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4 Steps to Teach Correct Grip

Good habits that begin in early years will last a lifetime—and holding a crayon or pencil correctly is a very important habit.  Awkward grips can cause fatigue, cramping, and even pain—making writing difficult. This problem can be prevented. The foundation starts with general upper body strength and fine motor skill activities. Follow these four steps to teach proper grip. 

What you see here are the two efficient grips that are universally recommended for children to achieve: the tripod grip and the quadropod grip.
 
 
For the tripod grip, the thumb, pointer, and middle finger work together to hold a writing tool.  
 
For the quadropod grip, four fingers work together to stabilize the writing tool. Notice how the pencil rests on the ring finger and this provides additional support.
 
You might observe children holding their crayon or pencil with too many fingers or placing their thumbs on top of their fingers, or their fingers on top of their thumbs. If you notice this, you will need to help children form the proper grip to help them with the mechanics of writing and ultimately, to become better writers. 
 
Follow these four steps! 
 
  1. Determine Handedness.
    Determine the skilled or preferred hand to teach grip. Notice which hand the child uses more often during activities requiring hand use, for example, eating and stringing beads. You may want to collaborate with teachers, parents, and therapists, so they too are watching too and can help you decide.
  2. Teach correct finger placement. 
    Show children how to position their fingers on the writing tool, using one of the grips above. See the tips below for ideas on how to practice. 
  3. Use small tools. 
    It is important for children to use writing tools that promote the correct use of the thumb, pointer, and middle fingers. Often, when children are given primary size pencils and crayons, their grip becomes awkward because these tools are too heavy and long for their little hands.
  4. Play! 
    Provide creative opportunities for children to develop fine motor skills that are necessary for correct grip, such as scissor activities, manipulating play dough, stringing beads, etc. 
 
Tips for Grip
 
  • Keep the little finger and ring finger in the palm.
    Have children hold a small sponge or penny in the palm with the little finger and ring finger. This keeps those fingers out of the way as the thumb, index, and middle fingers hold the pencil.
  • Use the rubber band trick.                      
    Loop two rubber bands together. Place one around the wrist and the other around the pencil. This helps the pencil slant naturally in a child’s hand.
  • Sing a song. 
    We love music at Handwriting Without Tears and even have a song to remind children about proper grip.  Check out the "Crayon Song" in this newsletter! 
 
Visit hwtcertification.com to find a handwriting specialist near you who can provide more information or instruction on grip. In addition, learn how you can become a handwriting specialist. 
 

 

Comments (26)

I was struggling a bit with your visual of tripod vs. quadrapod. I was sure it was quite right? Please check.
Do you have any nice pictures of the left hand grip? My teachers love the check list for the proper grip but have asked me about a left hand one. I have tried to make my own but it is not very good.
Did you forget the "flip" that was taught in the HWT workshop? I use it all of the time and the kids love it.
Using Minitwistables by Crayola is great. They have a black line near the point of the crayon which helps the kids know where to place their fingers.
There is one more alternative grip with the pencil placed between the index and tall fingers, stabilized by the 2 fingers and thumb from below.
Hope this helps!
What about children who come to 2nd grade and have a terrible grip already established. I have heard so many different opinions about this. Is it too late to change a grip at this point?
This is in response to the request for a picture of a left handed grasp. It is easy to make your own. You just need a copy machine that accepts the clear overhead sheets. Make a copy of the right handed grasp on the overhead sheet. Once copied, you can then flip the overhead sheet over and it becomes a left handed grasp. You can then make a paper copy of the overhead sheet. You will just need to re label the pictures underneath so the words are not backwards. Hope this makes sense.
Regarding the leftie grip question. Just "flip" the pictures in a mirror image fashion. If the paper is positioned correctly a leftie will naturally use the same grip(s) with just a little more pronation of the forearm.
My daughter is now in fifth grade and has poor grip. She has always been very resistant to changing her grip, although we worked with her in first grade. Any suggestions at this late date?
The easiest/best in my opinion was the 'flip'-can you add it as a YouTube? Thanks!
What is "the flip" someone referred to?
Regarding changing grips in later school years: After years of practice as a school-based OT and mother of two, I am asked this question at least once each week! Thoughtful reflection on my practice and review of available research brought me to the following answer: "It depends. If a child's grip is not painful or leading to problems with speed, legibility or endurance during printing tasks, and they are meeting grade expectations for these, do not spend time and energy on changing their grip. In a nutshell: OTs focus on function. Do not try to fix it if it is not broken". Too often I see teachers, parents and some OTs spend hours (and tears!!) on grasp, missing the forest by focusing so much on the trees. Hope this helps!
We love this program.
Where's a picture of the adapted tripod? As a school OTR, I use this grasp frequently with those kids who wrap their thumbs or complain of joint pain and have seen great results. It is a functional grasp pattern, but tends to 'freak' people out when they first see it.
The "flip" they are referring to is in my 1st grade teacher's guide (the yellow one). It is where you put down the pencil pointing away from you and pinch it with the thumb and first finger of your hand you use to write. Then you pick it up and turn it over(take the eraser tip and flip it going away from you) in your hand and it lands just where you can grip it correctly! It is SO COOL! My first graders love it! We listen to the song "Picking up your pencil" on the CD too.
I love this program. I use it with my Kindergarteners and it helps them properly hold the pencils. I always use small, short ones, the kids are amazed themselves when they see their printing just by holding a shorter pencil. I highly recommend this program!
My son is in the 5th grade (we homeschool), and I have to remind him daily to change his grip when he is writing. His handwriting is pretty much illegible. I think we need an OT eval. How can I find one in my area that uses HWT? Indianapolis, IN
In regard to demonstrating a left hand grip: Copy the picture (Click and press "Copy"), paste into Microsoft Word. Click on the picture in Word so that there is a square around the picture indicating you have selected the picture. Go to "Picture Tools--Format" in the menu (I have the newest version of Word). Click "Rotate" button and "Flip Horizontal" and you now have an image that appears to be a left hand grasp. You can crop the photo so that the words are not underneath (because they appear backwards).
As a school OTR, one other trick that I've used for students who have maladaptive grips is: place a piece of masking tape, sticky side out, around the barrel of a short pencil, where their fingers should go.
Many students enjoy the tactile quality of the tape while practicing a proper grasp.
I had a "check your grip" reward chart from HWOT at one point in time. This worked great with many of my students who don't like to be verbally corrected. Is this available on the HWOT site. I can't find it.
I am 52 years old and still trying to correct my thumb wrap grip! I often have a pencil in hand and flirt with carpal tunnel problems. All my students have "permission" to correct me.
It's nice to see the quadropod grip shown as 'correct'. They tried to break me of that 'habit' for years in elementary school - I still see so many grip trainers on the market designed to retrain that into a tripod grip - which just feels so odd and unstable for me. I'm convinced the quadropod grip is genetic - my son naturally has a tripod grip, but my daughter is a quadropod like me - and I've never once tried to tell either of them how to hold a writing utensil.
Where can I buy a good pencil grip?
My son is almost 6 and still not holding writing tools correctly. He has played with playdough for years, uses scissors well and colors pretty well (inside lines), but his grip remains very immature (uses his fist to hold tool). We have tried pencil grips, short pencils, broken crayons, etc. and rather than helping it has frustrated him and made him resistant to writing at all. What would you recommend we try?
I am an OT. Many teachers tell children to make a "bird beak", with the thumb straight. This is NOT a good shape for the hand to hold a pencil. I tell kids to make a "robot clamp". Form a circle with all of the fingers and the thumb. All joints should be bent to make a round shape. The tip of the thumb touches the tip of both the index finger and middle finger. Then tuck the ring and pinking fingers in to the palm. Your robot clamp should be flexible, so you can move the three fingers together. Put the pencil in the clamp, and lay it down on the web space. Practice wiggling the pencil with the robot clamp (not rotating it), before trying to write or draw on paper. Then practice making various squiggles on the paper. Circles and waves and zigzags.
What is the "flip" you mention?
Any suggestions for helping a child (7 years old, Down Syndrome) establish hand dominance?
I have several low functioning kids in third grade who may or may not learn cursive. Can the Handwriting without Tears screen also include a print tool that assesses writing skills above third grade for students who don't use cursive.

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