If you’ve worked with kids on handwriting skills, then you’ve probably seen a thumb wrap grasp at one time or another. Also known as a crossover grasp, a cross thumb grasp, a thumb wrap grasp, (or other descriptive names), a thumb wrap grasp is just that: a holding the pencil with the thumb wrapped around the pencil shaft. Here we are talking about what this type of pencil grasp looks like and what to do about it. Let’s discuss!
Thumb Wrap Grasp
Kids can use some pretty interesting grasps on pencils. You can see the thumb squashed up against the pencil, the pointer finger wrapped around the pencil, or the thumb wrapped around the fingers.
Very often, the pencil grasp that a child is using is not one of stability and rather, is a demonstration of instability as weakness in the muscles of the hand is compensating during handwriting. This thumb wrap pencil grasp exercise is an easy one to put together and one that will help kids gain strength in the muscles that make up a functional grasp. Read on to find out how to work the muscles of the hand to improve the “dreaded” thumb wrap grasp!
I’ve had a few questions from readers about the thumb wrap grasp. It seems like this pencil grasp is becoming more prominent in classrooms.
So, what does a thumb wrap grasp look like?
The thumb wrap grasp is what you see when you the end of the thumb is wrapped around the pointer finger. The pencil is supported with the tip of the pointer finger, and supported by the middle finger. The end of the thumb wraps around the pencil to support and stabilize the pencil. With a thumb wrap grasp, typically mobility of the pencil strokes are limited by the thumbs positioning on the pencil.
However, a thumb wrap grasp can be functional as well. While it’s not a completely horrible pencil grasp, it isn’t a great grasp for speed and efficiency in writing.
Several anatomical components are involved with a thumb wrap grasp:
- Opponens Pollicis
- Flexor Pollicis Longus
- Interphalnageal Joint (IP Joint) of the thumb
- Intrinsic muscles
A thumb wrap or thumb tuck grasp can be a part of developmental progress of pencil grasps, but might be one to address during this progression. Read more about pencil grasp development for more information.
A thumb wrap grasp can also be called different names:
- Thumb wrap grasp
- Thumb tuck grasp (pencil is tucked under the pencil, but similar anatomical positioning exists and strengthening can be used to address a thumb tuck)
- Crossover grasp
- Cross thumb grasp
A thumb wrap can also exist in combination with other grasp patterns:
- Tripod grasp with thumb wrap
- Lateral thumb wrap grasp
- Quadrupod grasp with thumb wrap
Is the THumb Wrap Grasp Functional?
*Note* I am one who takes pencil grasps in stride. So, when I say “dreaded” thumb wrap grasp, I am not completely serious in that this grasp is dreadful or something to fear. Many (many) of us have unique and very functional pencil grasps. The issue is when a quirky grip on the pencil becomes a cause for illegibility, fatigue, joint strain, or other concern. In those cases, a grasp should be addressed. Read more about functional pencil grasp and how a functional grasp can exist even if it doesn’t look like they typical tripod grasp.
Remember that a functional pencil grasp is the one we want to see. A functional pencil grasp might look like various things. Every child may have different tendencies when it comes to “functional”
Functional means the student can hold the pencil, write with legible handwriting, and doesn’t have joints that are hyperextended or otherwise inefficient in joint positioning. Fatigue and endurance play a part in a functional pencil grasp.
This resource on what therapists want parents to know about pencil grasp is a great read.
What is happening when a child uses the Thumb Wrap Grasp?
Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
The tip of the thumb bends over the pencil and pointer finger, providing stability to the grasp. Instead of using the opposition muscle of the thumb to grasp the pencil, the child is using the adductor muscle. The thumb wrap grasp provides stability but it does not allow for quick pencil movements.
As a child is required to write faster to take notes, the legibility of their handwriting will be sacrificed. Rather than moving the pencil with the tips of their thumb and index finger, the child is manipulating pencil motions with their wrist and forearm.
In order to improve this grasp, a child needs to strengthen the opposition muscle, Opponens Pollicis, along with Flexor Pollicis Longus to bend the tip of the thumb or the Interphalnageal Joint (IP Joint) of the thumb. Strengthening the intrinsic muscles along with addressing an open web space will improve IP flexion in pencil grasp.
Working on precision skills will also help with a thumb wrap grasp.
Exercise to Work on a Thumb Wrap Grasp
Press flower beads into the play dough with a bent thumb. Encourage your child to press the flowers into the dough using a their their thumb in a bent position on the edge of the flowers. This is important, because it works the muscles needed to oppose with an open web space and flex the tip of the thumb. This is the mobility needed to advance the pencil fluently. These flower beads are perfect for this exercise because of the length of the flower that can press into the Play Dough.
Next, ask your child to pull out all of the flower beads by using the tips of their pointer finger and the tip of the thumb, while ensuring that your child maintains a slightly flexed (bent) thumb IP joint.
Encourage learning and playful math by counting as your child pulls out the flowers. If your kiddo is like my preschooler, those flower beads will be hidden pretty far into the play dough. The search and find is a great overall hand exercise and a fun math activity as you add up the beads!
ONE Simple Trick to Help Kids With Their Pencil Grasp
Pencil Grasp Tricks and TIps
Working on the underlying skills of a functional pencil grasp? Battling a thumb wrap grasp that slows down handwriting so much that the kiddo you are seeing on your caseload falls behind in writing speed? Know a child who has hyper-extended joints when holding the pencil?
Here are some pencil grasp tricks that can help to improve functional grasp. These strategies can address pencil grasp issues such as thumb wrap, inefficient joint positioning, a closed thumb web space, poor separation of the sides of the hand, and other pencil grasp concerns.
Pencil Grasp Exercise
- Try this pencil grasp trick . to help with grasping in a functional manner.
- Try this trick: Ask the child to hold and manipulate a small item such as a kneadable eraser in the non-dominant (non-writing) hand while holding the pencil with the dominant hand. Ask them to manipulate the object with just the thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger. Sometimes that symmetrical movement makes a big difference!
- This pencil grasp trick helps to separate the sides of the hand when holding a pencil. Separating the sides of the hand is a quick way to promote a more functional grasp in some cases.
- This pencil grasp trick uses an item you probably already have in your therapy bag: a clothes pin!
- This pencil grasp trick helps to work on thumb IP joint flexion…and requires only a marker.
The pencil grasp exercise and tricks above will help with many kids that need to work on an open web space, not just the thumb wrap grasp. Try it and let me know how it goes!
MORE PENCIL GRASP HELP
Working on a functional pencil grasp with your child or occupational therapy caseload? Need activities to improve pencil grasp that kids WANT to do? These games that improve pencil grasp through fine motor activities are activities that boost the skills kids need for pencil grasp and games that strengthen the hands. Working on pencil grip to make and efficient and functional pencil grasp can be as easy as adding a few fine motor games to your therapy toolbox!
- Want to know how to fix a problem with pencil grasps?
- Need help knowing where to start when it comes to immature pencil grasps or a child hating to write because their hand hurts?
- Need help with carryover of pencil grasps?
The Pencil Grasp Challenge in open for you! In this free, 5 day email series, you’ll gain information, resources, specific activities designed to promote a functional, efficient pencil grasp.
know about the skills that make up a functional pencil grasp. You’ll learn what’s going on behind the inefficient and just plain terrible pencil grasps you see everyday in the classroom, clinic, or home. Along with loads of information, you’ll gain quick, daily activities that you can do today with a kiddo you know and love. These are easy activities that use items you probably already have in your home right now.
Besides learning and gaining a handful (pun intended) of fun ideas to make quick wins in pencil grasp work, you’ll gain:
- 5 days of information related to pencil grasp, so you know how to help kids fix an immature pencil grasp.
- Specific activities designed to build a functional pencil grasp.
- Free printable handouts that you can use to share with your team or with a parent/fellow teachers.
- You’ll get access to printable challenge sheets, and a few other fun surprises.
- And, possibly the best of all, you’ll get access to a secret challengers Facebook group, where you can share wins, chat about all things pencil grasp, and join a community of other therapists, parents and teachers working on pencil grasp issues.
More fine motor activities you will love:
- Fine Motor Play Dough
- Intrinsic Muscle Strength
- Rainbow Hundreds Chart
- Pencil Control Exercises
- Pre-Writing Handwriting Lines
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.
The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.
The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.
- Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
- Ideas for combining handwriting and play
- Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
- Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
- Tips to improve pencil grip
- Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility