Types of Pencil Grips

pencil grips

Pencil grips, pencil grips, pencil grips, there are so many types of pencil grips! Do I try this grip or that one? Does this child really need a pencil grip? Will they use this pencil grip? Will it be used correctly if they use it in the classroom? Ugh! So much to decide and so many variables to consider when it comes to handwriting. It is overwhelming! Does this sound like you in your practice as an OT? I’ve been there, and I’ve said these things to myself, and sometimes even to others. This post is here to help you decide what pencil grips to try and why!

Pencil grips

Types of Pencil Grips

In this blog post, we’ll dive into pencil grips occupational therapy practitioners may offer as a tool to support handwriting needs.

We’ll address types of pencil grips (with links for purchase) and why each pencil grip is used.

Finally, we’ll cover a variety of related resources and activities to support the development of pencil grip use.

To further explore pencil grasp development, take a look at our blog post, Pencil Grasp Development and get this great Pencil Grasp Quick Visual Guide, which helps Occupational Therapists identify and explain grasp patterns, using pictures to educate, and explain how pencil grasps progress developmentally.

The visuals will help parents and teachers understand grasp development and the goals for an appropriate grasping pattern. My prediction is that these tools will help get buy-in from the educational team and the family. It helps them understand exactly where the child is developmentally and where you, as the OT, wants the learner to head, and why! 

pencil grips and Occupational Therapy

First, let me begin by saying that pencil grips are NOT a miracle cure for pencil grasp. They can help in certain circumstances based on the child’s individual needs.

Different types of pencil grips do not help to overcome the root of the inefficient grasp, as these issues must be addressed simultaneously, while implementing the gripper. 

In occupational therapy sessions, the OT practitioner is striving to achieve the most effective and functional pencil grasp for each individual. A therapist may have 40, 50, or even 70 students on their school-based OT caseload…and each student will be completely different when it comes to grasp patterns, pencil pressure, positioning of the fingers, preferences, letter formation strokes, executive functioning skills, self-regulation, visual motor skills, sensory preferences, and handwriting considerations. All of these areas play into handwriting.

To meet the needs of the individual student, a pencil grip may be supplied as a tool to support those individual needs.

Before we get into the various types of pencil grips you may see an occupational therapy practitioner recommend, it’s important to cover functional pencil grip.

Pencil grips are designed to support the most functional and efficient pencil grasp a child can achieve.

This is based on many factors including; their current skill level, motivation, and understanding that the pencil grasp should be efficient and effective, but NOT perfect.

Functional grasps have a few basic components, which include; an open web space, skill fingers holding the pencil (thumb, first, and middle fingers), and stability (achieved with the ring and little fingers being curled securely into the palm). This results in an efficient and functional tripod grasp for the most success with handwriting, drawing, and coloring.

Inefficient grasps are used as a child attempts to compensate for lack of stability, skill finger strength, and endurance. With this inefficient grasp comes fatigue, pain, stress on the joints, decreased writing speed and overall legibility.

A pencil grip may be a tool provided to support a functional pencil grasp, depending on the needs of the individual student.

Think of pencil grips as a supplemental tool to aid a child as they continue to work on building the hand and finger skills needed to achieve an independent and efficient grasp.

The type of pencil grip can also serve to support the child as they focus on the writing process, therefore not exhausting their thought and energy, trying to remember to grasp the pencil properly for the best function. 

The OT Toolbox has a great Pencil Grasp Bundle available for purchase to support various needs related to pencil grasp.

types of pencil grips

Now, without further ado, let’s proceed to types of pencil grips that most OTs recommend, what their purpose is, and why they are recommended!

There are so many types of pencil grips out there on the market. Some of those listed out include:

  • Trigangle pencil grip
  • Grotto pencil grip
  • Soft foam pencil grip (Classic foam pencil grip)
  • The Pencil Grip
  • Crossover Gripper
  • The Writing C.L.A.W.
  • Firesara Grip
  • Twist n’ Write
  • Handiwriter
  • Write Right Stylus
  • Stetro Gripper
  • Weighted pencil grip

This is just a start of all of the types of pencil grips out there. We’ll go into greater detail on the benefits of each pencil grips, and why you would select one grip over another.

Let’s get started!

Amazon affiliate links are included below for purchase of various types of pencil grips.

Sometimes the easiest way to ensure a better grip on a pencil is by getting a smaller pencil into those hands. Golf pencils are some of the best tools for smaller hands, as they are the right size. The use of larger pencils and crayons leads to compensatory grasping patterns, as they are too long and too heavy for little hands to grasp and hold for long periods of time.  A typical sized pencil in the hands of a child, is the equivalent of an adult trying to use a 12 inch pencil!

The physical size of hands and biomechanics of the muscles and joints in a child’s hand can’t possibly hold a large writing instrument unless they grasp it with compensatory efforts. This generally results in inefficient and ineffective grasps.  Younger learners have far more maladaptive pencil grasp patterns than older adults, due to the young age at which learners are instructed to write. 40 years ago, writing did not begin until first grade. That gave the hands time to develop. Now writing starts in the two year old class, or in preschool many times. It’s because of the early push to trace, copy, and write letters in preschool that we see poor pencil grips established.

The Pencil Grip

This grip, simply called “the pencil grip”, is an oldie, but a goodie for some children. It is designed to provide cushiony comfort, with proper finger placement indicators for left AND right-handed writers. The Pencil Grip helps learners gain improved pencil control, while reducing fatigue. This type of pencil grip supports an open web space and tripod grasp. The pencil grip comes in mini, standard, and jumbo sizes, making it available for a variety of children and adults. Recently, I have been unable to find the mini-sizes. 

The crossover grip

Honestly, this grip is essentially “The Pencil Grip”, with a wing on the front to help prevent the fingers and thumb from wrapping over the pencil shaft. This helps keep the web space open. The crossover grip will aid some children who do not have a strong thumb overwrap pattern yet. If their thumb overwrap is significant, this grip may not be the one for them, as it allows a wrap grasp with little resistance. It is cushiony and does not prevent the learner from wrapping their thumb over the material.

The Grotto Pencil grip

This type of grip is great for the children that have a thumb wrap grasp which closes up their web space. The Grotto Grip is not as cushiony as “The Pencil Grip”, but it is easier to use, as it has molded finger slots for the thumb and index fingers, and an indentation on the bottom for the grip to rest on the middle finger. It also has a wing on the front, and the material is stiffer in design, which can help aid in the prevention of any finger or thumb wrapping.

Left and right-handed writers can easily use the Grotto Grip, as the finger placement is exactly the same, making it less confusing for children to know where their fingers should be placed while using it. 

The Writing Claw pencil grip

This grip has three finger cups to support finger placement, and can be used by both left and right-handed writers with a simple change of finger placement within the cups. The finger placement indicators are on the bottom of each cup. The design leaves little room for error, and supports a variety of children, as it comes in three different sizes.

The Writing C.L.A.W. fits a wide variety of writing, drawing and coloring tools such as standard pencils, primary pencils, crayons, markers, and paint brushes!

Firesara Pencil Grip

This grip is similar to the Writing C.L.A.W. as it has two cups for the thumb and index fingers, but it has a ring for the placement of the middle finger. The Firesara Grip can easily be used by left and right-handed writers. Learners place their thumb and index fingers into the cups, and the middle finger goes into the ring finger of either hand.

Using this grip, helps the three fingers to be fixed tightly to the pencil shaft. The Firesara type of grip is made of soft, durable silicone.

Twist and Write pencil grips

The Twist n’ Write, also called the Rocket Pencil, is not a pencil grip, but a pencil that has a wishbone-shaped design. This helps fingers to be placed into a tripod grasp with little guidance. It has rubbery sides that double as erasers! The pencil twists at the bottom to push forward more lead. It needs a special tool to add more lead, which makes it a little less efficient for use. It is often easier to buy multiple pencils rather than trying to replace the lead. The pencil design is for not for tiny hands, but is effective for finger placement without the use of a pencil grip, making it more motivating to use.

The Twist n’ Write pencil can easily be used by left and right-handed writers. Some learners or teachers might not like the rocket pencil, because it looks so different from traditional pencils.

Handiwriter Pencil Grip

This is not really a type of grip, but rather a position support for the pencil. There are some children who hold the pencil vertically instead of at an angle, or have a thumb overwrap grasp with a closed web space. The Handiwriter positions the pencil at the correct angle within the hand. This pencil positioner helps to reposition the pencil within the web space, by pulling the pencil back into the web space, while promoting improved finger placement on the pencil shaft.

The “charm” on the commercially purchased Handiwriter is grasped by the ring and pinky fingers, and curled into the palm, providing increased hand stability. These can purchased as pictured, but can also be made with or without the charm support, by using two terry cloth hair bands using these directions, or by following the visual sequence for creating one using elastic bands. 

Stylus with pencil grip attached

You can put a grip on an existing tablet stylus, or buy get his great stylus that has a gripper on it! I tried this device with some of the kiddos I work with, and it worked well with the added index finger placement into the cup that is on the shaft of the stylus.

The Write Right Stylus will only work if the index finger is properly placed into the cup, and ensures proper positioning when using a tablet or screen for writing tasks. This placement helps to promote a tripod grasp. The symmetrical design allows it be used by left and right-handed writers. 

Stetro Pencil Grip
  • Stetro (affiliate link)- This pencil grip is efficient when The Pencil Grip is too large and the individual benefits from a smaller “target” to pinch the pencil.
Traditional triangle pencil grip
  • Traditional Triangle (affiliate link)- the Traditional triangle grip is a common pencil grip that is offered to the whole classroom from teachers, parent teacher groups, or in back-to-school kits. The triangular sides offer a flat placement for the fingers, but this grip may not work for all individuals. One therapy tip is to cut the triangle grip in half or in thirds and use the triangular ridges as bumps on the pencil to stop the fingers from moving too close to the pencil point. This way the ridges bring awareness for placement.

  • Weighted pencil (affiliate link) grips- Pencils with weighted added on are typically an adaptation to support specific needs related to tone, proprioceptive sensory input, tremors. Read about pencil pressure and the benefit of adding a weighted pencil grip for more information.
Classic foam pencil grip

Adaptive Pencil Grips

The alternative pencil grasp pattern that is successful for many kiddos who simply cannot achieve an efficient grasp is use of an adaptive tripod grasp, or any grasp which enables a functional grip on the pencil. There are adaptive pencil grips that support various needs.

For those struggling to manipulate, use, position, and write with a pencil grip during written output, sometimes an alternative grip is the answer.

There are several alternative grasps for pencil manipulation.

The Adaptive Tripod Grip is appropriate to use when low muscle tone or hyper mobility of the finger joints limits pinching and manipulating the pencil.

It is easy to achieve, and I often use it if I am writing a lot. My husband uses it all of the time, and has since grade school.

In the adaptive tripod grasp, the child places the pencil between the index and middle fingers rather than within the traditional web space. They grasp the pencil shaft with the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The placement of the pencil between the index and middle fingers provides ample support and stability allowing for good pencil control, and less hand and finger fatigue. 

This grasp pattern is similar to the “Rocket Pencil” described above. This can be used with different types of pencil grips if needed. 

When pencil grips are uncomfortable

One final note on the use of pencil grips, they WILL be uncomfortable to use at first. Learners are having to utilize the correct finger and hand muscles.

They are not used to using them in this way, therefore they will be uncomfortable and met with resistance. With this discomfort comes less motivation and desire to use.

Rest assured, the use of the right pencil grip, when coupled with the activities you are using to get to the root of the problem, will help.

Be patient, encouraging, and rewarding to your learners, as they work on these skills. A good grasping pattern will be essential later in school, as handwriting tasks become longer and more complex. You are supporting their present AND future success! 

Pencil Grip Kit

Here is an OT tip just for you! Create a pencil grip kit as pictured below. This will serve you coordinate an approach to determining the best pencil grip for any learner. You will have children that the typical grip will not work for, and you’ll need that one rarely used grip just for them! Have it on hand!

Below is a picture of my own pencil grip kit, which I have used with kiddos to help determine which one is the best grip for them. You can buy pencil grip kits on Amazon that come with several different types of grips.

Make a pencil grip kit for occupational therapy sessions.

Pencil Grip Activities

Be sure to check out our FREE Pencil Grasp Challenge . This is a 5-day email series that will provide you with loads of information about everything you need to know about the skills that make a functional pencil grasp. You will gain quick, daily activities that you can do with learners to help them right now.

Explore the other blog posts we have here at The OT Toolbox regarding pencil grasps by reviewing the convenient list of these just for you:

Pencil Grips for Other writing utensils

It’s important to cover another aspect of using pencil grips on writing utensils like gel pens, golf pencils, or weighted pencils. For some students, a different type of writing tool is needed and you can incorporate a pencil grip that supports sensory motor needs.

gel pen grip uses a pencil gripper on a pen

Gel Pen Pencil Grips

For example, a student that requires a gel pen over a pencil might have needs with proprioceptive awareness or trouble with pencil pressure. In this case, the gel pen offers lower resistance of the pen as it moves across the page. This can allow handwriting that was previously illegible because the pencil marks were too light on the page, to now show up. Other students might not have enough strength to move the pencil across a page given the force required to press through the lead of the pencil over the paper.

For these students, you might want to trial various gel pens that require less force to use.

Pencil grips that can be used with gel pens include any of the pencil grips listed above. Some of the ideal grippers include:

  • Classic foam grip
  • Grotto grip
  • Writing CLAW
  • Crossover grip

Depending on the needs of the individual, you can use other grips as well. Essentially, a gel pen grip supports a combination of handwriting needs, so combining these tools can target different needs.

Golf Pencil Grips

Pencil grips can also be used with golf pencils. You might want to use a small pencil like a golf pencil to support more precision and fine motor control with the mechanics of the finger grasp on the pencil.

Just like using an alternative writing tool like a gel pen, a golf pencil will fit with a variety of pencil grippers.

Elastic Band Pencil Grip

An elastic band pencil grip is a simple yet effective tool that is easy to make. The elastic band pencil grip is essentially a rubber band or a hair tie attached to the writing end of the pencil. The other end of the rubber band might be loose in a loop or it might have a charm attached.

Students that struggle with holding the pencil up and down might have a closed web space, tightly around the pencil. This means the pencil doesn’t have full motion and there is limited finger dexterity in the tips of the thumb, pointer finger, middle finger, and possibly the ring finger. In this case, using an elastic band that is attached to the pencil and loose (without a charm) can position the pencil into an upright position. You’ll want the student to put the loose end of the rubber band around their wrist. The elastic material then pulls the pencil into a vertical position.

Students that tend to put all four fingers in opposition with their thumb may not use a separated sides of the hand when writing. This means they might not move the pencil as efficiently as they could (and leads to lower letter legibility). In this case, the rubber band attaches to the tip of the pencil and the other end, which has the charm attached can be tucked into the palm of the hand.

In combination with these rubber band grippers or traditional pencil grips, incorporating a few manual dexterity goals can make all of the difference. A true tripod grasp might not be achieved, but a functional grasp is achievable.

The primary purpose of the elastic band pencil grip is to promote a functional and efficient grasp, thereby enhancing fine motor skills and handwriting abilities. Tools that support development of coordination and strength include:

  • Pencil Grasp Play Book– activities to support dexterity, fine motor strength, coordination, and more, all with an efficient pencil grip in mind.
  • 6 Month Fine Motor Plan– This plan outlines specific and easy fine motor exercises designed around play and sensory exploration that support fine motor skills needed for pencil grasp.
Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

Grip Strength Exercises

grasp exercises

As an occupational therapy provider, you know how important it is to develop and improve grip strength and fine motor skills in children. Activities that focus on grip strength exercises can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to complete daily tasks, such as handwriting and coloring with a crayon. Hand strengthening activities includes many aspects of strong muscles and fine motor coordination, but focusing specifically on the grip, we can target overall strength and endurance.

By incorporating grip activities, (and even targeting finger strength exercises) into your therapy sessions, you can help children build their hand muscles and coordination, which can lead to improved motor skills and greater independence in their daily lives. In this article, we will explore some fun and effective grip activities for kids that can help them strengthen their grip and develop their fine motor skills.

Grasp exercises
Grasp exercises can use hand grippers or they can include functional activities.

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

As an occupational therapist and a rock climber, grip strength is pretty much always on my mind. The ability of one’s hands can determine so many outcomes throughout life, but today we are seeing more young people with weakened grip strength than ever before.

There are a few different theories on why this may be, namely that the increase in screen time and engaging with touchscreens may be a culprit. Regardless of what may be causing a change in grip strength, there is hope! 

Grip Strength Exercises

Parents and teachers know that the strength of a child’s hands can be seen in how they hold a pencil, tie their shoes, and how legible their handwriting is. And luckily for the kids, there are really some fun ways to strengthen their grip.

We’ll go into more details on these exercises below, but some ways to strengthen grasp includes:

  • Coloring challenge using resistive crayons or textured paper
  • Cutting heavier paper with increasing thickness or weight to the paper
  • Hand gripper
  • Theraputty exercises
  • Resistive band exercises
  • Strengthening toys
  • Play dough

In this article, we’ll explore the signs of decreased grip strength, why grip strength is important for the occupations of childhood, and several grip strength exercises that are child-friendly.

What is Grip Strength?

Grip strength technically refers to the ability of the flexor muscles that are located in your forearm and travel down towards your fingertips – these are the muscles activated when you squeeze your hand into a fist. 

Someone with adequate grip strength should be able to complete average grip-based activities, like holding a briefcase, shopping bag, dumbbell weight, glass of water, or watering can, without any issue.

There is a range of strength that is considered average based on your demographic, and can be tested using a tool that you squeeze called a dynamometer. 

Grip strength using a dynamometer requires specific positioning of the arm to acquire the most accurate testing results. The evaluating therapist will ensure the dynamometer is positioned correctly. They will take three measurements and then determine the grasp strength from those measurements.

However, no one should really have to go out and use a dynamometer to figure out if you have weakened group strength. Just look at how the hands are functioning in daily activities, that’s what an OT would do, too! 

Some functional observations indicating grasp strength is impacting performance include:

  • Switching colors (more than would be expected) when coloring
  • Re-positioning and dropping a pencil when writing
  • Trouble closing and opening food containers: sandwich baggies, small containers, yogurt pouches (when most peers can)
  • Hyper-flexion of the thumb IP joint when buckling a car seat, writing with a pencil, manipulating small objects- this occurs as a stabilization mechanism to compensate for weak intrinsic muscles. (Read more about  IP joint flexion here. )
  • Squashed thumb webspace when writing, coloring, or manipulating objects- This is also a positional mechanism to stabilize. (Read about  thumb webspace and weakness here.)
  • Completing fine motor tasks with gross motor movements of the upper arm
  • Complaining that it hurts to color or you’ll see very light coloring, especially in large spaces

grip strength muscles

Grip strength muscles include muscles which originate in the forearm and elbow (wrist muscles or extrinsic muscles), and muscles which originate at the wrist and within the hand (hand muscles or intrinsic muscles).

Grip Strength Muscles over the wrist

These muscles stabilize the wrist for an effective grip strength:

  • Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus
  • Estnesor Carpi Radialis Brevis
  • Extensor Carpi Ulnaris
  • Flexro Carpi Radialis
  • Palmaris Longus
  • Flexor Carpi Ulnaris

When a tight fist is made with the hand and the wrist is held in a neutral position, we can see tendons in the wrist. Try pushing back on the fist into wrist extension while keeping the wrist in neutral to resist extension. When this motion occurs, you’ll see several visible tendons:

  • Flexor Carpi Ulnaris
  • Flexor Digitorum Superficialis
  • Prominent Palmaris Longus
  • Flexor Carpi Radialis

Grip Strength Muscles in the Hand

These muscles act on the digits to sustain a grasp pattern. We can break these hand muscles down into extrinsic muscles and intrinsic mucsles

Extrinsic Muscles- These are muscles that have their proximal attachments, or origins, in the forearm or on the humerus bone. They impact the wrist as flexors or extensors in aiding the wrist muscles listed above.

  • Extensor Digitorum
  • Estensor Indicis Proprius
  • Extensor Digiti Minimi
  • Extensor Pollicis Longus
  • Extensor Pollicis Brevis
  • Extensor Poolicis Longus
  • Flexor Digitorum Superficialis
  • Flexor Digitorum Profundus

Intrinsic Muscles- These muscles originate, or begin, within the hand. We have covered this muscle group, and included activity ideas to target grip and pinch strength in our article on intrinsic muscle activities with tongs, and intrinsic muscles play dough mat.

  • Four Lumbricals
  • 3 Palmar Interossei
  • 4 Dorsal Interossei
  • Palmaris Brevis
  • Thenar Muscles- Opponens Pollicis, Abductor Pollicis Brevis, Adductor Pollicis, Flexor Pollicis Brevis
  • Hypothenar Muscles- Opponens Digiti Minimi, Abductor Digiti Minimi, Flexor Digiti Minimi Brevis

Signs of Reduced Grip Strength 

Weak grip strength can be seen pretty clearly if you know what to look for. Here are some signs to check: 

Difficulty holding onto objects: If your child has trouble holding onto pencils, toys, or utensils, it might indicate weak grip strength. They may drop things easily or use two hands when one should be adequate. 

One way to assess grip weakness through a visual assessment is by looking at grasp with a flexed wrist.

  1. Ask the client to position their wrist in a fully flexed position.
  2. The fingers and thumb will drop into a relaxed position.
  3. Ask the client to close their fingers into a grasped position.

Weakness of hand grasp is evident when it is difficult or impossible to close the wrist completely. This occurs because the finger extension tendons are positioned in passive insufficiency and also because of the attachments of the finger flexors which weakens their ability to contract into a grip pattern. This puts the flexors into a position where they are unable to use full and effective tension in a grip.

Hand fatigue: If your child complains of hand fatigue after short periods of drawing, painting, or using small manipulatives like stringing beads, it might be a sign of weak grip strength. This can look like a child that can’t color in a whole picture or stops to take breaks during coloring tasks, and even switches hands when coloring.

Reduced athletism: Children with weak grip strength may face challenges with sports activities that require hands like baseball, golf, or even climbing on the jungle gym. 

Poor handwriting: Weak grip strength can also affect a child’s handwriting, making it difficult to read. Usually grip strength is involved when the child holds the pencil awkwardly and needs to take breaks during writing as their hand fatigues quickly. Studies have shown that grip and pinch strength are important components in developing pencil grasp, pencil control, handwriting legibility, and independence with functional fine motor tasks.

If you are unsure of what is causing challenges, it may be worth looking into an occupational therapy evaluation. There, the OT will work to determine if the barrier is grip strength or something else, like fine motor coordination, visual motor skills, or sensory/tactile deficits.

Grip Strength is Important for the Occupations of Childhood.

Grip strength is essential for many occupations of childhood, including playing, learning, and self-care. Here are some ways that grip strength can affect a child’s life:

School activities: Developing grip strength is crucial for the development of fine motor skills, which are necessary for school activities such as writing, drawing, math manipulatives, and using scissors. 

Recreation activities: Good grip strength is necessary for more than just school-related activities. It is also a basic ability used for things like catching a ball, rowing a boat, creating pottery, knitting, or threading a needle.

Self-care: Grip strength is necessary for self-care activities such as brushing teeth, tying shoelaces, and buttoning clothes. Getting ready for the day is easier with proper skills! 

Play: The most important occupation also benefits from grip strength! Strong grip strength allows children to engage in a variety of play activities, such as climbing, swinging, building blocks, and arts and crafts.

improve grip strength

Now that we know the importance of grip strength for children, let’s explore some child-friendly exercises that can help improve grip strength:

Play with Playdough: One of the main benefits of play dough is the fine motor strength workout and it’s a power tool for building hand strength. Squeezing, rolling, and shaping the dough can help improve grip strength. This goes for slime and floam, too! The tougher the substance, the harder the muscles have to work. 

  • A play dough snake is a great way to target grip strength and pinch strength.
  • Rolling balls of play dough targets intrinsic muscles.
  • Play dough mats are powerful to build grasp strength.
  • Freeze play dough and use it to build strength by adding resistance. Play dough will freeze and get more resistive, but it will not harden completely, making it a fantastic sensory motor activity. Use the frozen play dough to manipulate with the hands or cut into pieces with scissors.

Hand Gripper– One way to target hand strength may be a home program that uses a hand gripper workout. While the most efficient and effective way to focus on grasp strength is through the functional participation, therapy providers working in a medical model or in hand therapy will see value in using a gripper to focus on grasp strength necessary for functional use of the hands.

Our blog post on hand strengthening includes several kid-friendly hand gripper recommendations to support hand strength. Select one and make the exercises functional:

  • In a school setting, tap out letters to spell words, then write the words.
  • Roll a dice, complete that number of hand grip exercises, and then write the number, or include fine motor math tasks and add, subtract, or multiply.
  • Incorporate 10-15 repetitions of a hand gripper into a sensory diet or brain break.
  • Use our 6 Month Weekly Fine Motor program to target grip strength without using a hand gripper workout.

Clothespins: Using clothespin activities to pick up small objects can help improve grip strength. You can make it a fun game by asking your child to pick up as many objects as possible within a certain time limit. Try clothespin crafts and activity cards too! 

Finger Push-Ups: If your kiddo is on the more athletic or competitive side, finger push-ups are an excellent exercise for building grip strength. Have your child place their hands flat on a surface, with fingers spread apart. Then, have them lift the palm on the hand away from the surface and push hard with their finger tips. 

Monkey Bars: Monkey bars are a great way to build grip strength and improve body awareness and coordination. Encourage your child to swing from bar to bar, using their hands to hold on. There may be some blisters after this one! 

Squeeze Toys: Squeeze toys, such as stress balls or fidget items, can help improve grip strength. Have your child squeeze the toy as hard as they can for a set amount of time, and then rest before repeating. Squeezing spray bottles, sponges, or crumbling tin foil have the same effect and can be great fun. Wind up toys are another great tool for grip strength.

Coloring- You can work on grasp strength by simply coloring! Using a crayon is a resistive tool but you can make this more challenging by using different brands of crayons, markers, or colored pencils. Challenge grasp strength by offering small spaces to color in with a wide border mark. Then increase the area with larger coloring prompts and a thinner border. Here is information on how to teach coloring skills. Use our three crayon challenge to target strengthening.

Paper- Torn paper is a powerful hand strengthening activity. To tear paper into strips or small pieces, one will target both the extrinsic muscles of the wrist and hand in order to stabilize the wrist against resistance. Then, when gripping paper and pulling it against the other hand, the intrinsic muscles are activated, particularly the lumbricals due to the positioning of the hand with MCP joint flexion, and PIP and DIP joint extension. Adding resistance by tearing more resistive paper (card stock, index cards, cardboard) is a great way to grade this task.

Building fine motor skills through play is a goal of the OT practitioner, and there are many fun ways to do just that!

You can also check out a variety of excellent crafts and activities aimed at fine motor strengthening for year-round fun! Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall and more!

weekly fine motor plans for kids
Grab the 6 Month Weekly Fine Motor Plan to add grasp strengthening workout to a daily home exercise routine!

Our 6 Month Weekly Fine Motor Plan includes six months of strengthening exercises using everyday household items. We created this plan to make OT home exercise programs super simple. The exercise program requires a total of only six items that are used in a variety of ways to make grip strengthening exercises both motivating and fun.

Grip Strength Exercises

These exercises can vary, depending on the needs of the individual. Select the exercises that target specific functional skills and work on the number of repetitions that meet the needs and abilities of the individual.

Grip strength exercises may include:

  • Make a fist
  • Go through tendon glides
  • Touch the tip of the thumb to the tip of each finger
  • Touch the tip of the thumb to the base of each finger
  • Make a “cup” in the palm of the hand
  • Roll the thumb over toward the palm of the hand
  • Theraputty exercises
  • Wrist weights for wrist flexion and extension- Hold a light dumbbell weight in the hand. Place the forearm on the edge of a table with the hand palm up and hanging over the table. Lift the weight moving the hand and weight into flexion. Repeat by turning the forearm over to a palm down position on the table. Lift the wrist and weight into extension.
  • Radial flexion and extension- Improve grip strength by strengthening the wrist abductors and adductors as a stabilizing force. Hold a hammer or small dumbbell in the palm of the hand. Place the forearm on a table surface with the wrist over the edge of the table. Slowly drop down the weight or hammer over the edge of the table and bring it back up to neutral.
  • Gripping tools (Amazon affiliate links):
  • Theraputty exercises- Theraputty comes in different colors and the colors mean different resistances. Theraputty can be pinched, pulled, rolled, spread apart, and squeezed.

We hope you have learned that grip strength is an important skill that can affect a child’s development in various ways. A weak grip can affect a child’s ability to engage in activities of daily living, but it can usually be easily remedied through structured play. How will you improve your grip strength today?

Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

Easy Fine Motor Precision Activities

Precision activities

Helping kids develop and strengthen fine motor skills is essential for functional tasks, and this resource on fine motor precision activities supports that development. Here, we are addressing what fine motor precision means and specific activities to do with kids to help with grasp manipulation, dexterity, and graded movements like managing a zipper, buttons, and adjusting a pencil within the fingers to write and erase. These are just a few examples of how grasp and release activities support fine motor skill development. Let’s break this down…

Fine Motor Precision Activities

Before we get to the fun stuff…the actual fine motor activities that support graded grasp and release, manipulation of objects within the hand, and various amounts of pressure and precision needed to perform functional tasks, let’s cover exactly what precision skills look like, what the term means, and why this area of development is so important.

At the bottom of this post, you’ll find specific strategies to support precision development so that kids can complete these tasks and not fumble with objects in the hands.

A good place to start is with our resource listing games with paper clips as a tool to support precision and refined dexterity.

This post is part of my 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where you can find 30 more ideas like this one with easy treatment materials.

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

What is Fine Motor Precision?

Fine Motor Precision refers to the ultra-fine motor skills in the hand, broken down into areas: grasp and release, fine motor rotation, in-hand manipulation, and proprioception. Together, these precision skills enable us to pick up an object with the right amount of pressure and motor dexterity so you can grasp the object accurately taking eye-hand coordination skills into consideration. After grasping the object without overshooting or missing the item, it is necessary to position or rotate the object within the hand

Let’s cover each of those areas in greater detail below.

But first, it’s important to note that a child’s ultra fine motor dexterity is dependent on bigger things.  And by that, I mean that in order for a child to use their hands super fine motor tasks, they first must demonstrate strength and control of their core, shoulder, and arm.  If any of these areas are not fully developed in stability or control, then the child will show compensatory strategies as they try to use their hands in handwriting or cutting with scissors. Gross motor coordination is a great place to start if precision skills seem to be “off” or delayed. Related to that is the key input of body awareness and the impact of heavy work on more distal motor coordination skills.

One way to remember this is this:

Proximal stability allows for distal mobility.”

Colleen Beck, OTR/L

Before a child can manipulate and move an object with dexterity and refined motor skills, there needs to be a base of support in stability in the core and upper extremity, mobility and coordination in the proximal joints (shoulder before elbow…elbow before wrist…and wrist before hand).

Breaking it down further, arch development and strengthening of the intrinsic muscles in the hands are both areas that are essential for precision in the fingertips.

The following resources will be a great way to break these areas of development down:

Fine Motor Precision

Kids and fine motor skills go hand-in-hand. (That is my funny-OT attempt at a fine motor skills joke!) But really, fine motor skills are a staple of a child’s development and are essential to function.

Precision occurs with development of grasp when child to use the pads of the index finger, middle finger, and thumb to manipulate objects with opposition.  I talked a little about strengthening these types of grasp patterns.  

Today, I’m sharing ways to work on the controlled use of these fine motor patterns in controlled dexterity tasks.  The precision of grasp and release is essential for very small motor movements in activities like picking up beads and releasing items like blocks with precision. This is broken down into areas of dexterity that all work together:

  • Grasp and release (we’ll break these two areas down even further)
  • Fine motor rotation
  • In-hand manipulation
  • Muscular force, or the amount of force applied through the muscles in small motor use, also referring to proprioceptive input through the hands and fingers.

What is precision of grasp and release?

Precision in grasp, manipulation, and release of small objects makes the difference between fumbling with zippers and buttons and efficiently grading movements in very small dexterity patterns like threading a string through a needle (kid-friendly, of course!) 

Precision in grasp is related to the picking up of items.  A graded lateral grasp is needed to cut with scissors and only squeeze the scissors halfway shut for accurate cutting lines in some situations.  Around 3-4 years, a preschool aged child typically develops a greater variety of grasping patterns, including precision.  They begin to grade their scissor strokes so that they can cut a line or shape without opening and closing the scissors completely.  Grasps in babies typically begin with a raking motion and work towards a pincer grasp.  Precision in this skill occurs when the child is able to pick up very small items like beads with accuracy and graded movements.  

Precision release is needed for stacking blocks without toppling them over, placing cards on a pile, opening scissors just a small amount, or placing small beads into a bowl.  Precision is needed for a child to let go of an item in a controlled manner.  If they are not exercising precision in release, you might see them rolling or tossing an object as they let go.  They will knock over a stack of blocks, or over open the scissors when cutting lines, making their accuracy very choppy.   

Precision in rotation is another task that children develop around age 5. Rotation is a portion of in-hand manipulation and seen when turning a coin on the edges and the child rotates it in a circular motion.  Precision in rotation also occurs when holding a pencil between the fingers and the child rotates it over and over. 

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

One way to develop these skills is through practice! One precision grasp and release activity I love is using popsicle sticks in various colors. You can stack the popsicle sticks so they build a wall without toppling over. Using the different colors allows kids to see how the sticks are aligned by offering contrasting colors. If they see a bit of yellow stick under the green stick, then they need to adjust the top stick with refined motor movements.

Grade this activity for younger kids or those developing skills:

  • Simply place a single popsicle stick down on a table surface. Then pick it up.
  • Younger kids can stack just one stick on top of another.
  • Match colors.
  • Make a wall of popsicle sticks to develop more refined precision skills.
  • Place and sort popsicle sticks into a container on the vertical position (shown below)

To practice precision in grasp and release, I showed my preschooler how to pick up and stack Popsicle sticks.  Picking up the sticks required a tip-to-tip grasp.  We used different colored Popsicle sticks for my 4 year old and my 17 month old.  

The preschooler was able to pick up the sticks accurately without pushing other sticks around.  She could grasp the specific stick she wanted by an end or middle accurately.  

The toddler grabbed the sticks with a pincer grasp, but showed much less accuracy.  

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

To advance this popsicle stick sorting, the next step is precision in rotation. This can be addressed by asking the individual to sort popsicle sticks into containers.

Different small cups (Dixie cups would work) but we used a popsicle mold to encourage a single hand to hold the mold as the assisting hand.

We used an empty Popsicle mold to place the sticks into the cups.  What a great way to practice grasp precision!  We worked on sorting the craft sticks by color and had to hold the mold with one hand to work on bilateral hand coordination.  For the activity, we placed the mold on the floor and sorted the colored sticks without knocking the Popsicle mold over. Both the preschooler and the Toddler loved this simple activity.  

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

 Another precision in release activity was simply stacking the craft sticks.  The four year old could do this, but used her non-dominant hand to stabilize. 

Precision in in-hand manipulation- In hand manipulation skills include different components as well. In our blog post, we cover rotation, refined movements within the hand, and how to actually move objects from the fingertips to the palm and ice versa. These are precision skills at work!

Muscular force- This refers to knowing how much force to use to pick something up. When it comes to muscular force in fine motor skills this can mean the difference between overshooting an object when picking something up, fumbling with small objects, pinching things with too much force, or dropping items because not enough force is applied.

As described above, muscular force also refers to the amount of force applied through the muscles in small motor use, also referring to proprioceptive input through the hands and fingers. Another term for this concept is force modulation, or graded force.

Muscular force is a must for picking objects up, putting them back down, manipulating them within the hand, and rotation.

We go into greater detail on the proprioceptive input in our blog post on proprioception. In summary, muscular force means the ability to inherently know how much force is needed to pick up and hold and manipulate a ladybug as opposed to a heavier rock. Too much force and the bug is squashed. Not enough force, and the rock slips through the fingers. Another example is pressing too hard when writing and holding a pencil. This experience and muscle knowledge happens through play!

As you can see, all of these concepts work together to enable precision skills in functional tasks!

Precision Activities

We’ve covered a couple of precision activities related to grasp and release and rotation, but let’s go over a few more that include all aspects of precision, including muscular force activities and how these are related to functional participation.

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

This post contains affiliate links.

Looking for more ways to practice precision in grasp, release, and rotation with Occupational Therapy students or your kids?  Try some of these ideas.  While they are not all free (going with our series this month!), they are creative ways to practice precision.  

  • Precision engineering activities that use play dough and blocks to work on force modulation in the hands as well as eye-hand coordination.
  • Small motor pegboards like this precision pegboard activity combining crafts with fine motor skills
  • Perler beads- Try manipulating Perler Fuse Beads with Pegboards (affiliate link) for precision in grasp and release. These pegboards are very small and work on very fine dexterity with precision. 
  • Stamp sets (affiliate link)- Playing with stamps is a good way to practice graded grasp and release. Use these stamp blocks to accurately stamp within a specific area on a page. Draw squares or circles and the child needs to stamp in those areas. 
  • Tweezer games and activities like this Bed Bugs Game (affiliate link) encourage a precise and graded grasp and release of the small game pieces using tweezers. This game is on my must-buy list for Christmas this year! 
  • This Avalanche Fruit Stand (affiliate link) for another fun way to practice precision with a pair of tweezers. Stack the fruit with precision of grasp and release in a fun and colorful way! 
  • The Perfection Game (affiliate link) is another game that is great for precise grasp and release. Encourage kids to rotate the pieces by twirling the peg of the game pieces to work on precision in rotation as well. 
  • Jenga (affiliate link) is a precision work out in grasp and release of the blocks. My kids love this game!
  • Stacking blocks is a precision pattern activity that is perfect for working on graded grasp and release. 
  • This Tobbles stacking toy (affiliate link) is a version of that, with bright and bold colors. Try stacking and taking these balls down without knocking them over! 
  • Sometimes, simple is best! These Wooden Color Cubes (affiliate link) are perfect for simple block building and stacking while working on precision of grasp and release. 
  • Kids need precision of the thumb, too. These Slide Puzzles (affiliate link) are not only fun, they work on small motor skills needed for graded movements in cutting and pencil control.
Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

It’s my hope that this post and ideas were helpful and a resource for you!  Looking for more fine motor activities for functional grasp?  Try these: 

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.