If you observe children writing, you will notice a wide variety of pencil grips, many of them awkward. Children may hold the pencil with too many fingers or place their thumbs on top of fingers, or their fingers on top of thumbs. Some of these grips cause fatigue, cramping, and even pain, making writing difficult. This problem can be prevented by giving children early activities and instruction to develop efficient, comfortable pencil grips. The foundation starts with general upper body strength and fine motor skill activities.
Babies in high chairs naturally develop fine motor skills by picking up finger foods such as raisins. Active play on monkey bars and outside games encourage upper body strength and large motor skills. Toys that require children to use their hands to pull apart, put together, and snap help develop eye-hand coordination and strength.
Children are ready to be taught how to hold the crayon as soon as they want to scribble and color with it, not throw it or eat it! Start with crayons rather than pencils and show children how to position their fingers properly. Start with small bits of crayon because children naturally pick up the pieces correctly, just like they pick up raisins. The new Flip Crayons™ were developed with this in mind. Children eagerly manipulate the crayon to change colors. For children’s small hands, using either the Flip Crayons™ or broken crayons is best. Compare the size of a child’s hand to yours. Have you ever used a big, heavy novelty pen or a fat primary pencil? They’re awkward and heavy. It’s the same for children. Writing tools should suit the child’s hand size.
Adult role modeling is as important as the instrument. The adult should use a correct grip and gently help children to do the same, patiently helping them place their fingers correctly.
The optimal pencil grip is called a tripod grip: The thumb, index and middle fingers support the pencil; and the last two fingers are bent into the palm. An alternative hold is the quadrapod grip: The thumb, index, middle and ring fingers hold the pencil; and the little finger is bent into the palm. With both the tripod and quadrapod grip, the fingers are able to move, which is the basic function crucial to handwriting development.
Children love to please teachers and parents. If teachers and parents demonstrate and reinforce appropriate grip, then students will actively try to master it. Here are a few helpful tips for your Pre-K or kindergarten students.
Have your students practice picking up the Handwriting Without Tears® Flip Crayon™ writing tool or a broken crayon. If you are using the Flip Crayon™, have them practice flipping from one color to the next. As children color, observe their grips. Don't be afraid to get involved, bend their thumbs and reposition their fingers until the appropriate grip is achieved.
Pencils generally are introduced in kindergarten. Use golf size pencils to teach and reinforce grip; they are in correct proportion to the child's hand. Teachers can still sing the “Crayon Song” from the Get Set For School™ music CD by changing the word “crayon” to “pencil.” Encourage children to demonstrate their grip for you. Ask them if they can see a 'tunnel' while observing their grip. You should see a hole or tunnel between their thumb and index finger. This analogy helps children visualize and reinforce current habits while promoting the appropriate grip.
Try these exercises to help students and other children with 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 while 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 the child’s hand.
Good habits begun in the early years will last a lifetime. Here’s how you can help:
- Provide children with toys and activities to develop their upper body strength and fine motor skills.
- Observe their readiness when they are interested in scribbling with a crayon and demonstrate good grip.
- Provide the appropriate sized tools: broken crayons or Handwriting Without Tears® Flip Crayons™.