How to Help Improve a Child’s Pencil Grasp

There are various factors that have an influence on a child’s pencil grasp. In addition to addressing a child’s physical attributes, the environment and tools used can also impact a pencil

Below are several strategies to assist in the development of an appropriate pencil grasp:

Increase Core Strength & Postural Control

Having a strong base of support can lead to more refined and controlled movements in the hands and fingers. Encourage play and activities on the ground, belly side down and propped up on the elbows and forearms. You can also incorporate animal walks, wheelbarrow walks, and kid friendly yoga poses throughout the day.

90-90-90 Positioning

During writing activities, set up the child to promote an appropriate pencil grasp. Make sure that the child is seated at a table with his or her feet flat on the ground and that the ankles, knees, and hips are at a 90 degree angle.

Vertical & Slanted Surfaces

Encourage appropriate wrist alignment and grasp by having the child draw on vertical or slanted surfaces.

  • Easel
  • Chalkboard
  • 3-Ring Binder

Hand Strengthening

Various strengthening activities can be implemented to increase the strength in the muscles of the hands.

  • Playdough, putty, clay:  roll, pinch, flatten, make shapes with cookie cutters
  • Rip paper or tear and crumple tissue paper to make a craft with the pieces
  • Use an eye dropper and food-colored water to decorate a coffee filter
  • Pop bubble wrap
  • Use a spray bottle to water plants or form letters on the sidewalk

Short Tools

Have the child use short writing tools to promote increased control. Break crayons or chalk so they are approximately 1-2 inches long or use golf pencils.

Separate the Two Sides of the Hand

The fingers on the thumb side of the hand should be utilized for holding and moving the pencil. The fingers on the pinky side of the hand (pinky finger and ring finger) should be tucked in against the palm and utilized for stability and control. To encourage this separation of the two sides of the hand, tuck a small object in the pinky and ring fingers during writing activities. For example, have the child tuck a small pompom, eraser, button, or cotton ball on the pinky side of the hand.

Both parents and teachers can incorporate the listed strategies within a child’s day to develop an effective pencil grasp and in turn help increase handwriting skills, confidence, and self-esteem.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!


Evaluating Efficient Pencil Grasps

Evaluating Effective Pencil Grasps

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I receive a lot of questions inquiring about children’s pencil grasps from parents, teachers, and other professionals. According to Tseng (1998)[1], pencil grip development follows a predictable progression of skill that evolves as the child ages and matures. However, this does not always occur, as some children experience great difficulty maintaining an appropriate pencil hold on their writing utensil. Past research suggests the ability to hold utensils or writing tools is one of six prerequisite skills children need before handwriting instruction should begin[2]. There are several pencil grips that are considered efficient and mature, including the gold standard dynamic tripod pencil grasp, the lateral tripod grasp, the dynamic quadrupod grasp, and the lateral quadrupod grasp (Schwellnus et al., 2013[3]). However, there are some pencil grasps that are considered age-appropriate, but only up until a certain age. Read below for pictures and a detailed description of different types of efficient pencil grasps.

Dynamic Tripod Marker Grasp- This grip is considered age appropriate for all children beginningpencil 1
between the ages of 4 to 6 and a half. A dynamic tripod marker grasp uses the index and middle finger to hold the pencil. It requires the thumb to be placed in opposition, with an open web space, as pictured. This is considered the gold standard grasp, as it utilizes intrinsic muscles of the hand to control the pencil. An open web space allows for the writer to have more precision and control over their utensil. In addition, it places less fatigue on the joints, and allows for the writer to write for longer periods of time without fatigue, as compared to some of the other functional grasps.

Dynamic Quadrupod Grasp– This grip is also considered age appropriate for all children beginningpencil 2
around ages 4-6.5. It is similar to the dynamic tripod grasp, except for the fact that it enlists the ring finger to help support the writing utensil, thereby eliminating the extra support the ring finger would give if it were resting on the table, as in the dynamic tripod grip.

Lateral Tripod Grasp– This grasp is considered an efficient pencil grasp in which the pencil 3thumb is adducted (pushed closer to the index finger) and lacking the web space described above. In addition, this grasp requires the wrist to maintain its position in more extension as compared to the dynamic grasps. Research shows that this grip tends to contribute to premature fatigue, as compared to the dynamic tripod marker grasp due to the fact that it “restricts the pencil’s movement, eliminates thumb opposition, and compromises balance” (Schwellnus, et al., 2013).

Lateral Quadrupod Grasp– This grasp is also considered an efficient pencil grasp. It is similar to thepencil 4 lateral tripod grasp described above, however also incorporates the ring finger to grasp the pencil, thereby eliminating the support it would give if it were resting on the table, as in the dynamic tripod grip.


These grasps are important to be able to recognize because they allow the hand to rest in an anatomically correct position, place less stress on the joints and ligaments, and are using the intrinsic muscles of the hand to support the pencil for writing tasks. When a pencil grasp is inefficient (i.e. a static tripod marker grasp), the student is relying on the proximal muscles of the elbow and shoulders to control the pencil which can cause the child to fatigue quickly, and may also result in decreased handwriting legibility.

Click here for tips on helping your pre-writer develop his pencil grasp.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

[1] Tseng, M.H. (1998). Development of pencil grip position in preschool children. Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, 18, 207-224.

[2] Schneck, C., & Amundson, S. (2010). Prewriting and Handwriting Skills. In Occupational Therapy for Children (6th ed., pp. 555-580). Maryland Heights: Mosby Elsevier.

[3] Schwellnus, H., Carnahan, H., Kushki, A., Polatajko, H., Missiuna, C., & Chau, T. (2013). Writing forces associated with four pencil grasp patterns in grade 4 children. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy67, 218–227.


How to Help Your Child With Handwriting

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association[1], handwriting is, “a complex process of managing written language by coordinating the eyes, arms, hands, pencil grip, letter formation, and body posture. The development of a child’s handwriting can provide clues to developmental problems that could hinder a child’s learning because teachers depend on written work to measure how well a child is learning.” To improve handwriting skills, it is important to consider the child holistically to help determine where the underlying problem lies.

How to Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills:

  1. Evaluate her posture and body position. Encourage your child to work while sitting upright,Help Your Child With Handwriting
    with back straight and supported by the seat and two feet on the floor. Provide a footrest, or a cube chair with lateral support, if needed. If your child has a difficult time sitting still in this position (i.e. holds her head in her hands, lies down on the desk, or slouches prematurely), it may be due to a decrease in muscle tone, impacting core strength, postural control, and endurance for table work.
  2. Improve pencil grasp. Promoting a dynamic tripod pencil grasp is one strategy used by occupational therapists to improve handwriting success.  Children who use an inefficient pencil grasp fatigue quickly because they are enlisting the larger muscles groups to work overtime on small, finite tasks. Improving control of the distal muscles of the wrist and hand may improve overall fine motor development and legibility. Games such as Operation, Don’t Spill the Beans, Ker Plunk, and activities that require tongs and chopsticks are all helpful in strengthening these muscles, improving arch development, and facilitating the tripod grasp.
  3. Work on a vertical surface, such as a binder or an easel. This will help to stabilize the wrist and the hand, improve visual attention, and facilitate better eye-hand coordination.
  4. Facilitate multi-sensory engagement. For children who struggle with letter formation, including top down letter formation, line adherence, directionality, and overall legibility, practice working across multi-sensory writing apparatuses. Tracing bumpy letters, writing their name in shaving cream, sand, or finger paint, or using a stylus to trace, copy, or write letters on an iPad can improve motor planning, visual motor integration, and fine motor coordination. (Check out some handwriting app recommendations from our OT here.)
  5. Create a writing checklist. This is very motivating for grade school children and helps them to begin to edit their own work independently. Include simple, 1 step instructions (i.e. all of my words have enough space between them) along with a check box so that they can follow along and correct their work at their own pace.
  6. Adapt the paper. For children whose letters appear to be floating in the middle of the paper, or have a difficult time with placement of their words, adapting the paper itself can be a helpful tool. Often, I will create paper that has a blue line on top, a yellow line in the middle, and a green line on bottom and refer to them as the sky, the fence, and the grass, respectively. Using this visual, it is easy for children to see whether or not their letters fall on the grass, touch the sky, or pass through the fence.

Click here for 4 ways to better handwriting before pencil hits paper.


NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!


5 Ways to Help Your Pre-Writer Develop Her Pencil Grasp

Your child is constantly growing, learning, and developing motor skills that she will use later in life.  One of thesedeveloping pencil grasp important motor skills is her pencil grasp.  By the time your child is three and half, she should have developed the skills necessary to hold her pencil with her thumb and the pad of her index finger.  Below you will find 5 ways to help her develop this skill.

5 Tips for Helping Your Pre-Writer Develop Her Pencil Grip:

  1. Employ “The Alligator”: Have your child make her hand into an alligator’s mouth, as if her fingers and thumb form the teeth and lips.  This “puppet-like” shape will help your child to grab onto a pencil, crayon, or marker using the pads of her fingers.  Instruct your child to place the marker in the alligator’s teeth and to keep the alligator’s mouth (web space) open.
  2. Use Stickers:  Place 2 stickers near the tip of your child’s markers.  These stickers will serve as a visual cue for your child when she is picking up the marker.  This additional cue may help her to remember where to put her fingers and to use her thumb and pointer finger together.
  3. Keep Supplies Her Size:  Give your child various small supplies, such as short pencils (much like the ones you find at the mini-golf course), broken crayons, or short markers.  Since your child’s hands are much smaller than your own, giving them supplies that are just their size will make it easier for them to use a more refined grasp.
  4. Use Lacing Cards: Engaging your pre-writer in activities that don’t involve a pencil or paper can also help her to develop her grasping skills.  Pick up some lacing cards (you can also use cardboard and a hole puncher to make your own).  Encourage your child to hold a shoe-lace with her thumb and pad of index finger as she weaves it in and out of the holes.  This activity helps to develop her visual-motor skills that are so important for writing. Read more

Why Is A Full Occupational Therapy Evaluation Beneficial When My Child’s Only Difficulty is Handwriting?

Child practicing handwriting

Handwriting is a complex task that involves many prerequisite skills, including visual skills, ocular motor control, body awareness, fine motor planning, shoulder stability, and hand and finger strength. Each prerequisite skill contributes to efficient and fluid handwriting:

  • Visual skills are needed to accurately distinguish and interpret letters and shapes on a page, essential for writing. Ocular motor control is needed to move one’s eyes across the paper to write in an organized manner.
  • Body awareness is required to accurately move the hands for writing, as well as knowing how much force is needed to make marks on the paper with the pencil or pen.
  • Fine motor planning is needed so that your child can easily identify, plan and execute the task of writing letters, words and sentences.
  • Shoulder stability is required to control the pencil.
  • Hand and finger strength is required for endurance that is needed to write many letters to form words and sentences. Hand strength is also needed for an appropriate grasp on the pencil.

In order to address handwriting in therapy, it is imperative for the occupational therapist to assess your child’s current level of functioning in each of the above areas. The root cause of your child’s handwriting difficulties may be his or her struggle in either one area or multiple areas. A full occupational therapy evaluation is very comprehensive; it allows the therapist to get a baseline level of performance to identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses in the prerequisite skill areas, and unveil the source of your child’s difficulty with handwriting.

Following the evaluation, your therapist will develop goals based on your child’s performance and design a treatment program that concentrates on improving these foundational skills, and ultimately improve his or her handwriting organization and legibility.

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Handwriting Quickies: 5 easy ways to work on your child’s grasp and letter formation for handwriting

Handwriting involves many different components, such as using an age-appropriate grasp, stabilizing the paper, and identifying and forming uppercase and lowercase letters.  Luckily, there are lots of simple strategies to boost your child’s confidence and performance.

Here are a few brief suggestions to try at home:

Child practicing handwriting skills

  • Hold a marble:  Have your child hold onto a marble with his ring finger and pinky finger against his palm.  This will help him to keep his “extra” fingers out of the way, and better promote a tripod posture on the writing utensil (pencil is held between the thumb and index finger, with the pencil resting on the middle finger).
  • Varied grasp Place the writing utensil between your child’s pointer finger and long finger to promote a variation of the tripod posture.  This is a good option if your child is older and has an incorrect grasp which cannot be corrected, or to provide a “break” for your child if he fatigues easily during handwriting activities.
  • Use a golf-sized pencil A small pencil works well for small hands (approximately 6 years and younger).  This will offer your child more control over the writing utensil, and may require less strength and endurance as it is lighter.
  • Practice letter recognition:  Have your child trace letters onto your back, or trace letters onto your child’s back.  This will help him practice recognizing the shape and formation of the letters, and also feel the letters, providing tactile input.  Similarly, you and your child can take turns drawing letters in the air (make movements extremely large and exaggerated); again, this will help your child see the lines and curves of the letters and feel them as well.  (Note:  during the summertime, sparklers are a fun way to practice forming letters/words in the air for others to guess!  Just make sure that children are monitored by adults for safety purposes)
  • I spy with my little eye Change up the game “I spy” by incorporating spelling.  For example, “I spy with my little eye, something that starts with the letter S.”  This will help your child sound out which letter the object starts with.  To make the activity harder, ask your child to spell out the entire word at the end of each round.

Handwriting and learning to recognize the alphabet can feel like daunting tasks to parents, as there are many components to think about in order to best teach your child.  However, as stated above, there are many “tricks” to provide your child with greater success and, therefore, increased confidence.  Try one of these strategies today, and watch your child blossom!

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How To: Teach Your Child to Write the Right Way

Young Boy Writing On EaselHandwriting is a very complex process that requires many prerequisite skills and abilities before it can be done successfully and easily. Some of these skills and abilities include the development of the small muscles in the hand, pencil/marker grasp, eye-hand coordination, the ability to draw shapes and lines, and visual perceptual skills.

For beginner writers, emphasis is placed on learning how to hold a pencil or marker, getting accustomed to making strokes on paper and beginning to form meaning out of what is drawn (for example, a loop is defined as a circle). The early writer learns to write first by imitating various strokes (horizontal line, vertical line, circle) , then copying the same strokes from a visual example and eventually drawing and writing independently. Below are preparatory activities your child can do to help them begin to write the right way! Read more