As an occupational therapist I am frequently asked about the way children hold their pencils. Most parents and teachers know that this is important for their handwriting. Most people also know that the ideal pencil grasp looks like this:

The thumb, index and middle fingers should be doing the work to move the pencil. There are variations of this grasp that are still functional, so don’t worry if it doesn’t look exactly like this. By addressing how a child holds her pencil we are making sure the right fingers are doing the work. If children are using their ring and pinky fingers too much they are likely to have less control and are more likely to fatigue when they write (if not now, then when they get older). Here are 5 things you can try:

  1. Use a commercial pencil grip.There are so many!
    Our favorite (aka most consistently effective)*:

2. Use a special pencil
This is  our favorite solution for improving pencil grasp—the Twist’n’Write pencil.
Photo credit: especialneeds.com

Sometimes the small golf pencils help, too, but we haven’t seen them be successful for very many children because they are still too long to force the right fingers to do the work. Instead, go smaller by breaking crayons so that they are only about one inch long.

3. Use colored tape or a rubberband around the bottom of the pencil

4. Use consistent language to teach children how to hold their pencil and why it is important.

“Use your working fingers”-I tell some kids that the thumb, index and middle fingers are their “working fingers” and the others are meant to rest while they write. Sometimes I need to give them a printable visual reminder:
use-your-working-fingers

“Use your choppers”-Or you can use the same language that Miss Marnie, the TV Teacher uses. She calls these fingers the “choppers.” I’ve seen grasp improve in the children I work with who watch her regularly, especially those with autism.

5. Teach a child to use what is called a “stenographer’s grasp.” This is great for older kids or those who might not like the feel of a pencil grip. The pencil is placed between the index and middle fingers. This also reduces the pressure on the finger joints for children who press too hard on their pencil.

Photo from school-ot.com

Bonus: Exercise the upper body! While not as quick of a fix to help grasp, working on upper body strength will ultimately will help many kids have better control of their pencils. Here is a handout I made with some ideas:

upper-body-strengthening-handout

Keep in mind that just because a child is grasping with the correct fingers doesn’t mean she can effectively use those fingers to write (but it is a first step). Children may be using whole hand or arm movement, so they may still need O.T. to be able to make the most of that now awesome-looking pencil grasp!