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What is the Correct Pencil Grasp?

What is the correct pencil grasp? How do I know when to “fix” a child’s grasp? These are questions I receive quite often. Many teachers, parents and even Occupational Therapists get hung up on a child’s grasp. If it’s not a “typical” dynamic tripod grasp, many are eager to fix it. What’s a “typical” tripod grasp you might ask? Well, it looks like this:

The dynamic tripod grasp is widely accepted as the "correct" grasp.

This grasp is widely accepted as the “correct” grasp and is typically seen in children ages 5 years and up. There are other grasps, however, that are also acceptable.

People Use SO MANY Different Types of Grasps! Just Take a Look!

Hooked index finger grasp

Five point grasp

Lateral tripod thumb wrap grasp

Thumb wrap

Dynamic tripod grasp

So What is the Correct Pencil Grasp?

Well, the correct pencil grasp, while it may look different from child to child, is one that is FUNCTIONAL! By functional I mean one that does not put undue stress or strain on the hand or finger musculature and one that allows for precision and efficiency.

That being said, there are a few pencil grasps that I will try to change if the child is young enough. By about the end of second to the end of third grade I have found that it is VERY difficult to change a child’s grasp. They have simply been using it too long and breaking the pattern and muscle memory is challenging at best.

Pencil Grasps I might try to change...

Non-functional pencil grasp

This child is stabilizing and guiding his pencil with a tightly hooked index finger. There is a lot of stress being placed on the joints of his index finger which will fatigue quickly. He will also have less fine motor precision when using this grasp.

Non-functional pencil grasp

This child is using a thumb wrap grasp. This can be a functional grasp for some, however, take a look how tightly he’s griping his pencil. This boy’s hand is going to fatigue very quickly and he will likely complain of pain. He also has a closed web space which can make controlling the pencil for fine motor precision difficult. Sometimes children will use a tight grasp due to poor proprioception and grading (at least in part). Low muscle tone requiring compensation to stabilize the pencil can also explain this type of grasp. You will see this grasp develop in children who begin to write before their hands are truly ready.

Non-functional pencil grasp

This grasp is problematic as the pencil is being guided primarily by the pinky finger (our weakest finger). Again, this child is going to fatigue quickly when writing and have decreased fine motor precision and efficiency.

Non-functional pencil grasp

A grasp whereby the thumb is being extended rather than flexed to stabilize the pencil can lead to strain on the joints. Additionally, grasps whereby the pencil is sticking straight up rather than leaning at an angle into the webspace can be problematic.

Non-functional pencil grasp

Here is another example of the pencil angled the wrong direction. Additionally, this child has a very tight grasp and is not guiding the pencil with his finger tips, which will greatly limit precision and efficiency.

If you have concerns about your child’s grasp reach out to your local Occupational Therapist.



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