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Is there such a thing as a correct pencil grasp? This page explores what an ideal pencil grip should be, and what alternatives may also work.
Topics covered on this page:
An ideal pencil grip is one in which enables the child to
Because all the factors above relate to function, I prefer the term “functional” or “efficient” to describe the pencil grasp, rather than focusing on whether it is the correct pencil grasp.
Studies have shown that being able to use the small muscles of the hand and fingers plays a big role in a child’s handwriting, so it makes sense that the pencil grip should allow those refined finger movements.
An immature or poor pencil grip tends to block the finger movements, which results in the child moving from the wrist or from the arm in order to write.
So, with that in mind... what does an efficient, effective, functional grasp look like? The next section will show you!
Pencil grips can be classified in different ways, usually according to the number of fingers holding the pencil, and the position of the thumb on the shaft of the pencil.
Teachers have traditionally considered the correct pencil grasp to be the “dynamic tripod” grasp, where the thumb, index and middle fingers are holding the pencil.
When the ring and little fingers are tucked out of the way on the side of the hand, this forms an arch of the knuckles running from the index to the little fingers (the distal transverse metacarpal arch). The DTM arch is important as it gives stability to the joints and muscles of the hands while the tripod fingers are moving and thus reduces fatigue during handwriting. The fingers are able to move freely.
However, there are some variations on the dynamic tripod grip that researchers have found to be almost equally efficient during limited clinical trials. I demonstrate and explain these below.
The tips of the thumb, index and middle fingers control the pencil in the dynamic tripod pencil grip. The thumb is opposed to the fingers, while the ring and little fingers are curled into the hand to give stability.
The dynamic tripod pencil grip grip enables the fingers to move freely, thus forming letters smoothly. This is why many teachers consider it to be the correct pencil grasp.
When a young child has three fingers on a pencil as shown, but is still using wrist or arm movements to form letters, then it is called a static tripod grip, and is considered immature.
This unusual, but effective grip, has been especially useful for children and adults who have low muscle tone or painful joints.
The tips of the thumb, index and middle fingers hold the pencil, but the pencil rests between the index and middle fingers, instead of in the webspace next to the thumb.
This adapted tripod grip offers stability, and does not require as much pressure from the thumb to hold the pencil in place.
In the dynamic quadrupod grip, the tips of the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers control the pencil. The thumb is opposed to the fingers, while the little finger is curled into the hand to give stability.
The presence of the fourth finger on the shaft tends to limit the range of movement a little, and there is a little less stability with only the little finger curled in on the side.
The lateral tripod uses the thumb, index and middle fingers to grip the pencil shaft. Although the tips of the index and middle fingers are used, it is the pad of the thumb that is used in this grip.
In a lateral grasp (whether tripod or quadripod), the thumb crosses over the shaft of the pencil, and the pad of the thumb often rests against the index finger (instead of the pencil shaft). This often blocks the full range of finger movements when compared to a dynamic tripod grasp.
The webspace (between the thumb and index finger) is a bit smaller with a lateral grasp, which limits some of the movement, and requires a bit more effort from the thumb to hold the pencil steady.
The lateral quadrupod is very similar to the lateral tripod, except that the ring finger is also involved in holding the pencil and the stable arch is reduced.
Again, the pad of the thumb is used instead of the tip of the thumb.
Children using this grip may tire more easily during a long writing task than those using a more dynamic grip. This is possibly owing to the reduced stability on the side of the hand and/or the use of additional fingers to form the letters.
Your child will probably NOT develop a better pencil grip just by having more practice with a pencil or crayon.
It is far better to look at some of the underlying skills needed for pencil control and to help your child develop these skills properly.
Read my article on the Essential Bases for Fine Motor Skills, and please do consult an occupational therapist for an assessment if you are at all worried about your child's development.
When your child uses scissors correctly, the thumb, index and middle fingers get lots of practice in working together. These are the fingers used to control a pencil.
Using the correct scissor grasp, with the ring and little fingers tucked into the hand, will help develop stability on the ulnar side of the hand, which helps with the hand stability needed for handwriting.
Check out these scissor cutting pages on my site:
Strengthening your child's core and shoulder girdle muscles will help your child's hand and finger muscles to move more freely. (Think how much more easily you can paint a wall when you are standing on a steady ladder rather than a wobbly one!)
Check out these gross motor pages on my site:
Recent research has shown that having a so-called correct pencil grasp is not as important as whether the fingers can move freely to form the letters in handwriting.
Give your child a head start on finger movements by incorporating some of these really easy activities into your daily routine:
Do you want all my pencil grip information in an accessible download? Then check this out:
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1. Koziatek, S. ; Powell, N.J. Pencil Grips, Legibility, and Speed of Fourth-Graders' Writing in Cursive AJOT 57(3):284-8 May 2003
2. Schwellnus, H.; Carnahan, H. ; Kushki, A. ; Chau, T. Writing Forces Associated With Four Pencil Grasp Patterns in Grade 4 Children AJOT March 2013
3. Selin, A-S. Pencil Grip: A Descriptive Model And 4 Empirical Studies (dissertation). Abo Akademi University Press, 2003.
4. Ziviani, J. ; Elkins, J. Effect of Pencil Grip on Handwriting Speed and Legibility. Educational Review 38(3):247-257 • November 1986
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