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Let’s Talk Pencil Grip; What is it and Why is it Important?

Let’s Talk Pencil Grip; What is it and Why is it Important?

Why is pencil grip important? 

Developing a functional pencil grip is important for children to engage happily and comfortably in written tasks. Holding a pencil comfortably will significantly impact a child’s willingness to engage in written tasks. 

What are the stages of pencil grip development? 

  • Cylindrical / Palmer Grasp ~ 12 months - 1.5/2 years: 
  • This grasp develops as a child improves their ability to grasp and release objects. Movement is derived from the shoulder and the forearm, hand and fingers move as a unit. A child will typically scribble at this stage or try to imitate strokes. 

  • Digital Grasp ~ 2 - 3 years:
  • Writing tool is held between all fingers. Movement is derived mainly from the elbow and the forearm, hand and fingers move as a unit. A child’s ability to imitate shapes also becomes more refined; including horizontal and vertical lines and circles. 

  • Modified Tripod Grasp ~ 3 - 4 years: 
  • Fingers (typically all 4) sit on the pencil shaft opposite the thumb. Movement is typically derived from the wrist and there is little movement in the fingers.  

  • Tripod Grasp ~ 4 - 7 years: 
  • pencil grasp illustration

    This grasp develops as a child is more proficient at manipulating objects between the fingers and palm and able to rotate objets within the fingers. In a tripod grasp, the thumb, index and middle fingers work in unison to provide control. The ring finger and little finger sit beneath the middle finger to offer additional support. A child will have developed adequate pencil control when adopting this pencil grip. 

    Before encouraging children to progress through the typical stages of pencil grip development, it is important to consider; 

    1. Is the pencil grip dysfunction? and 
    2. Does the child have foundation skills to progress in their pencil grip development?

    What is a dysfunctional pencil grip? 

    There are many different pencil grips that a child may adopt. A dysfunctional grip is adopted to compensate for delays in foundation skills.

    A pencil grip may be determined dysfunction if; 

    • It causes discomfort or pain in the forearm or fingers. This may be observed by frequently shaking the arm/fingers, or verbal reporting pain. 
    • A child easily fatigues and is unable to complete written tasks 
    • Movement is restricted due to the way the pencil is held 
    • Handwriting product is illegible 

    How pencil grip be improved? 

    Children have difficulties with pencil grip for a number of reasons including; 

    • Delays in fine motor skills including fine motor strength, dexterity and pincer isolation. 
    • Delays in gross motor skills including core stability and coordination 
    • Delays in praxis (* Praxis is a complex neurological process that involves generating an idea of what you want to do (ideation), figuring out how you are going to do it (motor planning) and then ‘doing’ (execution).
    • Delays in midline crossing 
    • Underdevelopment in the tactile and proprioceptive sensory systems 

    Improvements in each of the above relevant areas will support pencil grip. 

    Can Pencil grasp be improved by using a pencil grip on a pencil? 

    Pencil grips are helpful in assisting correct finger placement on a writing tool. As mentioned above, it is recommended that children develop foundation skills such as fine motor strength and coordination, which may be the cause a dysfunction or delayed grasp. It is recommended that foundation skills be supported, with pencil grip use as a supplement. 

    Resources available at the OT Store to improve pencil grasp include; 

    * If you have any concerns about your child’s pencil grip, it is recommended they participate in an Occupational Therapy assessment *

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