What is an Efficient Pencil Grasp?

A functional pencil grasp is one that:

  1. Allows a child to move his fingers rather than his whole hand/arm
  2. Allows a child to complete handwriting tasks without too much pressure which results in hand fatigue.
  3. Allows a child to write neatly, with flow

Development of an efficient pencil grasp doesn’t happen just by practicing to hold a pencil. There are many steps to hand development that must occur before a child’s hand is even ready to hold a pencil. Let’s take a closer look to how an infant goes from whole hand use to more refined finger use:

Children begin life with a reflexive pattern of closing their hands around an object. This is called the palmar reflex. It’s an amazing survival reflex. As soon as you put your finger close to a baby’s palm, they close their fingers around it. (Sorry it’s not because they want to hold you close, then within the first 6 months of life this reflex integrates (goes away) and makes room for volitional movement. Think about it, we don’t want to retain this reflex. Otherwise, every time an object touches our hand, we would automatically grab a hold of it! With maturation, we want to have volitional movements. This means that we are in control of every movement. 

The next part in the development of the hand is motoric separation. Initially all the fingers work together and cannot be isolated. Babies are observed raking items to pick them up.

Then as they learn to crawl, they hold items with the radial side of their hands and stabilize by weight-bearing on the ulnar side (the ring and middle finger). With practice, the thumb, index (and ring) fingers are used for precision while the ring finger and pinky become stabilizers. Imagine holding coins in your hand while placing some in a piggy bank with the same hand. And eventually, holding a pencil to write, while placing the other part of hand on the table to stabilize. With refined finger movements comes more flow while writing and moving the fingers. An unstable hand will hold the pencil tightly to compensate for that weakness but still keep control of the pencil. This results in whole hand and arm movements. This makes writing neatly, small and in the lines quite challenging. This added pressure, fatigues the hand very quickly during handwriting tasks.

How to encourage finger isolation and separation of the hand (all these tools are included in our fine motor kit):

  • Use beading activities to make a necklace
  • Complete a Lacing card
  • Use a dropper to mix colored water
  • Put coins in a Piggy Bank
  • Use Clothespins to clip cards 
  • Push pin printed images 
  • Use Tweezers and chopsticks to pick up small pompoms or erasers

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Hi, I 'm Nancy

I’m an Occupational Therapist (OT) with more than 18 years of experience and whose greatest passion is working with children of all abilities. 

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