Pencil grip is one of those things that is really hard to re-teach if kids initially learn it incorrectly. Though every child will end up settling on a pencil grip that works best for him or her, introducing the standard “tripod” grasp (pinching with thumb and index finger while resting on middle finger) is a good place to start. However, this can seem virtually impossible when you’re dealing with five- and six-year-olds who don’t even know their left from right, let alone how to divide up their fingers into different positions.
Given the tricky nature of pencil holding — and its impact on kids’ handwriting skills — I thought I’d share a few OT-based tricks so you can help kids learn how to hold their pencil correctly.
Trick #1: Use shorter pencils.
A shorter pencil means less space for cramming in unnecessary fingers. It basically forces kids to pinch with thumb and index finger. This is why the popular curriculum Handwriting Without Tears uses their own brand of short pencils, however, golf pencils work just fine, too. It’s also why occupational therapists often have kids use crayons that have been broken in half if they are having trouble using an age-appropriate grasp. Click here to read more about why kids should use shorter crayons.
If shorter pencils don’t do the trick for your little writer, then teach them the “pinch and flip”. Simply have them pinch the sharpened end of the pencil and then flip it around until it gently rests in the “webspace” (that soft skin between your thumb and index finger) in the ready position. Watch the video below for a less-than-one-minute demonstration and explanation of this trick.
Trick #3: Have them hide something under their last two fingers.
If shorter pencils and the “pinch and flip” don’t work, then try having students hide something under their pinky and ring fingers. These two fingers are supposed to bend toward the palm while the thumb, index, and middle fingers do all the work. However, sometimes kids have a hard time with this because they can’t yet “separate” the two sides of their hand (the pinky side and the thumb side). This trick will take care of that. It really doesn’t matter what they hide under their last two fingers, as long as they can comfortably do so without their fingers bulging out from their hand because the item is too big, or having to squeeze too tightly because it’s too small. Try using a small ball of playdough, cotton ball, marble, bead, crumpled piece of tissue paper, or tiny rubbery toy.
Remember that, in addition to teaching kids “tricks” for holding their pencil correctly, they also need strong muscles in their hands, shoulders, and even in their core muscles to be able to sit up and write with control.
For fine motor resources you can (legally) download to your computer or print for your own use, check out these helpful e-books from OT Mom Learning Activities, packed with practical, ready-to-use activity ideas (affiliate links included for your convenience, disclosure here):
OT Mom’s Fine Motor Bundle (Discounted price on Fine Motor Activities plus Scissor Skills Activities plus FREE Bonus Cutting Template)
And for access to all of OT Mom’s e-books, check out her Mega Motor Bundle, which includes all of her e-books at a discounted price!
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In addition to being mama to two sweet little boys and wife to a crazy awesome husband, Christie is a Registered & Licensed Occupational Therapist (OTR/L). She holds a B.A. in Psychology with a Minor in Education from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA...Go Bruins!), and an M.A. in Occupational Therapy from the University of Southern California (USC OT). She has experience working as a pediatric OT in early intervention (birth to 3), clinic-based, and school-based settings. Her mission with MamaOT.com is to encourage, educate, and empower those who care for children. Christie loves that she gets to PLAY when she goes to work, is hopelessly addicted to Kettle Corn, and is known for being able to turn virtually anything into a therapeutic tool or activity, from empty food containers to laundry and everything in between. Learn more about Christie and what inspired her to become an OT.
Occupational therapy (OT) is a holistic profession that helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities, also known as “occupations”. Some OTs help people diagnosed with disability, injury, or disease. Others help prevent disability, injury, or disease. Because of occupational therapy, people of all ages are able to say, "I can!" no matter what their struggle. Isn't that amazing?!
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