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Pencil grip difficulties

Children find a range of imaginative ways to hold a pencil if they are not supported and trained in developing a tripod pencil grip.

Poor pencil grips can develop for several reasons:

Hand held off the table pencil gripThree finger fisted pencil gripIndex and ring finger pencil gripLeft handed hooked pencil gripRight hooked pencil grip

A poor pencil grip can affect the quality of a child’s handwriting as well as putting unnecessary strain on the hand muscles and ligaments. This causes the hand to tense or cramp and tire quickly, making the handwriting process hard work. Many left-handed writers form a hooked grip that not only puts extra strain on the hand muscles and ligaments but the wrist and shoulder areas of the body.

The discomfort caused through a poor pencil grip not only makes handwriting hard work but frustrating or de-motivating as a child cannot produce the required quantity of written work. It is therefore important to check that a child is developing an appropriate pencil grip and to correct a poor grip as soon as it starts to appear.

We often talk about the most appropriate grip for handwriting being the tripod grip; but this usually only refers to finger position. It is easy to forget the importance of the actual hand position in relation to the pencil and paper for handwriting.

The ideal position is for the hand, wrist and elbow to be below the tip of the pencil and under the writing line for both left and right-handed writers.

Some children will hold the pencil in a tripod grip but develop a hooked hand position or move the elbow too far up the table, causing the forearm and wrist to be nearly horizontal with the table edge, because they feel they can see what they are writing better.

A hooked grip puts unnecessary strain on the hand ligaments and forces the body into a poor sitting position, again putting extra strain on the body. This in turn makes handwriting a tiring and uncomfortable task, impacting on a child’s overall learning experience.

It takes time to correct a poor hand position but it is well worth the perseverance as it will enable a child to write freely and more comfortably.

A good starting point is to plan some activities which can be done on a vertical surface. The vertical surface helps to strengthen the wrist and gets the child used to the feeling of the hand being in line with the wrist and forearm, rather than hooked or at an angle.

There are two types of poor pencil grip:

1. where the web space is closed, restricting the movement of the fingers and wrist, which makes handwriting hard work, and

2. where the hand is above the writing line; such as found with a hooked pencil grip.

An open web allows the fingers to move freely, so that a fluid handwriting style can be achieved, which is why the Tripod Grip is considered the most appropriate for handwriting.

Coordination, finger and hand strength are important key strengths in being able to hold a pencil correctly for periods of time, so building these Key Strength areas is important. You can check a child’s hand and finger strength using our Key Strengths Assessment and support them using one of our Intervention Activity Programs (these can be found in our Key Strengths Section of the website)

While the child is developing their Key Strengths, or if they already have good Key Strengths you can use the following tips to help them to remember where to place their fingers and thumb to form a tripod grip:

Aids to support good pencil grip can be very useful for some children, however one of the issues with their use is that when a child has not got the pencil grips to hand they revert back to the original poor grip position.

Pencil grip aids generally do not correct the grip, they just force the hand and fingers into the correct position for writing. To correct the grip permanently the physical factors that have created the incorrect grip need to be addressed.

The use of grips can encourage a child to write more fluently, building their self esteem, whilst you work on correcting the factors that have caused a bad grip to form. The long term aim must always be to get the child to grip the pencil correctly without the use of aids.

Click on the pencil grips below to read about their features.

Handwriting triangle pencil grips Handwriting finger positioning pencil grips Handwriting larger pencil grips Handwriting crossover pencil grips

It has become increasingly evident that we need to look more carefully at alternative suitable efficient grips for handwriting. It is too easy for us to say that one particular grip is best and then plough on regardless and not really address the fact that one size, or in this case one method, does not fit all.  

What is an efficient pencil grip?

“A pencil hold that provides speed, legibility is comfortable and will not cause harm to the joints of the hand over time. If a hold satisfies these criteria there is no need to change it”

(Benrow 2002, cited: Foundation of Paediatric Practice for the Occupational Therapy Assistant, 2005)

The following pencil grips are all considered to be efficient pencil grips for handwriting:

1. The Dynamic Tripod Grip - the most appropriate grip for handwriting (the grip we would recommend teaching initially).

2. The Quadrupod Grip - we see this grip as a developmental stage grip (stage 4) which can be developed on into the tripod grip.

3. The Adaptive Tripod Grip - is in our opinion the next best to the tripod grip and would recommend it for:

Here at Teach Children we see this grip as a developmental stage grip (stage 4) in younger children. This grip is used before they move on to a new grip, the dynamic tripod grip, considered the most appropriate grip for handwriting.

Older children who have not moved on to develop the tripod grip may require more focused support in developing gross and/or fine motor skills to help them make that transition.

The adaptive tripod grip is an alternative efficient pencil grip which we would recommend for:

From the research we have carried out we cannot find any information suggesting that the grip needs to be adapted for left-handed writers. So our step by step guide in the how to teach section of the website applies to both left and right-handed writers.

Here at Teach Children we would consider this as being the next best grip after the tripod grip for handwriting

The adaptive tripod pencil grip is identical to the dynamic tripod grip in that the pencil is held between the tip of the thumb and index finger and rests on the middle finger. The main difference is that the shaft of the pencil rests in the ‘V’ between the index and middle finger. This gives a round though slightly smaller open web space to that created when using the tripod grip, but still allows the fingers to move freely so that a fluid handwriting style can be achieved.

Changing to the adaptive tripod grip is not a quick fix for children who have poor hand and finger strength. These strengths still need to be developed to make handwriting more comfortable.

What is a poor pencil grip?

Why you don’t want a child to have a poor pencil grip

Hooked pencil grip

Examples of poor pencil grips

Remember, how a child holds a pencil is also dependent on their age and the stage of their development. Check a child’s grip against our ‘5 developmental stages of pencil grip’, as it may be they are holding the pencil correctly for their current level of ability.

Poor hand position can cause a poor pencil grip

Ways to Correct a Poor Pencil Grip

If poor grip is due to poor hand and finger strength & dexterity

Handwriting pencil grip aids

Alternative handwriting pencil grips

The quadrupod grip

The adaptive tripod grip

Open web space

Closed web space

The quadrupod grip is where the pencil is held between the top of the thumb, index and middle fingers and rests on the ring finger with the little finger slightly curled in. This creates a more elongated open web space compared to the rounder open web space of the tripod grip which means it is a little more restrictive because the fingers cannot move as freely.

It can be very difficult to get an older child to change their pencil grip especially if the old grip, like the quadrupod grip, is very similar to the new grip the dynamic tripod grip. This is when it becomes difficult to know whether to continue to try and make a child change their pencil grip or not.

So if older children do complain that their hand or fingers hurt or ache when they use the quadrupod grip, or that it is hindering their handwriting fluidity and speed, then we do need to support them in changing their grip. For some it may be more appropriate to introduce them to the adaptive tripod grip (see below) rather than trying to force them to use the dynamic tripod grip.

Poor hand position

Ways to correct poor grip

Alternative grips

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