Back to School – Ways to Support Your Child’s Pencil Grip Development

After such a long break from school it is good to take some time to check your child has not slipped back into some old, poor pencil grip habits.

Here is a recap of the things which may help them if they are still finding it difficult to form and maintain an appropriate pencil grip.

Remember it is important that you do not force a child to use the tripod grip if they are not developmentally ready. Just because they are starting school doesn’t mean they are ready to hold a pencil in the tripod grip for handwriting.

Have they reached the appropriate stage in their pencil grip development?

Every child develops at a different time and pace; find out which stage of development your child is at: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/grip-development.html  

Have they been taught, & do they understand, how to form a Tripod pencil grip?

It may have been explained to them, but that does not mean your child has understood. ‘Drawbridge Flip’ videos may help them to learn more easily how to form a tripod grip for handwriting: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/teaching-tripod-pencil-grip.html

You may our Pencil Grip Frequently Asked Question page helpful:  https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/grip-faq.html

Are they left or right-handed?

If they are of school age and do not have a clear hand dominance this can make it difficult to develop a good pencil grip. Our hand dominance information may help you here: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/hand-dominance.html

Is your child left-handed? 

If your child is left-handed for writing then you may find this link useful: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/left-handed.html

You may find our Hand Dominance Frequently Asked Questions page helpful: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/hand-dominance-faq.html

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 help 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.

Does Your Child Have Weak Hands?

There have been many articles over the last few years reporting the fact that children are struggling to hold pencils correctly for handwriting and drawing. The reasoning for this is more often than not based on our children’s use of technology and the effect this has on their hand strength and finger dexterity (Fine Motor Skills).

Poor fine motor skills and hand strength not only affects a child’s ability to learn and develop a good handwriting style it can make other grip patterns difficult to master as well. Power, precision, stability or a combination of all three are needed by children to compete everyday tasks such as dressing, picking up and carrying objects (especially small items), using a knife & fork, other tools and scissor skills.

To assess your child’s hand, finger strength and dexterity check out our assessment page: http://bit.ly/2C7xYwq

To improve their overall hand and finger strength check out our hand and finger strength and dexterity games:  http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7

Learning to hold a pencil in an appropriate grip is not the only grip style your child needs to develop, especially once they have started school. They will need to develop those which enable them to effectively use scissors as well as a knife and fork. If your child struggles with these activities it may be that they need to be taught how to form the grips correctly (as bad habits develop quickly and are difficult to change) or develop the appropriate hand and finger skills.

How to Hold Scissors

The tip of the thumb is in the top hole of the scissor handle while the tip of the middle finger is in the bottom hole. The index finger is on the bottom edge of the lower handle supporting and stabilising the scissors. The ring and little finger are curled into the palm (except if you are using large scissors as then they will fit in the bottom hole of the handle with the middle finger, to help create the cutting action).

The non-cutting hand should support the paper or item being cut; the thumb is on top of the paper and the fingers underneath, steadying and moving the paper.

How to Hold a Knife & Fork

The handle of the knife or fork lies diagonally across the top section of the palm. The ring and little finger wrap around the handle, the thumb sits on the side of the handle, while the index finger sits flat and straight on the back of the handle. The middle finger curls slightly around the handle so that when the wrist twists round, so that the knife blade edge or prongs of the fork are facing down towards the plate, the handle rests on the top middle finger joint area.

Alternative Pencil Grips for #Handwriting

We thought we would re-run this series of articles 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.

Over the next couple of weeks we will look more closely at grips 2 and 3.

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 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.

Tips for Supporting #Left-handed Writers

Surprisingly there are few differences when teaching left and right-handed children to handwrite. A left-handed child needs a slightly different pencil grip, and needs to hold the pencil slightly higher up the shaft, as well as a different paper position and tilt. Some left-handed children do find handwriting challenging to start with because they naturally want to draw straight lines right to left rather than left to right.

I would recommend you try the following, if you find your left-handed writers are struggling with learning to handwriting:

The Quadrupod Grip for Handwriting

Stage 4 grip 2

Last week we explained, 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.

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 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 t 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.

To use, or not to use, a pencil grip aids? That is the question.

Aids to support good pencil grip can be very useful for some pupils. However, one of the issues with their use is that, when a pupil has not got the pencil grips to hand, they revert back to the original poor grip position.

Pencil grip aids generally do not correct the grip, they just force the hand and fingers into the correct position for writing. To correct the grip permanently the physical factors that have created the incorrect grip need to be addressed.

The use of grips can encourage a pupil to write more fluently, building their self-esteem, whilst you work on correcting the factors that have caused a poor grip to form. The long-term aim must always be to get the pupil to grip the pencil correctly without the use of aids.