Pencil Grasp Resources for Occupational Therapists
Although adults often worry about how children hold their pencils, research on pencil grasp development shows that there may not be great cause for concern in many cases. “Proper” or “ideal” pencil grasp may depend on the individual. Pencil grasp evolves over time as children develop fine motor skills. Moreover, research shows several types of alternative pencil grasps are equally as effective as the traditional grasp.
Alternative Pencil Grasps
Schwellnuss et al. evaluated four different types of pencil grasps among fourth graders. They found no significant differences in handwriting speed, kinetics and legibility among the various grasps. The research team recommended that interventions “focus more on speed and letter formation than on grasp pattern” (American Journal of Occupational Therapy). The same team also said, “Alternative grasps may be acceptable for fast and legible handwriting” (AJOT).
Pencil Grasp Development
Historically, children learned there was only one correct way to hold a pencil. Over time, it has become evident that various types of pencil grasp are acceptable. Although pencil grasp development is individual, there are predictable patterns.
Colleen Beck, OTR/L, details several types of pencil grasps that fall into three main stages of primitive, traditional and mature grasps (The OT Toolbox):
Primitive Pencil Grasps
In the primitive pencil grasp stage, the child uses their entire arm to move the pencil or crayon. There are two subtypes of the primitive grasp:
- Whole hand grasp (or palmar supinate grasp)
- 12 months to 1.5 years old
- Child holds pencil in entire hand with writing end emerging from pinkie side of hand
- Digital pronate grasp (or pronated wrist grasp)
- 2 to 3 years old
- Child holds pencil with entire hand with writing end emerging from thumb side of hand
Transitional Pencil Grasps
During the transitional pencil grasp stage, the child uses their forearm and/or wrist to move the pencil. There are a few subtypes of the transitional grasp:
- Four or five finger grasp
- 3.5 to 4 years old
- Child holds pencil or crayon between thumb and tips of pointer, middle and ring fingers (or thumb and pointer, middle, ring and pinkie fingers)
- Static tripod grasp
- 3.5 to 4 years old
- Child holds pencil with thumb and pointer finger and rests pencil on last joint of middle finger. Ring and pinkie fingers are tucked into palm.
- Quadrupod grasp
- 3 to 4 years old
- Child holds pencil with thumb opposing the pointer, middle and ring finger.
Mature Pencil Grasps
With a mature pencil grasp, the child uses the thumb and fingers to move the pencil. There are four subtypes of mature pencil grasp.
- Dynamic tripod pencil grasp
- 4 to 7 years old
- Child holds pencil between thumb and pointer finger resting on the last joint of the middle finger. Child manipulates fingers and hand to move pencil.
- Lateral tripod grasp
- Child holds pencil by pressing thumb to hold pencil against side of pointer finger. Thumb tip may wrap over pencil. Index and middle fingers manipulate the pencil.
- Dynamic quadrupod grasp
- Child holds pencil between thumb, pointer and middle fingers.
- Lateral quadrupod grasp
- Child uses pointer, middle and ring fingers to manipulate the pencil with thumb tip wrapped over pencil.
Functional Pencil Grasps
Some children use other types of pencil grasps effectively. These are considered functional grasps and can include:
- Thumb tuck grasp
- Thumb wrap grasp
- Inter-digital brace grasp
- Finger-wrap grasp
Pencil Grasp Development Resources for School OTs
For more information about helping children with pencil grasp, school OTs can turn to the following resources:
Growing Hands-on Kids – This site, by Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Heather Greutman, features pencil grasp terminology, images, videos, printable cards, handouts, tips and resources.
Occupational Therapy Helping Children – This site is maintained by a team of Australian occupational therapists, and features pencil grasps activities, games, activities, crafts and more.
OT Plan – This site from Avital Shuster, Pediatric OT, features information on inefficient and efficient grasps, pencil grips and activities to improve pre-writing skills.
Don’t forget to bookmark our resource on pencil grasp development! We hope you find it a valuable addition to your OT toolkit.
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