out of handwriting title.
  • Resources in the How to Teach Handwriting section by clicking on the Handwriting warm up activities button.
  • Follow this link: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-warm-up-exercises.html

Joining Letters – So Much More Than Just Good Handwriting

join sentences

Research in recent years by psychologists, educationalists and neuroscientists has found that older children, with better handwriting skills, showed greater neural activity in areas associated with working memory (used for planning, ideas generation and composition skills for written work).

Due to the way that our working memory functions the handwriting process can impact on the quality of the work. For instance, those who have poor handwriting ability use a disproportionate amount of their working memory capacity in recalling and forming the letters, effectively blocking the higher level composition process (Gathercole, Pickering, Knight & Stegmann 2004, cited Medwell et al. 2007).

This is because children with fluent handwriting skills have developed an automotive (instant, subconscious) ability to recall and reproduce letter patterns, making handwriting a lower level process within their working memory.

This would suggest that learning to handwrite with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility is a vital goal if we want our children to reach their true potential. Learning to join letters is therefore an important step to achieving this. Once handwriting has been mastered a child can focus more effectively on the composition and structure of the piece, which requires planning and logical thought processes, so that the plot or argument can be fully explored and presented.

Here at Teach Handwriting we also recognise that for some SEND children learning to join their handwriting may not be a logical option. However this does not mean that using a single letter font style stops them from handwriting with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility (though it may never be as fast as a joined font).

Bibliography

Medwell. J, Wray. D: Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know, Literacy Vol. 41, No 1, April 2007.

Why it is Important to Teach Correct Letter Formation

Beginner and sign

It can often be assumed children will pick up how to write letters if they see them often enough (by osmosis). This is just not the case.  Correct letter formation has to be taught. Seeing a completed letter or word or watching it be typed up and appear on a screen does not show children how to form the letters.

For children to develop a good handwriting style it is important to learn how to form letters correctly to begin with as this makes the transition from single letter formation to joined letter handwriting much easier. This enables them to develop a speedy, fluid and legible handwriting style.

Letters are created through joining lines and curve shapes in a particular way. They have a designated start point and set directional pushes and pulls of the pencil to reach the designated finish point. This is why at Teach Handwriting we teach letter formation in groups/families rather than in alphabetical order. Certain groups use the same, or similar, shape and directional push and pulls of the pencil to form the letter, for instance the letter c has the same start point and anti-clockwise directional movement shape that is needed to create the letters a, d, g, o and, though a little more complicated, the letters s and e. Teaching letters in groups and families can also help to limit letter reversals such as b and d.

Due to how handwriting has or hasn’t been taught over the generations we all have our own way of handwriting. When supporting and teaching young children we need to develop a consistent approach so that they do not get confused or frustrated by adults giving them conflicting information.

For parents this means finding out from your child’s school which letter font they are teaching so that you can support them more effectively at home. This may mean that you have to learn a new way of writing some letters. This also applies to teachers and teaching assistants. As the adults in the situation we have to accept that it is for us to make the changes. Just because something is different from the way we were taught, or do it, doesn’t mean it is wrong it is just different!

Our free letter animations are not just to support children with their learning but also to provide parents and teachers (all adults really) with the knowledge and support to help children develop a consistent handwriting style.