Tips on How to Teach them to Hold a Pencil Correctly

By Tracy Wright

Crawling, walking and saying the first word — we are all aware of the “big” milestones for our children. However, just as it’s important for children to learn how to write and color, parents should recognize that, to do this, a child needs to know how to properly use a pencil.

When Do They Begin Using a Pencil?

Typically, children begin to use pencils and crayons at fist grasp. As time goes on, they grow into learning how to hold a pencil in
a more “mature” way, usually between the ages of 4 and 6, said Kenneth Schuster, PsyD, Director of Clinical Training and a senior neuropsychologist in the Learning and Development Center of the Child Mind Institute.

The Tripod Grasp

The tripod grasp is the traditional way most teachers show children how to grip a pencil. In this grasp, the tips of the thumb, index and middle fingers control the pencil. There are multiple variations of this type of grasp that are also deemed acceptable for children. Remember, not all pencil grasps work for everyone. If your child has an atypical grasp but has no problem writing well, or does not experience fatigue, then it’s likely harmless.

However, some children may have problems with mastering a functional type of grasp. Incorrect pencil grip and usage is one of the most common reasons young children are referred to occupational therapist, according to The American Occupational Association.

Avoiding a Poor Grasp

“Holding the pencil with a functional grasp allows the child to write neatly at a reasonable speed without tiring easily. Poor pencil grasps not only look awkward, but they do not use the hand muscles efficiently. This may result in the child tiring easily and being unable to produce neat handwriting,” said Tracey le Roux, a pediatric occupational therapist who runs the blog OT Mom Learning Activities.

While practice gripping pencils can help children who may struggle with this skill, many occupational therapists like le Roux recommend other exercises that can help build the muscles that support our writing. Some common examples include scissor practice, which helps with muscle stability, working with Play-Doh or goop to develop fine motor skills, and doing finger and hand skills with coins, clothespins or paper crumpling.

Tips to Helping them Grasp Better

Using triangular shaped crayons to practice writing can also help promote a more mature grasp, said Schuster. Activities like tic-tac- toe and connect the dots can make writing practice fun and not stressful for children.

The Handwriting Patch, an online writing curriculum, shares some helpful tips to make writing easier on your child. First, good posture is essential for good handwriting habits. This means keeping feet on the floor and a straight back. This adjustment could make writing not only easier but also more comfortable for your child. It’s also important to teach your child to use their non-writing hand to grip the paper. In my experience, this was essential for my son when learning to write well. When he didn’t, his writing went all over the place!

Second, have your child practice picking up the pencil. If they are picking it up with their fist, chances are they will try to write that way, too. Work on getting your child to place their pointer finger on top and use their middle finger as a guide. Finally, as noted by The Handwriting Patch, pencil grips can be a very useful tool for parents when supporting their child’s handwriting journey. They are relatively affordable, and you can find variety packs that allow your child to choose the grip that best helps them with their writing.

When in doubt, talk to your pediatrician and see if they recommend that your child visit a pediatric occupational therapist. A trained occupational therapist can assess whether your child could benefit from any professional guidance, and if so, map out a support plan.