Pencil grasp (or pencil grip) refers to the way a young child holds their pencil, pen or crayon when learning how to draw or write. A good pencil grasp is important because it helps your child to form letters accurately and develop a steady writing speed, in a stable posture that doesn’t put unnecessary strain on the joints of their hand or fingers.1
In the second section of this article, we’ll cover important tips for pencil grasp – but first, let’s take a look at the way pencil grasp develops at the various stages of your child’s life.
Stages of Pencil Grasp by Age
This is how your child’s pencil grasp will typically develop over time.2
1-2 Years: Fisted/ Palmar Grasp
The child holds the pencil in their palm, using all their fingers and their thumb. Movement starts at the shoulder, as they move their arm and hand together as a unit.
At this stage, your child can make light scribble markings.
2-3 Years: Digital Pronate Grasp
The child uses all their fingers to hold the pencil but turns their wrist so that their palm faces down towards the page. The shoulder is stable and movement comes from the elbow.
Your child will be able to make horizontal, vertical and circular lines at this stage.
3-4 Years: Four-Finger Grasp
The child holds their fingers on the shaft of the pencil opposite the thumb. This grasp starts to create an arc between the thumb and index finger. Movement comes from the wrist, as they move their hand and fingers together as a unit.
Usually, by this stage, your child will be able to draw zigzag lines, crossed lines and simple stick-figures.
4-6 Years: Static Tripod/ Quadropod Grasp
The tripod grasp uses three fingers- the thumb, index finger and middle finger – to hold the pencil and work as one unit. A Quadropod grasp will include the fourth (ring) finger. Movement comes from the wrist.
Your child can copy shapes like triangles, squares and circles using this grasp.
6-7 Years: Dynamic Tripod Grasp
The child holds their pencil in a stable position between the thumb, index finger and middle finger, while the ring finger and pinky finger rest on the table. There is space between the index finger and the thumb.
Movement comes from the fingertips, and the child can move the pencil accurately to start forming letters.
Smart Tips for Improving Pencil Grasp
If you notice your budding artist or writer is struggling to hold their pencil correctly, here are a few ways you can help them without making them feel pressured.
Use shorter and thicker pencils. A short, chunky pencil or crayon is harder to grasp with the palm or all the fingers, so it encourages your child to pinch it using their thumb and index finger. Occupational therapists even recommend breaking standard crayons in half before use – which also means you have twice as many short crayons to go around!3,4
Keep small objects under the last two fingers. Get your child to hold or hide some small items – like pom-poms or beads – under the fingers that aren’t gripping the pencil (the ring and pinky fingers). This encourages them to keep those fingers in place and off the pencil.3,4
The “pinch and flip” technique. Get your child to pinch the sharpened end of the pencil or crayon, and then flip it around so it rests on the soft “web” between the thumb and index finger before they start writing.3
Take it off the page. Practice hands-on fine motor activities with your child which don’t involve pencil and paper. This helps to strengthen their fingers, improve their dexterity and practice the “pincer grip” they need to grasp a pencil.4
Getting a temporary training grip for your child’s pencil can also be useful, although some occupational therapists only recommend this as a last resort.3 As your child grows and their motor skills develop, give them a chance to try different grasps, and encourage them to use the one that’s best suited to their age.1
Paediatric Occupational Therapist. Your Kids OT. https://www.yourkidsot.com/blog/holding-a-pencil-does-it-really-matter-how
Stages of Pencil Grip in Chronological Age. https://www.middlesbrough.gov.uk