Pencil Grasp Exercise for Thumb Wrap Grasp

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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!

An open thumb web space is a skill that can help to fix the thumb wrap grasp. Try these fine motor activities to promote an open thumb web space.

Pencil Grasp Exercise

Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

Functional Pencil Grasp

*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. 

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.

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. The thumb wrap grasp is what you see when you the end of the thumb is wrapped around the pointer finger.  While it’s not a completely horrible pencil grasp, it isn’t a great grasp for speed and efficiency in writing.

Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.
 

What is happening when a child uses the Thumb Wrap Grasp?

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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. 

Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

 

Exercise to Work on a Thumb Wrap Grasp

Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

This is such an easy activity.  Use store bought Play Dough or homemade sensory dough.

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.

Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

 

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

SO? How can you use this info to help kids with their pencil grasp? Make them aware of that little bent thumb joint.  Point it out as they are doing the play dough activity and then again when they are holding a pencil.  Remind them of that bent knuckle when they write.  Too much for your kiddo?  Don’t fret. 

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.  

Use this pencil grasp tricks to help kids improve pencil grasp when writing.
human hands with pencil and erase rubber writting something
  • 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 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!

Here are more play dough ideas to try with the kids:

Exploring Shapes with Play Dough from Life Over C’s  

Letter Formation with Play Dough from Still Playing School  

Bug Lab – A Fun Bugs Kids Math Game from Learning 2 Walk  

Learning with Playdough Letters and First Words Flash Cards from Crafty Mama in ME

  Play Dough and Alphabet Beads from Mom Inspired Life  

Playdough Scene Creation from Powerful Mothering  

Simple tools for making words with play dough from The Kindergarten Connection  

Letter Sound Activity with Play Dough Tools from Raising Little Superheroes  

Patterns and textures with Play Dough Rollers from Play & Learn Every Day  

Phases of the Moon from Edventures with Kids  

Roll and Build a Play Dough Spud from School Time Snippets  

Count & Smash Play Dough Math Activity from Stir the Wonder  

The Ultimate DIY Play Dough Kit for Toddlers and Beyond from Lemon Lime Adventures  

Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

More fine motor activities you will love:   

Fine Motor Play Dough

Intrinsic Muscle Strength

Rainbow Hundreds Chart
Pencil Control Exercises
Pre-Writing Handwriting Lines

Pencil grasp tricks to help with thumb wrap grasp and pencil grasp exercises.
human hands with pencil and erase rubber writting something

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Use this pencil grasp tricks to help kids improve pencil grasp when writing.