How you can help your child to develop the right pencil grip

As you prepare your child for school there is much pressure to have your child writing, yet much research indicates that poor pencil grips form when children are rushed in to writing too early.

A correct pencil grip allows a child to write neatly and fluently, without tiring. Usually, given normal play and preschool opportunities (such as threading, manipulating, cutting and tracking), by the time your child is 5-6 years old, he/she will have the correct pencil grip needed for handwriting.

The first thing to consider is:

Can my child sit erect with ease and comfort?

This requires the following:

  • Hip flexibility to allow the thighs to rest parallel to each other on the seat of the chair with the pelvis vertical.
  • Trunk flexibility and muscle endurance to keep the trunk erect with ease and comfort.
  • Neck flexibility and muscle strength to keep the head erect and steady when moving the arms.
  • Trunk stability: the ability to keep the trunk and head steady when moving the arms.   

Many play based activities such as gymnastics, dance, kids yoga, climbing and hanging all help to strengthen and stretch these core muscles, all great pre-writing activities.

Has my child enough shoulder control (strength and flexibility) to grip a pencil correctly?

Children with good shoulder control and flexibility hold their arm close to their body when writing and drawing. If this is not the case you need to consider where the problem lies:

The first thing to consider is whether your child can lift their arm extended in front of their body without their body tilting. If they lean away from the side lifted or tilt backwards, this usually indicates poor posture strength as referred to above.

Next, can they hold their arm extended for longer periods of 20-30 seconds, as this endurance of the muscle is what is required for handwriting. Children who lack this strength, tend to extend their arms out sideways to call on larger postural muscles to assist.

This in turn makes handwriting more difficult as it forces the hand to face downwards, rather than into the middle. There are many fun activities which help to strengthen shoulder muscles such as creeping, crawling, pushing and climbing as well as many ball sports.

What are the building blocks necessary to develop writing readiness (pre-writing)?

  • Hand and finger strength: An ability to exert force against resistance using the hands and fingers that allows the necessary muscle power for controlled movement of the pencil.
  • Crossing the mid-line: The ability to cross the imaginary line running from a person’s nose to pelvis that divides the body into left and right sides.
  • Pencil grasp: The efficiency of how the pencil is held, allowing age appropriate pencil movement generation.
  • Hand eye coordination: The ability to process information received from the eyes to control, guide and direct the hands in the performance of a task such as handwriting.
  • Bilateral integration: Using two hands together with one hand leading (e.g. holding and moving the pencil with the dominant hand while the other hand helps by holding the writing paper).
  • Upper body strength: The strength and stability provided by the shoulder to allow controlled hand movement for good pencil control.
  • Object manipulation: The ability to skilfully manipulate tools (including holding and moving pencils and scissors) and controlled use of everyday tools (such as a toothbrush, hairbrush, cutlery).
  • Visual perception: The brain’s ability to interpret and make sense of visual images seen by the eyes, such as letters and numbers.
  • Hand dominance: The consistent use of one (usually the same) hand for task performance, which allows refined skills to develop.
  • Hand division: Using just the thumb, index and middle finger for manipulation, leaving the fourth and little finger tucked into the palm stabilizing the other fingers but not participating.

What can be done to improve writing readiness (pre-writing) skills?

  • Hand dominance: Determine and reinforce the dominant hand use in precision task performance.
  • Experience: Encourage participation in activities that involve grasping and manipulating small objects such drawing, puzzles, opening containers, threading or other related tasks.
  • Poking and pointing: Practice tasks that use just one or two fingers (not all at once) e.g. poking games.
  • Praise and encouragement when your child engages in fine motor activities, especially if they are persistent when finding an activity difficult.
  • Hand and finger strength (e.g. scrunching, paper, using tweezers, play dough, pegs).
  • Sensory play activities (e.g. rice play, finger painting) to assist the development of tactile awareness.
  • Hand-eye coordination: Practice activities that involve hand-eye coordination (e.g. throwing and catching) and crossing the mid-line (e.g. reaching across the body to pick up items).
  • Upper limb strength: Encourage play activities that develop upper limb strength (e.g. climbing ladders, wheelbarrow walking).

What activities can help improve writing readiness (pre-writing) skills?

  • Threading and lacing with a variety of sized laces.
  • Play-doh (playdough) activities that may involve rolling with hands or a rolling pin, hiding objects such as coins in the play dough or just creative construction.
  • Scissor projects that may involve cutting out geometric shapes to then paste them together to make pictures such as robots, trains or houses.
  • Tongs or teabag squeezers to pick up objects.
  • Drawing or writing on a vertical surface.
  • Every day activities that require finger strength such as opening containers and jars.
  • Pre writing shapes: Practice drawing the pre-writing shapes (l, —, O, +, /, square, \, X, and Δ).
  • Finger games: that practice specific finger movements such as Incy wincy Spider.
  • Craft: Make things using old boxes, egg cartons, wool, paper and sticky or masking tape.
  • Construction: Building with duplo, lego, mobilo or other construction toys.

For more information on pencil grip, click on the link here