Practical methods to teach your child for a good grip on pen or pencil

Many parents make a key mistake of not ensuring that their child holds the pencil correctly.

By Dr Tanu Kapila Loomba

Good handwriting is an issue throughout the school years and further on in life. The mechanics of handwriting have an impact on both the writer and the reader. Writing fluency is most important from the perspective of the writer. How fast can I write down my thoughts? Is the process tedious, do I get tired and perhaps choose not to write, lose interest in the skill? Legibility affects the reader. Is the writing accessible, easy, or difficult to decipher? Does it invite one to read or to turn away? What makes forms of handwriting different? The ergonomics, the writing instrument, the skillfulness of the writer and surely the pencil grip have an impact on handwriting, and perhaps motivation and academic achievement also play a role.

Once your child has developed the hand strength and control to draw lines and simple shapes like a cross and a circle, he is ready to start learning letters. Many parents make a key mistake of not ensuring that their child holds the pencil correctly. Always try to teach these skills by starting by making large shapes and moving on to small shapes. For example, practice drawing a large circle on the blackboard or large piece of paper taped to the wall before attempting it with paper and pencil at the table. Secondly, you should try to involve as many of the other senses as possible.

Different Types of Grips

Tripod grip

The Tripod Grip is a writing grip that holds the pen or pencil with the thumb + index finger. The pen or pencil rests on the middle finger when using the tripod grip.

Quadropod grip

The Quadropod Grip is a writing grip that holds the pen or pencil with the thumb + index and middle fingers. The pen or pencil tends to rest on the ring finger while using the quadropod grip.

Right age to learn the pencil grip

Holding crayons and pencils should be actively and regularly taught. Give them colouring books by the age of four so they know how to roughly grip crayon colours. Grip becomes automatic or habitual with repetition. The older the child gets the harder it is to change the pencil grip once they have picked a habit to hold it a certain way.

Always demonstrate proper finger position for children (especially young children). You may use devices as reminders. It is advised not to use pencil grips in Kindergarten as children are just learning the correct grip and just starting to write. There are a lot of devices available. Use what works for children. If your child is getting used to a certain device, make sure you have a similar device at home so that they can practice.

Helpful strategies

Show your child the correct finger and thumb positioning for holding the pencil and help him place his fingers and thumb in these positions. Try a commercially available pencil grip. Your child, however, will need to learn how to hold the grip correctly and consistently. Pencil grips are available from your occupational therapist. Encourage your child to practice for a few minutes each day until he or she automatically and consistently uses a suitable pencil grip. Give feedback to your child to help him become aware of his finger and thumb positions and praise him whenever he demonstrates a suitable pencil grip. Encourage your child to do lots of fun and interesting drawing and writing activities using different types of text as, coloured pencils,

Common Pencil Grip Problems

Thumb wrapped around, on top of the index finger.

Thumb tucked in, under index finger.

Fisted grips.

Fingers splayed out, all gripping the pencil.

Pencils pointing straight up in the air.

Awkward wrist positions.

Pressure problems, such as too hard or too soft.

Difficulty with big pencils.

If children continue to struggle with holding their pencils in a functional grasp, I will recommend using commercially available pencil grip equipment to encourage this. Different grips work better for different children and there is a certain amount of experimenting needed to find one that suits.

(The writer is Consultant Physiotherapist, Motherhood Hospitals, HRBR, Bangalore.)

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