As a pediatric occupational therapist, I am often asked to weigh in on this debate. Not often enough, it seems. There are a lot of kids out there using pencils with wonky grasp patterns because no one has made an effort to improve the way they hold a pencil, or they doubt that it matters. Oops. Although grasp isn’t often or evn usually the biggest issue with writing problems, a really poor grasp can reduce control and increase pain and fatigue. Not every kid with poor pencil grasp is a hot mess. Some of them just need good instruction and good materials. For the others, it might be time to get an OT involved.
I wrote “Pre-Writing Success” for you; a pre-writing handout pack that covers teaching grasp, selecting crayons and pencils, and more! Visit Your Therapy Source and look in “OT/PT Resources” to get all of the ideas and information that therapists know when they walk into a preschool or kindergarten classroom!
Kids that struggle with pencil grasp are often (in my opinion, too often) given a pencil grip and told to use it when they write. It may help, but it may not. An yet, I will still hand out my favorite pencil grip if I think that it will build control and strength. The Pencil Grip That Strengthens Your Child’s Fingers As They Write.I thought I would drill down into the ways that OTs think about the use of pencil grips, and present a few alternatives to reflexively sending kids home with a bit of plastic on the end of a pencil:
- Change the pencil. Triangular pencils give more sensory feedback during writing, and they offer a flat surface for finger pads. Thick mechanical pencils still have a standard-thickness lead, but they also are easier to hold for some children. Short pencils, including golf pencils, force more fingertip contact and can be helpful (but not if grasp is really weak or awkward).
- Don’t jump into pencil use too early. Until a child can manage a mature grasp, I try very hard to keep them using crayons when they are not yet in kindergarten. I like the flip crayons from Learning Without Tears because they are so very small, but not all kids in kindergarten are ready for them. I break a toddler crayon in two so that they get the benefits of a thick shaft but they will be unable to use a fisted grasp.
- Like markers? I only use them if they are the Pipsqueak markers from Crayola. Nice thick, short shafts for little fingers. Markers don’t give a child any resistance at all, so they don’t give enough sensory feedback or strengthening for my kids that need both. And they make a mess most of the time. I don’t have the time to scrub off markers.
- Build strength and control with play. Yes, fine motor play. Totally outdated (just joking) but necessary. I use the iCreate tablet stylus, bead stringing, therapy putty and lots of tiny toys like travel Connect Four games. Even baking. Utensil use counts too. How Using Utensils To Eat Prepares Your Child To Write Children are spending less time with toys and more with tablets, so I insist that they use a tablet stylus with me in sessions. They have no idea that the physical “drag” of the plastic point on the glass screen as they move objects around is creating resistance that helps their fingers get stronger.
- Color with children, draw with children. A lot. Coloring is less stressful to the risk-averse child who thinks he can’t write. Drawing simple shapes is directly applicable to writing letters and numbers. Think “T” and a vertical cross, “A” and a volcano. Watching an adult and listening to their narration, such as ” I am coloring around and around to fill in the balloon, since it is a circle shape” is very helpful to young children who resist direct instruction. The child that doesn’t naturally gravitate to coloring may need downloads of their fave character or stickers to add to the picture to make it exciting. But the key is the adult interaction.
Looking for more information for kids with hypermobility or hypotonia (low muscle tone) that causes many struggles with grasp instability?
I wrote two books for you!!
Both Volumes of “The JointSmart Child” series will help you with grasp, pencil control, and so much more. These are practical manuals, not theoretical diatribes. No medical jargon, no statistical stuff you have to wade through to get to the good stuff: how to help kids thrive!
I break down why hypermobility creates so much more than a motor problem. Kids have sensory-based issues along with social and emotional development problems that make life harder. Unless you know what helps them thrive and succeed.
Filled with checklists and useful information that helps parents, teachers, and new therapists make a difference in the life of a child…today! Go into the IEP meeting with information. Attend a doctor or therapy appointment ready with questions that need answers. Manage the looks and questions from your extended family and in-laws with confidence.
How do I find these books?
You can buy a printable e-book on Your Therapy Source , and either the paperback (you know you will want to underline/highlight stuff, right?) or the read-only e-book is available on Amazon .