Today, I wanted to share a tip for addressing handwriting pressure…using a pen grip! Pencil pressure when writing is something that comes up a lot. You may have seen children who press so hard on the paper that the pencil tip breaks or smudges and mistakes don’t fully erase. You might have a child that writes so lightly that it is hard to read their writing or their written work is brushed away by their sleeve. Writing pressure is a hot topic in handwriting legibility. We have a previous resource on pencil pressure when writing. There are many tips and tricks for addressing handwriting and writing pressure there.
Today’s tip has more to do with the sensory benefits of writing with a pen to address heavy or light writing pressure.
Related read- Here are 5 things therapists want parents to know about pencil grasp.
Did you know that sometimes using a pen can help with handwriting? When a child presses so hard with their pencil, or writes so lightly that it’s hard to read their writing, there could be a sensory component. The child typically can’t regulate the amount of pressure that they need to use to press and hold the writing utensil.
Pen trick for handwriting
One strategy to help with writing pressure that is too dark or too light is to use a pen.
The sensory concerns might be that the child can’t tell how hard they are pressing on the utensil and so press very hard. Their ability to register proprioceptive input may be off. Check out these proprioception sensory activities to help with this sensory input.
Or, they might not notice that they care holding the writing utensil with a very loose grasp.
Using a pen to write is one way to help the child get around these sensory issues. Using a pen that writes smoothly across the page can help with kids that write too lightly.
When writing with the pen, they can use their normal grasp and clearly see the written work because the pen slides more smoothly across the writing surface and they don’t need to accommodate for the resistance of the paper.
Other kids who write very dark can benefit from using a pen to practice ghost writing. The child can use the pen to write on a notebook with paper underneath. When they turn the page, if they can read their writing on the next paper, you can teach the child that they are pressing too hard. Keep trying to write without “ghost letters” left behind.
The issue with using a pen to write is many times, the shaft of the pen is thinner, requiring more precision of grasp and more developed arches in the hand. The intrinsic hand strength that allows for developed arches is required so the child can write for an extended amount of time without hand fatigue.
Having a pen grip is ideal to help in these situations.
Triangle pencil grip
One way to address the smaller shaft on a pen and the need for hand strength (which many of our kids lack), is using a triangle pencil grip on the pen, so that the child has placement for their fingers and a built up shaft for their fingers to grip.
Benefit of a triangle pencil grip with the block portion that prevents the fingertips from moving too far up or down the writing utensil. Also, the triangle pencil grip is commonly known, so kids are familiar with this pencil gripper.
Left handed writers and right handed writers both can use the triangle grip, making it easy to use for either writer.
The triangle pencil grip promotes a tripod or modified tripod grasp. For more help on building a stronger grasp and a functional pencil grasp, try using these activities to develop pencil grasp through play.
What if you had the chance to try a pen grip to work on handwriting, writing pressure, and grasp? Now you do! I’m so excited to partner with Two Sparrows Learning Systems to offer this Dex Pen Grip!
Dex comes complete with our patent pending stopper to support your grip for all your writing and drawing needs.
The pen grip’s triangular shape provides comfort and ease for a functional grasp. The pen comes already installed on a beautiful designer pen and comes with textured or soft grip options.
- Dex grip comes pre-installed on a beautiful pen which can be refilled with ink cartridges.
- Dex pen grip is ergonomically designed for comfort. The grip tapers at the end and the stopper is tapered in so that you can easily see over top of it and it sits comfortably in your hand.
- Using the Dex grip you do not have to press or grip as hard when writing, so your hand does not tire as easily.
- This is the perfect grip for teens to adults.
- The pen is sleek and stylish and when paired with the grip, this will quickly become your favorite, go-to pen.
- Dex comes complete with our patent pending stopper to support your grip for all your writing and drawing needs.
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
133 thoughts on “Pen Grip for Handwriting Pressure”
I had never heard of the ghost writing before – I cannot wait to try that strategy! I have worked in collaboration with the OT in my school system to provide grips and put stickers on writing utensils for proper finger and thumb placement.
Since I work with preschoolers, a bunch of them are still fisting their crayons and markers. I’ve found that introducing “chomping fingers” with whatever their favorite animal is is helpful to promote a more refined grasp, by saying something like “look at my fingers (and using my thumb and first 2 fingers to chomp repeatedly) – this is the alligator’s chomping teeth, can you show me your chomping fingers” and then guiding them through that movement with their 3 fingers and finally introducing a crayon or marker into the mix. Some kids can sustain that chomping grasp and others cannot, and with the latter, I have kids hold a pom pom in their palm with their ring finger and pinky to “keep their hand company.”
Using short pencils or crayons so they can’t put too many fingers on it.
I use a crocodile chomp video/activity to help kids use 3 fingers I also have found short crayons/pencils also help! Would love to win this grip so I can try it with my students! So many would benefit!
My grandson is entering kindergarten and has sensory processing disorder and also receives Pt for core strength and motor planning and speech services. He could benefit from the pen grip because although he is mostly a sensory seeker he has very light pressure with handwriting.
For my kiddos who are progressing from a digital pronate to a static tripod grasp, I love using the “treasure chest” method where they stabilize a small item (cotton ball, large jewel bead, a fake coin, etc) under their ring and pinkie finger to assist with forming a tripod grasp. I also love fat, short markers! I’m not a crayon person in general for some reason, I love to color with markers, and I like the larger Crayola Pip Squeaks since the length and the width help to form a more mature grasp with my kiddos.
Stickers for visual cues or different built up grips.
I like to have them hold a small item with their curled ring and pinkie fingers while holding the pencil to promote using only the thumb,index and middle fingers. I also like to use short pencils or crayons so they have to use the correct fingers.
I like to use broken crayons or pip squeak markers to help facilitate a more mature grip on the writing tool. Sometimes, I even like to put little velcro circles on markers or expo markers and cue them to “put their fingers on the fuzzies”, as it helps provide them visual and tactile input for proper finger placement.
My favorite strategy that everyone can use is a shortened crayon/pencil /piece of chalk so that it naturally positions their fingers/hand in more effective grasp. It helps to build those tiny muscles!
The HWT song!
Each of my students have a small amount of putty in a container, labeled with their name. At the start of each session, they find their container, pull out the putty. When everyone has their putty out, I set the timer for 1 minute. They search for beads hidden in the putty, trying to find all 10 before the minute is up. I keep a log for each student, so they can track their progress, and try to “beat” themselves.
Shortened pencils or crayons. Also, having the child hold a small toy under their 4th and 5th fingers against their palm helps encourage to only use 3 fingers for their grasp.
I’ve had my students use a golf pencil with a clothes pin attached. They wrap their ring finger and pinky around the clothes pin to promote a tripod grasp on the golf pencil!
I have used short crayons and pencils to help improve grasps.
I use the Dixon Tri-Conderoga black tri-side grip pencils. The paint on them has a nice, non-slippery feel. I put aside the ones that get short from use during the school year so I can start out the next school year with short pencils. For kids who have a hard time with their ring and pinkie finger, I give them a cotton ball to keep tucked under those two fingers.
I work with sen pupils. I find working with shorter pencils or crayons help. Also have used pens that light up when press too hard helpful. We play a game of who gets the least light up in one piece of work.
I use smaller pencils or crayons to facilitate tripod grasp. I also like to utilize tweezer activities to work on grasping. For grading pressure, I first have the client engage in proprioceptive input. I like to use mechanical pencils to work on grading pressure as well – if the lead breaks, they are pushing too hard!
I like having the child hold a small object (bead, erase, cotton ball) in their palm using their ring finger and pinky finger. Also do A LOT of demonstrating
I like to use short writing utensils, also having them keep a puff “hidden” under last two fingers for ulnar stabilization
I like to use stickers for hand placement. Another thing I try is the ‘pencil flip’ I learned somewhere along the way. Hold the pencil with tip up in non-dominant hand. Pinch where the stickers are placed with your writing hand. Now flip it over and tuck your middle finger behind the pencil!
Use lots of small pencils, crayons, pens to work on tripod grasp. I work with a wide range of students so it depends on their level with what I can try. 🙂 thank you for the chance to win.
I use lots of hand strengthening activities as part of play and also short tools to facilitate a 3 point grasp. I like the Learning Without Tears “Pick up a crayon” song and a visual photo of grasp that our teachers call the “preschool pinch.”
Use short crayons or pencils and the baby shark hold.
I do a lot of activities that facilitate a tripod grasp. I use golf pencils, HWT flip crayons, stone crayons, pip squeak markers…anything that is smaller than a regular size pencil, crayon, marker, etc. I have even found shorter mechanical pencils and dry erase markers before. I will have some children hide a small object by tucking their ring & pinky fingers into their palm to facilitate a tripod grasp if that works for them. It really just depends on the child.
I love having my kiddos write/draw on vertical surfaces!
For younger kids, giving them appropriate sized writing utensils (e.g, short pencils, broken crayons) and cueing them to hold them in a developmentally appropriate way has been effective. For older kids, it’s much harder to change a grasp pattern that they’ve gotten comfortable using, but providing grips has helped with some kids in my experience.
Mini crayons, mini golf pencils, and Lite Brite play help isolate pinch tripod grasp
using shorter crayons or markers has worked. I also have used warm up fine motor exercises. I also feel having the child use tongs to feed the squeeze ball work as well.
For some of my students, using small writing utensils really helps! I love broken crayons for that reason. I also use the strategy of having students tuck a small item in their 4/5 fingers to help stabilize their hand and a more efficient grasp. We talk about how the power fingers keep their hand strong (4/5 fingers) and their action fingers get to write (tripod fingers).
Working in a preschool with 3s we do a lot of fine motor work and hand strengthening games. We even do yoga to help strengthen the core muscles
I love using larger, easier to hold grips to teach grasp and build up the child’s finger strength; for example, I like using the diamond shaped crayons, broken-in-half crayons, and wide, small pieces of chalk.
I use activities prior to pencil writing to work on grip with tongs, playdough, clothespins, lite brute, etc and then move into grip with use of a gripper or with cotton ball holding from the 4th and 5th digit. If pressure is too much or not enough, I tend to lean more toward sandpaper or other textures to write over for feedback!
Working with preschoolers, I have found that a ball of yarn, sized to fit their hand, with the pencil pushed through at the correct angle, enables them to hold the pencil in the proper position and helps with proper pressure. (It takes a bit of practice to figure out just the right placement in the ball, but after your first few it gets easy).
Holding a small object in their pinky and ring finger, shortened pencils, writing on a vertical surface, and lots of hand strengthening prep activities (weight bearing, resistance putty, clothespins)!
I am not a big fan of grips. The kids are able to get their fingers around them and they tend to get taken off and lost. I like to address grasp early before motor memory and habits are established.
I use shorter writing utensils and model holding with three fingers “chomping” the pencil.
Always looking for new and exciting ways to address this skill
I love to start our sessions with weight bearing tasks such as bear walks, crab walks and then perform S’Cool Moves finger exercise/warm-up. After this is completed, then I like for the student to complete a fine motor task such as threading a nut onto a bolt, threading beads on string, poking golf tees into playdough. Once this is completed, the child moves to writing task using broken crayons to promote a functional grasp. It’s a good idea to trial writing on a vertical surface or on a textured surface to provide sensory feedback.
I love doing art projects using small Pip Squeak markers, broken crayons, or rock-shaped crayons to facilitate a tripod grasp. I also like to work on strengthening their hands by using an empty spray bottle and having them spray warm water over ice-cubes with plastic toys inside. Strengthening improves their grip on the writing utensil,and I love getting creative and collaborating with the kiddos.
In my fieldwork we used triangular crayons with the holes taped/covered so the students needed to use a tripod grasp, small pencils and crayons to facilitate improved grasp. With older kids who wrote on white beards and used the Expo cap in the 4th and 5th digits. Positioning the wrist using a large binder for was another strategy that as used in conjuction with writing.
hand warm up activities, modeling, working on other fine motor activities that support grasp development.
I love using pencil grips and, when they are ready, asking students to hold pom-poms with their ring and pinky finger while they write with the ulnar fingers resting against the palm!
I think this could be helpful to my son.
Using broken crayons to help them grip
I think strengthening is key but to help facilitate a more mature grasp I use a shell grip because I think it helps lore to open the web space. I also like to have a child use a small manipulative such as a pom pom tucked between 4th-5th digit as a reminder to help stabilize writing utensil 🙂
Weight-bearing activities; variety of strengthening and precision activities to facilitate arch development; use of shortened writing/marking tools; vertical surface
playing with tweezers/tongs, using very short writing utensils (such as broken crayons), and having the child hold a small object in their palm using their ring and pinky fingers to isolate their remaining fingers and thumb for writing utensil grasp
I’ve never used the Dex pencil grip, but I would love to add it to my repertoire! I try to implement strategies that are motivating for the kiddo or have them involved in picking a certain strategy. I educate the teacher or have the student educate the teacher for carryover in the classroom.
I like to use short pencils and broken crayons.
With younger students, I use Mr/Ms Fisty and Mr/Ms pinchy. We do activities which require either grip. I continue to ask the student which grip is needed for an activity and eventually just use the verbal prompt. I also use broken crayons, short or mini pencils and markers, pop a point pencils that can be used in single pieces, as well as stabilizing a small porcupine ball in the ring, small fingers with drawing, coloring, writing.
I like to work on the underlying skills such as fine motor skills and strengthening. Additionally, I like to do proprioceptive work to help with body awareness and pencil pressure.
I haven’t tried any of the therapies listed, but I would love to give them a try.
Shortened pencils or crayons, a variety of grippers to try to give the child the feeling of the correct pencil grasp.
We do a lot of work with putty to strengthen the grip and eventually use small pencils and crayons. We have also used triangle crayons and they seem to work ok. The hardest part of them is they tend to feel slippery…
I have found it effective to have a kiddo hold the cap of their marker under their 4th and 5th digits. This helps them to maintain their tripod grasp while redirecting their 4th and 5th digits.
Holding something like a blob of playdough in their hand with other fingers to promote tripod grip
I have found that breaking crayons in half or using a Q-tip (something smaller) can promote tripod grasp!
First I focus on building proximal stability via weight bearing exercises. Then I focus on distal mobility with exercises to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the hand. Lastly, I focus on the actual grasp, and depending on the student, either reposition the grasp manually or, for students with lower tone, provide a pencil grip that facilitates a tripod grasp.
The Handwriting Without Tears strategies with short crayons
Gross and fine motor strengthening! Weight bearing activities all the way down to picking items out of putty with tweezers!
This is a consistent struggle for my son, so I’m not successful yet. We have tried different pencil grips, verbal and hand over hand cues, and letting him use the wide markers just to get him writing. Still looking for the magic fit to help him!
Flip crayons area great toot tool to use.
This is so cool!! Never heard of Ghost writing such a great idea!! I have used weighted pencil, as well as grippers to improve grasp.
I like to have them hold a very small item that they have to “hide away” with the ring and little finger to encourage tripod. I also like to incorporate different strengths and textures of paper depending on the pressure of a kiddo’s grasp (tissue paper for too much pressure and shaving cream/hair gel ziplock bag with the light pressure kiddos).
Direct teaching of grip with songs and movement. We use “claw” hands.
I like to strengthen the pinch, pulling pennies out of putty and pushing them into a tight bank slot, and I like to use 2 elastic bands to pull that pencil back into what i call the trajectory of power. I demonstrate with a fake hammer how to incorporate power.
Have them hold a cotton balls in the palm of their hand while holding their pencil to write.
Short crayons and easels/vertical surfaces
Also drawing under the table for wrist extension.
Using activities to separate and strengthen the power side and precision sides of the hand; and, using small tools!
I love using small broken crayons, broken pieces of sponges and small legos o facilitate isolated/precise grip patterns for handwriting.
I truly have not found any one technique to be successful. I’ve found using various tasks helps build the coordination needed but that each child is so unique in what they respond to and how they develop the skill.
I use small pencils and broken crayons to help them utilize more of their fingers.
I do hand strengthening and dexterity with breaking up dog treats and picking small items up with tweezers.
I use shortened crayons and pencils to help develop the proper grasp.
PRone positioning or working on vertical, small writing utensils, push pin activities.
Using small broken crayons and chalk. Doing lots of weight bearing activities and working on in hand manipulation skills.
Using smaller manipulatives, having them complete activities that work on the skill without actually having them always write, making my own fine motor toys- I took plastic dinosaurs, cut them in half, and glued snaps to the inside of the body so they’d have to use a three jaw chuck to connect the pieces together to form the animal!
I love using shortened crayons with my kiddos!
I use a combination of gross and fine motor strengthening activites including weight bearing activities, picking items out of putty with tweezers, using tongs, holding a pom pom, adaptive pencil grip, or clothespin to improve finger flexion,
I do a lot of strengthening activities with putty, beads, clothpins, etc while using small writing tools to facilitate a more mature grasp.
In the classroom, I use a grip wizard because the kids can use it easily and they don’t lose it. Are used to use cotton balls or small objects to work on separation of sides of hand during writing in the classroom, but the teachers complained that the kids were always losing pieces and not keeping track of items. The grip wizard glove solves that problem.
As an OT and a mom to a child with low tone who is currently struggling with his pencil grip, I use tongs and tweezer activities to encourage separation of the two sides of the hand, often with water beads, sensory bins etc. since he loves those and they motivate him. Another really great one is to use rock crayons. His OT recommended those and I love them. I find his grasp on small crayons to still need some help and these rock crayons really encourage the right grasp. He also doesn’t get sad that they are broken, like he does with broken crayons. Another tip which I had used before on students is to use a rubber band to open the webspace and encourage proper grip (kind of like a diy handiwriter, especially when combined with a pom pom held in the ulnar side of the hand.) Those are the ideas I’m currently using.
Always look proximal…what’s happening in the core, shoulders, forearm, wrist that could be effecting pencil grip. I’ll do a lot of foundational work with my kiddos prior to working on pencil grip: weight bearing, scooterboard obstacle courses, wrist extension, working vertical. Think Mary Benbow! (now i’m aging myself)
using small writing tools (broken crayons, small pieces chalk, etc) and “magic bean” or item to hold in fourth and fifth digit to promote tripod grasp. I try to really strengthen those writing fingers too with clothespin pinch games!
I love to use a variety of play dough activities for developing fine motor skills. Also use short pencils/markers and broken crayons and get kids on a slant board or easel
Right now we are using a stylus on an Ipad app to engage interste in writting and work on his grip.
This would be so fun to have and would help with many of my students!
Slantboards and pom pom puffs under the “anchor fingers (ring and picky). chubby crayons markers or small stubby pencils!
rubber bands or nuts on the ends typically use golf pencils
I provide short pencils or crayons, triangle shaped crayons and paint brushes, and have the kids hold a pom pom with their ring and pinky fingers
I start with using rock crayons, pip (short) markers, or broken crayons. I have also been known to break pencils and sharpen them down very short. I find even golf pencils are too long.
I look for the short pencils, for the texture and patterns that the child likes and finds most interesting. The length of the writing instrument is very much dependent on the grasp ability of the child.
Improve fine motor skills, hand strength, and skills that work on separation of the two sides of the hand.
I like to let the child try different kinds of pencil grips. I also have used the silly wobble pens which some of the kiddos really enjoy!
Using small writing utensils, especially broken crayons to facilitate a more refined grasp and a lot of focus on strengthening of the hand muscles!
I always start with broken crayons to promote a distal three finger grasp. I also use small pieces of chalk, stubby markers, broken pencils, anything that is around 1 inch that they child can’t fist. When I can find them, I take the “old school” mechanical pencils – the ones that you would take the bottom point piece off and push down through the top of the pencil to push out a new point – I use the individual pencil points and wrap them in Coban or splinting material to give them a chunky grip.
Handwriting with out tears song as well as various pencil grips.
I do a lot of hand strengthening and fine motor tasks that take increased finger strength .
bead in hand by pinky, stickers/ fun tack on pencil /crayon
I like the preprinted worksheets where the students can trace. I also love to use the green line above and red line below to have the student know where to keep their letters. Some students do well with having a small line per letter to stay on. I like to have the students who are having difficulty with pencil grip to use the bigger, chunkier pencils. Sometimes, wrapping duct tape around the area that I want them to hold the pencil works well. Thanks for your OT community here. Love it!
Strategies to develop efficient pencil grasp requires good fine motor skills( pinch and palmar grasp), in hand manipulation skills, efficient hand strength, core strength, and proper functioning of proprioceptive sense for pressure. My favourite is incorporating tweezer activity.
I let the children try various pencil grips. Also hand patterns from Musqautova are really helpful for proper grasp.
I’ve had some of my kids hold a small crumpled piece of paper with their ring and pinky fingers to promote a tripod grasp. I’ve also tried putting a sock over the hand and cutting out two holes for the first two fingers (thumb and index) so they can grasp the pencil and the other fingers act as stabilizers while writing/coloring etc.
Doing activities that promote finger and hand strengthening of the intrinsic muscles (putty/playdoh) along with shortened pencils/crayons, or hiding a “magic bean” in their ring & pinky fingers has been beneficial.
Holding a small item in the palm of their hand while grasping a writing tool is super effective in most cases.
FM activities coupled with broken pencils or crayons 🙂
Modeling a tripod pencil grasp to give visual. Then providing pencil grip so that they can see and feel it.
Exercise program that encourages use of tripod grasp.
using a broken crayon
sometimes also leaving the pencil in the freezer before use for children who have a loose grasp and need more input to squeeze the pencil
Minimizing the amount of space the child has to hold the utensil helps build grasping skills! (Broken crayons, markers without the cap, etc.)
q-tip art works so well for an open webspace and a tripod grasp!
Lots of strengthening activities for hands, shoulders and core strength as well as use of inclines, grippers and writing buddy to help bring pencil back into open web space.
strengthening, small crayons, pencil grips
Cues, demonstration, and modeling as well as teacher training.
I am new to working with kids so I don’t have a tip to share. But I am learning so much just by reading the article and all the comments. Thank You!
I use shortened writing tools, HWT pinch and flip, and lots of tong activities
I work on proper development of the hand and arm muscles and use grips as needed.
Using shorter but fatter pencils, so that it’s easier to grasp
I work on hand strengthening with Play-doh, lacing, and other FM activities.
im still an OT student, so i don’t know a lot of techniques, but love to learn from the comments!
Using shorter fatter pens for small hands to help with grip. Also, building hand grasping exercise through use of playdough for strength to build those fine motor skills prior. Now, it’s just tuning the grasp.
I love to use clothespins, cheap common and effective. Especially the smaller ones. They can “pin” them around a box lid, place them as “legs” for animal bodies, line them up along a section of rope, and pick up objects to place into a container. Really just about anything!
Always look at hand strength, arches, and wrist extension first. Kids need the foundation on which to build fine motor skills. Some hand therapy may be necessary before even working on writing itself.
Hand and finger warm up activities as well as using short triangular crayons and pencils
I love doing games that require the use of tongs. There are so many out there that it is great and the kids don’t realize they are doing work. I also like using a clothes pin on the pencil for proper hand positioning if student is having difficulty.
I found that a lot of hand strengthening exercises and activities help develop an efficient pencil grasp. The use of different types of tongs and tweezers during various pick up and transfer activities is really helpful. Using short pencils / broken crayons during drawing, coloring, and writing works wonders.
I sometimes give a child a pom pom or other small object to hold in their palm with their 4th and 5th digits while they are holding the writing utensil to promote a tripod grasp.
Manipulate small media (pebbles, legos, pompoms, coins, etc), use clothespins/tweezers, use broken crayons, pinch/pull/poke.
I like to use theraputty exercises, pin poke activities, tweezers and tongs, broken crayons and ticonderoga golf pencils or mini mechanical pencils for those with excessive pencil pressure.
Thank you so much for this post. This gives me some insight on why my 6 year old’s handwriting is so light. She enjoys finding beads in putty and working with tweezers.
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