Stage 1 of Pencil Grip Development
When your child first picks up a crayon they will hold it in the same way as they pick up a knife and fork, other than the crayon tip will be facing downwards.
Through the initial mark making process it is normal for their arm and elbow to stay rigid, with the crayon movement coming from the shoulder.
Stage 2 of Pencil Grip Development
With improved arm and hand control your child will start to hold the crayon in the palm of their hand, with their thumb securing it in their hand. Note that the thumb is now close to the tip and not the end of the crayon. The grasp is similar to that of using a knife and fork to cut food.
The increased arm strength allows the elbow to be slightly away from the body, providing greater flexibility.
Stage 3 of Pencil Grip Development
Your child will hold the pencil with all five fingers resulting in the wrist being off the table. The grip is similar to a darts player holding the dart with all five fingers.
Movement of the crayon now comes from the wrist but as the hand strength improves there will start to be some finger movement.
Stage 4 of Pencil Grip Development
Your child will usually start to use the three finger, or tripod grip, by the age of 6.
Initially the fingers will be held rigidly but, as your child improves their control of the finger muscles, the fingers will start to move the pencil.
Every child is different, developing the skills needed to hold a pencil at a different time to their peers.
There are developmental stages, that your child needs to go through, before they can successfully use a mature tripod grip. They need to work through each stage and as their hand, shoulder and arm strength and mobility increases so does the ability to move to the next developmental stage of the grip.
There are principles of development called “big to small” and “proximal to distal” – basically this means that children develop the larger muscles of the trunk and arms before the smaller muscles of the hands and that the proximal muscles closer to the body centre (shoulder muscles, upper arm muscles) develop before the distal muscles which are further away (hand muscles).
If a toddler is taught how to hold a pencil using the tripod grip before they are physically ready, they are inclined to develop a poor pencil grip which is difficult to change once they are older. These grips can make handwriting difficult and less fluid as well as making writing a very tiring task. It can also turn some children off colouring, drawing and handwriting as they are not pleasurable experiences.
A child may not develop a three finger tripod pencil grip until the age of 5/6. This is considered the most appropriate pencil grip, for right and left handed writers, as it allows the fingers and wrist to work together to provide a more free flowing movement.