Pencil grasp development is a common concern for many parents, teachers, and therapists. So often, we see children holding a pencil with all of their fingers wrapped around the pencil, or very awkward pencil grips and wonder what is a typical pencil grasp. But, did you know that children typically progress through pencil grasp development in a predictable pattern? It’s true! Let’s talk pencil grasp.
First, when it comes to writing with a pencil, there are a few things that therapists want parents to know about pencil grasp.
Secondly, it’s important to note that grasp development, while it can be predictable, can also vary in timing. And when grasp doesn’t follow the progression listed below…it can be ok! In fact, a functional pencil grasp is perfectly fine for children.
Pencil Grasp Development
Grasp development follows three main categories: primitive grasps, transitional grasps, and mature grasps.
Primitive Pencil Grasps
In this beginning pencil grasp, the whole arm moves the pencil. These grasps include two specific grips which are described below:
1. Whole Hand Grasp/Palmer Supinate Grasp- (Typically seen between 12 months-1.5 years) Child holds the crayon with their whole hand, with the writing end of the crayon sticking out near their pinkie side of the hand. It looks like they are holding a paint stirrer or potato masher.
2. Digital Pronate Grasp/ Pronated Wrist Grasp- (2-3 years) Crayon is held in the hand so the tip of the crayon (or the drawing end) is held on the thumb side of the hand.
Transitional Pencil Grasps
In the transitional pencil grasp stage, the child’s forearm and/or wrist moves the pencil.
1. Four Fingered Grasp- (3.5-4 years)- Crayon is held between their thumb, and tips of the pointer finger, middle finger, and ring finger. As the child progresses, these four fingers may pull down to the tip of the finger into a quadrupod grasp.
2. Static Tripod Grasp- (3.5-4 years)- Child holds the writing utensil with the thumb, pointer finger, and rests the utensil on the last joint of the middle finger. The ring finger and pinkie fingers are tucked into the palm of the hand.
Quadrupod Grasp- If the thumb opposes the pointer finger, middle finger, and ring finger this may be called a quadrupod grasp. A quadrupod grasp can also occur with the pencil resting on the side of the ring finger.
3. Other grasp patterns- There can be many variations of grasp patterns that occur in the transitional stage, marked by the use of the wrist or forearm to move the pencil.
Mature Pencil Grasps
In the mature pencil grasp stage, the child holds and maneuvers the pencil using mobility in the fingers or the hand.
1. Dynamic Tripod Grasp- (4-6/7 years) Thumb and pointer finger hold the pencil as it rests on the last joint of the middle finger. Pencil movements occur via manipulation of the fingers and hand. Note that a true dynamic tripod grasp may not be established up until around 14 years of age.
2. Lateral Tripod Grasp- Thumb is pressed in against the pencil (or adducted) to hold the pencil against the side of the pointer finger. The tip of the thumb may bend over (or flex) over the pencil in a “wrapped” position. This grasp is sometimes called a thumb wrap grasp because the thumb is not involved with the distal movement of the pencil. Distal mobility occurs, but it is the index and middle fingers manipulating the pencil.
3. Dynamic Quadrupod Grasp- Grasp is similar to the dynamic tripod grasp, but opposition includes the thumb, pointer finger, middle finger on the pencil shaft.
4. Lateral Quadrupod Grasp- Grasp is similar to the lateral tripod grasp, with its thumb wrapped positioning of the thumb, but uses the pointer, middle, and ring fingers are on the pencil shaft and manipulate the pencil.
Other Functional Pencil Grasps
There are other grasps that can be considered “functional” in which the child holds the pencil differently than described here, but can also write in an efficient manner.
These can include (but not be limited to) a thumb wrap grasp, thumb tuck grasp, inter-digital brace grasp, or a finger-wrap grasp.
How to help with pencil Grasp
Want to know more about pencil grasp progression, development, and strategies to use to help children build a strong, efficient, and functional pencil grasp? It’s all in the Pencil Grasp Bundle!
The Pencil Grasp Bundle is for those struggling to help students with carryover of skills. It’s designed to make pencil grasp practice meaningful and motivating. The Pencil Grasp Bundle is 16 pencil grasp resources, guides, worksheet sets, and tools.
Pencil Grasp Success Was Never Easier.
- It can be a real struggle to help kids address tricky pencil grasps.
It is frustrating and difficult to weed through all of the information and pull out what will work for a child.
- You struggle with kids who work on skills but can’t carryover handwriting and pencil grasp into the classroom.
- Therapists may search for fresh ideas to address pencil grasp needs and wonder whether a grasp is considered functional or needs changing.
- Therapists need pencil grasp screening and educational materials to address a huge influx of therapy referrals.
- Parents wonder about development and skills.
- Teachers will love the Centers activities to incorporate into learning to impact carryover of handwriting skills.
The Pencil Grasp Bundle includes 16 products and is valued at over $73. It’s bundled together and offered at just $42.
Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to email@example.com.