Pencil Grip Types and Stages

Pencil grip may not be a concern early on, but if not corrected, can have an influence on future academic success. Let’s take a look at the types of pencil grips and the stages of pencil grip development.

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Introduction

A child has finally reached the age where they can grip a pencil, crayon, or marker, and their parents are excited to see what their child can scribble and draw. The way their child is holding their writing implement may seem strange and ineffective, but a child’s pencil grip will change and develop as they grow and improve their fine motor skills.

The way a child grasps their pencil, crayon, or marker can be very different from the way their parent does, but this does not mean it’s a cause for concern.

Pencil grip progresses as the child grows from an infant to a toddler to a young child, and oftentimes, the child corrects their grasp the way it is most comfortable for them. In fact, there is no one “right” way to hold a writing utensil.

Some ways may be more effective and some grasps will need correction if illegible handwriting or pain is the result, but in most cases, the latter is not necessary. Here are the different types and subtypes of pencil grasps, when you might see your child using them, and how better grips can be practiced and achieved if necessary.

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pencil grip
In many cases, as a child grows, their pencil grip will change and mature, along with their fine motor strength, however sometimes they will need support and guidance to use a more comfortable, effective grasp.

What are the different types of pencil grip?

There are three different types of pencil grip and within those three categories, there are subtypes. The three main categories and their subtypes are:

●     Primitive – This grasp is used by children between the ages of 12 months up to 3 years of age. During this stage, children use their whole arm to write, color, or draw.

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  • Whole hand grasp/Palmar supinate grasp – Seen in children 12 months to 1 ½ years old when they use their whole hand to hold the writing implement with the writing end sticking out by their pinkie.
  • Digital pronate grasp/Pronated wrist grasp – Seen in children 2 to 3 years old when they use their entire hand to hold the writing implement with the writing end sticking out by their thumb.

●     Transitional – This grasp is used by children between the ages of 3 to 4 years. During this stage, children use their forearm, wrist, or both to write, color, or draw.

  • Four or five finger grasp – Seen in children between the ages of 3 ½ to 4 years old when they hold their writing implement between their thumb and the tips of their pointer, middle, ring, and sometimes pinkie fingers.
  • Quadrupod grasp – Seen in children ages 3 to 4 when the child holds the writing implement between their thumb and the tips of their pointer and middle fingers and rests the implement against the ring finger. The thumb and index finger form a circle around the writing utensil.
  • Static tripod grasp – Seen in children between the ages of 3 ½ to 4 years of age when the child holds the writing implement between the thumb and index finger and rests it against the pinkie finger while the middle and ring finger are tucked into the palm of their hand.

●     Mature – This grasp is used by children between the ages of 4 to 7 years of age. During this stage, children use their whole hand or fingers to write, color, or draw.

  • Dynamic Tripod – Seen in children ages 4 to 6, possibly 7, where the child holds the writing implement between the thumb and index finger and rests it on the last joint of the middle finger.
  • Lateral Tripod – This is when the child holds the writing implement by pressing their thumb against the side to hold it along their pointer finger. This is also considered a “thumb wrap” grasp because sometimes the thumb wraps over the writing utensil.
  • Dynamic Quadropod – This is when the child holds the writing implement between their thumb, index, and middle fingers.
  • Lateral Quadropod – This is when the child holds their thumb wrapped over the writing implement and moves it using their index, middle, and ring fingers.

Some experts consider there to be a fourth category called the functional pencil grasp. This will be discussed further in the following paragraphs.

Typical Pencil Grasps – Photo Source: growinghandsonkids.com

Why is pencil grip so important?

The way a child holds a pencil and how their grip develops over time is a testament to their fine motor skills. Their ability to hold a writing utensil can also have an impact on their future academic success. Being able to write well leads to easier-to-read handwriting which leads to less stress completing handwriting tasks and writing activities which can lead to greater confidence in their handwriting abilities. It’s an important school readiness skill, and you can read more about some easy ways to get your child ‘school ready’ here.

Ideally, you will want to see a soft, comfortable grip where finger placement will allow for easy writing. This goes for right or left handers.

pencil grip types, pencil grasp
There are heaps of ergonomic pencil grips on the market, such as this one, which help to support fingers in the correct position, are comfortable and affordable.

What is functional pencil grip?

Functional pencil grip is sometimes considered a fourth category, as mentioned above. Functional pencil grip also has subtypes. These include but are not limited to:

  • Thumb tuck grasp
  • Thumb wrap grasp
  • Inter-digital brace grasp
  • Finger wrap grasp

These are considered functional because a child can write using these positions, but they are not the most effective ways to hold and use a writing implement.

What other fine motor activities can help to develop pencil grip?

There are many fine motor activities that can help develop pencil grip. Here a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Crumpling up paper into the smallest ball they can, using only one hand.
  • Playing with playdough or clay by rolling it, flattening it, and using it to make specific shapes and designs.
  • Squeezing items such as tongs, tweezers, clothes pins, clips, etc. that can help improve muscle strength in their hand.
  • Threading and weaving activities
  • Encouraging children to peel their own fruit eg – mandarins, bananas
  • Turning taps on and off
  • Manipulating small construction blocks, such as Lego

This YouTube video has some great tips for developing pencil grip at certain stages and ages:

Can handedness (left or right) have an effect on pencil grip?

There doesn’t seem to be a difference in how a child’s pencil grasp develops whether they are right-handed or left-handed. The only concern here is that if the child is using both hands into their pre-school years and is having a problem defining which should be the more dominant, then both hands might not receive enough practice in important exercises, such as writing, throwing, and holding a utensil.

If that seems to be the case, speak to your child’s early educator, or seek advice from a pediatrician or an occupational therapist.

Should a child’s pencil grip be corrected?

A child’s pencil grip need only be corrected if they are entering their kindergarten years and showing signs of struggling to properly hold and effectively use a writing implement. If a child is struggling to do simple drawing or tracing tasks, is complaining of pain in their wrist and hands, is having difficulty with other basic fine motor tasks, or if their handwriting is illegible (once in primary school), then help may be needed to correct their pencil grip to an optimal position, or to improve their general fine motor strength.

You could try to gently place fingers into the proper position, ensuring it still seems comfortable and ensuring the grip is age appropriate for the body’s natural physiology.

toddler pencil grip
There are many fine motor activities you can do to improve your child’s general fine motor strength, which will in turn, improve their pencil grip.

There are also simple pencil grip accessories you can purchase which helps position fingers and allows for a comfortable grip. Some of these popular grips can be purchased from places such as Officeworks, the OT Store or Amazon. Most ergonomic grips comfortably supports fingers, is easy to add to any writing implement and are usually very affordable.

Oftentimes, however, a child’s pencil grip corrects itself by their primary school years.

Summary

There are many worries as a child grows, many milestones parents take into account and closely watch. A child’s pencil grip, though very important, is thankfully one skill that the child themselves can usually figure out as they grow.

If not, there are activities and exercises that can help develop a child’s fine motor skills and strengthen their future writing hand. So worry not, and bask in your child’s first scribbles, handprint, letters, numbers, name, and finally the first sentence they ever write that can be added to your refrigerator door.

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