Tarryn Dee and Renee Townson

Tarryn Dee and Renee Townson

From a very early age we see babies begin to navigate using their hands and fingers to explore the environment around them. Fine motor skills move through different stages of development as an important part of early childhood. When it comes to developing an appropriate, functional and mature pencil grip we focus on skills from proximal-to-distal. Simply put, we move from big to small. Basically, this means kids will develop control over their larger muscles first such as their core, trunk and shoulders which are closer to the middle of their body (proximal). They will then slowly expand their skills outward towards their hands and fingers which are further away from the centre of their body (distal).

There are a few stages of pencil grasp development that we will discuss today:

  • The first stage is called a fisted grasp. This is where your toddler will first grab a thick crayon or Texta and hold their entire fist around it.
  • The second stage of pencil grip development is (often but not always) the Palmar Grasp. This is where your child will gain more control over their arm and hand muscles and we will see the pencil start to move between the fingers to hold it steady.
  • Following this, you should see a five-finger pencil grasp begin to develop, which is usually where the wrist is held off the table and the pencil is held within the five fingers. There should be more movement coming from within the fingers rather than the shoulder and elbow with this grip.
  • Finally by the age of around 4 to 6 years your child may be comfortably using a tripod pencil grip, where the thumb, middle finger and index finger are grasping the writing tool. It’s important to see there is an open web space which is the area between the thumb and index finger. If your child has a closed web space they may be holding the pencil too tightly and this can cause pain and fatigue and decreased endurance later on for writing and drawing tasks. 

Tips for encouraging a mature pencil grasp:

  • Breaking crayons into small pieces, so there is more opportunity to use only the three fingers for a tripod grasp.
  • Using small pieces of chalk.
  • Drawing on vertical surfaces such as fences and brick walls outside.
  • Dot painting with Q-tips (cotton tips).
  • Finger painting.
  • Using tweezers or tongs to collect small items from the garden or around the house.

If you are concerned about your child’s pencil grip development, it could be a good idea to get some more individualised tips from an Occupational Therapist.