Holding a pencil correctly- why does something that looks so easy seem so hard to teach our kids? Using a mature pencil grasp (one that involves just the thumb and index finger or thumb, index, and middle fingers on the pencil) is a hard skill for many kids to grasp (no pun intended!). About 50% of 3 years olds can use a mature pencil grip but you really want to see a mature grip begin to emerge by around 4 years old.
As an Occupational Therapist, this is something I work very hard on this with children in the clinic. I want to give you a free OT session today giving you tips on how you can work with your children at home on their pencil grip.
In the clinic, I always start with fine motor activities before we ever pick up a pencil. I like to use fun activities that engage the child and that require them to use their thumb and index finger (or a pincer grasp). I also like the activities to require the child to use both hands working together in a cooperative manner. This is important because writing not only involves the hand that is doing the writing, but it also requires the “helper hand” to hold the paper steady.
Some of my favorite activities for incorporating a pincer grasp and bilateral hand use are Melissa & Doug’s Wooden Stringing Beads, the Lacing Sneaker, Butterfly Peel & Press Sticker by Number, and Lace & Trace Shapes. Each of these activities promotes the use of the thumb and index finger working separately from the rest of the fingers and requires the non-dominant hand to act as a “helper hand”.
When I have a child who is still using their entire fist to hold the pencil, using activities that promote the use of just one finger in isolation is important. A finger paint set is great for this. Encourage your children to paint with just one finger at a time. For example, they can use their pointer finger to paint with red, their middle finger to paint with blue, their ring finger to paint with yellow, and their little finger to paint with green. If this is too difficult, start by encouraging them to only paint with their pointer finger dipping it in water prior to switching to a different color. Finger puppets are another great way to encourage the use of the pointer finger in isolation.
I also like to use activities that encourage the use of and strengthening of all of the many tiny muscles in the hand. Melissa & Doug’s Super Model Sculpting Compound is a great way to do just that. Rolling it into balls, pressing it out flat, pinching it, etc. encourage the use of all of those muscles in the hand that are important for developing fine motor coordination.
After doing these fine motor activities to get those little fingers warmed up and ready to go, it is time to pick up the pencil. Let me give you a little tip on how to teach your child to pick up their pencil or crayon. Let me warn you though, you may see the light bulb go on and have an “aha moment”.
That ends your free therapy session for today. I hope you enjoyed it! Pencil grip and the fine motor skills involved in holding a pencil correctly as such an important pre-cursor to writing that cannot be overlooked.