Developing Pencil Grasp

Why do we need to worry about how our children grasp pencils and crayons? A child’s pencil grasp affects their ability to control their pencil and manipulate it to successfully form lines, shapes, and eventually letters and words. If your child is unable to adequately control their pencil, they wil have a very difficult time finding success at forming accurate pre-writing lines, shapes, or letters. A poor pencil grasp can lead a child to experience pain and discomfort during writing tasks. When older, that child may not be able to keep up with peers on written work or note taking. Their hands might become so fatigued during written tasks that their letters become illegible. These children often begin to dread writing because it is so uncomfortable for them and will do everything they can to avoid the task.

There are multiple “right” ways to hold a writing pencil, so it can be tough to know when your child’s grasp should be corrected or left alone. 

Children typically go through a progression of grasps before they land on their final, mature grasp. We should never expect them to start out using a grasp similar to adults’. In fact, most children will still be developing their grasp until they are 5-6 years old. The most common developmental grasp progression looks like this:

Immature fisted pencil grasp

First is the palmar supinate grasp, also known as the fisted grasp. This is typically seen between ages 1 and 2 years.

Digital Pronate pencil grasp

Next is the digital pronate grasp, which is seen during ages 2-3 years.

quadrupod pencil grasp

The third grasp progression typically seen is the quadrupod or modified tripod grasp which usually occurs between ages 3-4.5 years.

tripod pencil grasp mature

Lastly, the mature tripod pencil grasp! This is the gold standard of pencil grasps, and usually doesn’t occur until 5-6 years of age.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Encourage your child to hold and scribble with crayons beginning around 12-15 months of age. If they seem uninterested, don’t force it– just try again in a week or two!
  • Give your baby lots of opportunities to develop strength in their hands by having them crawl. For toddlers and older children, encourage pretend animal play including crawling on hands and knees, crawling on hands and balls of feet, crab-walking, wheelbarrow-walking, or playground play!
  • Provide 3.5-4+ year old children with crayons that are broken in half. The shorter the length of the crayon, the fewer fingers they can use to grasp it! Think about the length of crayon needed to grasp with your entire fist, then picture the length needed to grasp with only your thumb, index, and middle fingers.
  • Encourage your child to keep the pinky/little finger side of their dominant hand resting on the paper while drawing.
  • LOTS of fine motor activities! These include toys and activities like peg pictures, beading, play dough, tweezers, clothespins, weaving, painting, and building with blocks.
  • If you child is 4-5 years old and not showing the expected progress towards an efficient pencil grasp, it might be time to try a pencil gripper! For general use, we love The Pencil Grip found here. There are quite a few others on the market to specifically correct various inefficient grasps.
  • A major sign to watch for is ongoing complaints of hand pain or fatigue when writing, drawing, or coloring. As with any reports of pain, always seek out advice from your child’s doctor first.

For tons of fun activities to improve pencil grasp, check out our Pencil Grasp Kit and downloadable worksheets!

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