The Best Pencil Grip for #Handwriting – Tripod Grip

Left-handed Writer & Right-handed Writer

The Drawbridge Flip Method is a simple way of helping your child pick up a pencil and hold it correctly in the tripod grip 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://bit.ly/2JiJrfH

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.

Handwriting is a Physical Activity

Handwriting with fluidity, speed, accuracy and over longer periods of time requires a complex range of whole body and hand strengths and skills. So it is not surprising that many children find handwriting challenging.

For a good handwriting style children need to develop their:

  • Gross Motor Skills – so they can sit correctly for periods of time.
  • Fine Motor Skills – so that they can hold and control the pencil and move the paper up the table as they write.
  • Motor Memory Skills – so they can recall how to form the letters.
  • Visual Memory Skills – so they recall what a particular letter looks like.
  • Spatial Awareness Skills– so they can place the letters correctly on the paper and in relation to one another.
  • Eye Tracking Skills– scanning from left to right so that the letters are formed and placed correctly.

If a child is struggling with handwriting it is important to take a closer look at their physical abilities. If they do not have all the appropriate key physical strengths to support their handwriting development getting them to do more of the paper and pencil activities is not the answer.

Our assessments are simple to complete and do not need any specialist equipment. The important elements are; your knowledge of the child and your observations of them at play and while they are engaged in normal day to day task.

You will find our assessments on the ‘Key Strengths needed for handwriting’ page: http://bit.ly/2D1RKKs

A better understanding of a child’s key skills abilities enables you to focus more effectively, through targeted physical games and activities, to help them build and develop their skills.

You will find ‘Games to build gross and fine motor skills’ here: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7  and ‘Games for the other physical skills’ such as visual memory and eye tracking here: http://bit.ly/2M350S1

Handwriting is such an important skill as it engages the neurological pathways and working memory in a way that pressing a keyboard just doesn’t; so once mastered it helps to open up the doorways to other literacy skills such as phonics, reading, spelling and composition.

Paper Position & Tilt are Important for Good Handwriting

The correct paper position and tilt enables your child to handwrite comfortably while being able to see what they are writing. It also allows the non-writing hand to move the paper up the table so that the writing hand elbow can stay in the same position. The aim is to have the paper move up the table, rather than the writing hand moving down and eventually off the table.

As a class teacher I noticed that by the time children were about 8 or 9 years old it was very difficult to encourage them to move the paper up the table as they wrote. They would very often move their writing hand down the table, keeping the paper still, struggling to write properly as their hand hung over the edge of the table. Bad habits start early and can be difficult to change; good paper position and paper movement training at an early age can make such a difference to a child’s handwriting ability.

So why is paper position and tilt often ignored when teaching handwriting?

Maybe it is because experts disagree on what is the most appropriate paper tilt for right and left-handed writers. As there is no clear guidance people become uncomfortable about giving advice and so brush over the value of angling the paper for handwriting.

The most appropriate paper tilt angle is generally suggested as anywhere between 20 to 45 degrees anti-clockwise for right-handed writers and 30 to 45 degrees clockwise for left-handed writers.

For more tips and advice on developing a good paper tilt angle checkout this section of our website: http://bit.ly/2QSssWQ

Why do Children Fidget or Appear Bored When Handwriting?

There are two key elements that can cause a child to fidget or appear bored when handwriting, both relate to being able to sit correctly:

  1. The height of the table and chair
  2. The child’s physical core strength

Table and Chair Height

A poor and uncomfortable sitting position that causes a child to fidget and wriggle about affects their ability to concentrate and pay attention; for example, when listening to a teacher, as well as distracting them from the task and breaking their train of thought. It also puts unnecessary strain on the body, making sitting tasks such as handwriting more tiring.

When a child is sitting on a chair too high for them they may sit swinging their legs, causing the body to rock slightly. They might wrap their legs around the legs of the chair to stop them aching, which is not good for their circulation and can cause them to lean back away from the table top. Some children will sit with their legs underneath their bottom which often causes them to lean too far over the table due to being off balance, once again not good for their circulation or for handwriting and other fine motor skill activities such as eating or drawing.

If a table is too high for a child they will have their arms raised too high, causing tension in the upper arms and shoulders or they may rest their head on the table. Both have a profound effect on a child’s ability to handwrite with fluidity, comfort and for any period of time. Another result of this is a child fidgets as they try to readjust their position to get comfortable, which in turn distracts them from the task at hand. 

For tips and ideas on how to help a child develop a good sitting posture and position for handwriting check out our ‘Sitting’ section on the website: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-sitting-position-desk.html

Sitting and Core Strength

We often see children slouched over a desk, laying their head on the table or with their head propped up by their hand and arm, or fidgeting about while they are sitting at the desk writing. This can look as if they are bored and disinterested in what they are doing. However, this is not generally the case.

A poor posture position is not always due to boredom or incorrect chair and table height. For some children it is a lack of body strength or core muscle tone (the large muscle groups that control shoulder stability and the trunk of the body) that work to enable us to sit and stand upright for sustained periods of time.

We expect our children to sit at a desk for long periods of time at school. To be able to maintain a good sitting position for writing over any length of time requires good core strength. Those who lack strong core strength tend to slouch over the desk, lay their head on the desk, hold their head in their hand or pull their chair in so far that they can rest their tummy on the edge of the table to help them keep a more upright position.

This is bad for them, as it puts unnecessary strain on the body, causing neck or backache and discomfort, which in turn make them fidget as they try to get comfortable. All this can distract them from the task in hand and limit their handwriting ability as it reduces their hand and fingers movements to handwrite freely.

For more information, games and activities on developing a child’s core strengths check out the Key Strengths section of our website: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-key-strengths.html

Warm up For Handwriting!

Well the festive holidays are over and we are back at work and home schooling for many. 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:

#Christmas Finger Printing a Fun Way to Support Handwriting

Hand and finger printing can be a fun way of getting your child used to touching and using different textured mediums. The creative element can help some children to cope with, and learn to overcome, some sensory tactile defence difficulties. Being happy holding objects allows them to hold a pencil comfortably, leading to better handwriting.

Handwriting requires a child to apply the right amount of pressure to get the pencil marks of the letters on to the page. Too little pressure and the writing is often faint and wriggly in appearance (like a spider has walked across the page). Too heavy and the marks are very dark and can tear the paper; often the writing looks big, angular and laboured. Not being able to apply the correct pressure also affects how a child holds the pencil, which can cause the hand and fingers to tire more quickly, making writing tasks challenging.

Printing activities help your child to start to become aware of how to control the amount of pressure they use and the effect that this has on the quality of the work produced. Learning to control the amount of pressure exerted and how it feels can be very difficult for some children and it takes time and a range of experiences to develop these skills.

There are some fabulous printing ideas out on the internet; one of my favourite art resources is The Usborne Art Idea Books. Hand and finger printing can create some amazing artwork which can be used to make wonderful personalised Christmas cards, tags and paper.

Who could not be charmed by these fun thumb and fingertip snowmen or robins or delighted by a hand print angel?

For other useful tips on printing and setting up a printing work station (http://bit.ly/35Z7pWQ), check out our ‘More fun handwriting activities’ in our Resources section: http://bit.ly/2kyeo3w

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: http://bit.ly/2YFfqMp

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 glueing 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.

Why do young children love to draw on walls?

Young children love drawing on walls due to the stage of their physical development. They draw from the shoulder, rather than the elbow and wrist, using large arm movements. At this stage they prefer vertical drawing and painting surfaces as it allows a free range of movements. This is why they will write on walls (often newly decorated), not because they are meaning to be naughty but because it just feels comfortable and so more enjoyable.

Drawing and writing on a vertical surface is important at this stage as it helps young children develop the wrist strength and flexibility needed later to hold a pencil correctly for handwriting. Having the freedom to move more instinctively without restrictions means that a child is free to focus on other aspects, such as feeling the movement as they make shapes and gaining the confidence to have a go without fear of getting it wrong.

Case Study

Esme at the age of 3yrs 9mths was very happy to draw (more scribbling) and colour sitting at the table but Mum was not quite sure how to move her on. So, the following idea was suggested; to tape some large pieces of plain paper up on a suitable wall for her to draw on with appropriately sized pens, crayons or chalks.

This was the response:

Message from Mum was:

“She’s loving this idea. She did a triangle and a ‘s’ all on her own with no encouragement.”

As the day went on Esme revisited the drawing wall and later on that day this photo arrived: 

Message from Mum: “She just did her name.” This had been the first time she had done this.

An easel was then ordered!

The jump from a vertical to a horizontal writing surface can seem too great for some children; due to their stage of development. If they are still using some large whole arm and/or big elbow movements then they may benefit from the paper being positioned on a sloped board.

The Best Type of Paper for Teaching Handwriting

Just as the writing tool used by your child changes as they develop, so does the paper they write on.

Informal Pre-handwriting Pattern and Initial Letter Development

If your child is just starting out on the handwriting adventure then any type of plain paper (no ruled lines) is considered the best option, as many children find it less restrictive.

Young children, due to the stage of their physical development, use large movements to draw (from the shoulder rather than the wrist) which often creates larger shapes and lines; you don’t want to restrict this movement as it can cause handwriting difficulties later. As their gross and fine motor skills develop so does their pencil grip and ability to draw and write at a smaller scale, moving more from the shoulder to elbow and wrist.

Formal Pre-handwriting Pattern and Letter Development

When your child is ready to refine their pre-handwriting pattern skills, or move on to forming letters, it is a good idea to use plain paper. The aim at this stage is to learn how to form the letters correctly, not size or neatness as that comes later.

Before moving to lined paper, to help your child begin to appreciate letter proportions and positioning, paper with picture clues can be used.

On our website the free writing paper and animations reinforce the idea of letter proportions and positioning by splitting the backgrounds into three colour zones to represent the sky, grass and earth. There are a number of reasons why this can be beneficial:

  • It can create a sub-conscious memory in your child’s mind of where particular letters sit in relation to others without the constraints of lines or obvious boundaries, especially as the picture can be any size. Children remember where to place the sun, grass or worms in their drawings; so why not letters?
  • It can be easier to talk through the formation of how a shape or letter is formed with pictorial and colour clues to guide and inform the direction of the movements required.     
  • As your child’s fine motor skills develop so the size of the picture/colour clues can be reduced to match their progress.

As your child’s fine motor skills develop it enables them to form smaller more refined versions of the letters and this is when it is more appropriate to use lined paper.

To download different line heights of our picture and coloured coded paper, scroll to the bottom of our ‘Handwriting Animations and Worksheets Page’: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI

Teaching Letter Joins – A Systematic Approach

Continuous Cursive and Cursive font styles

We would recommend teaching joins in join type groups, whether your child has learnt cursive or continuous cursive single letter fonts.

Teaching the join types in their groups helps a child to understand the directional pushes and pulls required to successfully join the different letter combinations.

There are 4 main groups of letter joins; bottom joins, bottom to “c” shape joins, “e” joins (top and bottom join strokes) and top joins.

Moving from Cursive Single Letters to Joining

There are seven join strokes to be taught. Most children will find the bottom joins the easiest to achieve, as it only requires the extension of the exit stroke they already put on the letters. The bottom to “c” shape joins can be tricky at first but soon mastered. The joins that tend to cause the most confusion and difficulty are the “e” joiners and top exit joiners.

I would recommend teaching the bottom joins first, then the ‘e’ joins and finally the top exit letter joins.

Moving from Continuous Cursive Single Letters to Joining

There are three join strokes to be taught. The easiest is the bottom exit letters (the majority of the letters), all a child has to do is write the letters closer together without lifting their pencil off the paper. Only the top to “e” and top joiners need to be taught for continuous cursive, as the nature of the font style means that the lead-in and exit strokes needed to join the majority of letter combinations have already been taught.

I would recommend teaching the bottom joins first, then the top exit to ‘e’ join and finally the top exit letter joins.

For our free join animations and worksheets: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI

For tips to support the teaching of joins scroll down our Teaching Tips section:  http://bit.ly/2AaX8sk