Answers to Commonly Asked Handwriting Questions
Boardman, Charles H.  Capt. USAF, OTR "Occupational Therapy Forum", September 16, 1994
The child has an awkward pencil grasp.  How can I help?

Some children use awkward pencil grasps because they don't know how to position their fingers on the pencil, how to move their fingers, or how to shift the position of their hands so that the weight of the hand is on the little finger side of the hand only and not on the tip of the pencil.  You can help by first trying to figure out just what the problem is.  Ideally, the child should have only the thumb and index finger on the pencil, with the middle finger resting under the pencil and the ring and little fingers curled up in the palm.  This is called a static tripod grasp (if the finger joints are moved very little while writing) or a dynamic grasp (if the fingers joints move while writing).  There are other patterns which are also functional, such as the thumb, index and middle fingers on the pencil barrel.  In all of these cases, you should see movement of the joints of the fingers, especially the thumb.  If the fingers are stiff and the thumb is straight or not really used while writing, then there is a problem.  The child is not developing a dynamic grasp that is important for effortless writing later in life.  You can try these ideas in the classroom to encourage a more dynamic grasp.

a.      Have the child play with clay frequently.  Have activities where the child pinches clay between the thumb and index fingers, keeping the fingers in a round "O" shape with all of the finger joints bent.  You can also have the child pinch clothes pins to pull them off or put them on a ruler held in the air.

b.      Have the child do frequent, simple, writing/drawing activities while lying on their stomach on the floor with their forearms resting on the floor.  This position will provide stability to the arms and encourage the child to use more finger movement as the whole arm can't readily be moved.

c.      Mark the child's pencil with a dot on each side of the pencil barrel across from another.  These are placed about one inch above where the paint begins at the sharpened end.  The child then places the thumb on one dot and the index finger on the other and pinches the pencil, forming these fingers into an "O" shape.  The middle finger rests under the pencil and the little and ring fingers are curled into the hand (they are "in bed").  Pencils with indentations in the sides of the barrel are also useful for encouraging this.

d.      If the child has an extremely difficult time placing his fingers on the pencil, even after several sessions of helping him hold it correctly, then you might want to try a "stetro" pencil grip.  These are glob shaped grips that are put on the pencil and provide a place for each finger to go on the pencil.  They have a star on them that is for the thumb.  The child should be encouraged to develop better finger skills as the school year progresses so that they do not become dependent upon the pencil grip.  Emphasis during the year should be to help the child progress to the technique described in "c".

e.      For children who have a hard time keeping the ring and little fingers in as they write and hold the pencil, have them hold a small piece of paper in these fingers as they write or tape these fingers down for a few weeks during periods of writing.  Tell the children that they need to tuck those fingers ìinto "bed" before writing.  You can also have these children practice rolling out playdough, flattening it out with the small finger side of their hands while keeping the fingers curled.  This will encourage them to press down on the little finger side of their hands as they write, instead of pressing on the pencil tip.  You can also place your finger under the little finger side of their hands as they write and encourage them to "squash" your finger with the side of their hands as they write.

f.      If the child presses hard on the pencil or keeps the thumb close into the hand and doesnít form an "O" with the fingers, you might want to have the child hold a paper ball in the thumb, index and middle fingers as she writes.  This may help open up the hand for writing.

g.      If the thumb joint is straight and the thumb is not really used when writing (it does not bend outwards), Then the child may be lacking in thumb stability.  This can sometimes be helped by taping the child's thumb.  Put a piece of scotch tape along the back of the thumb down to the wrist.  Now, as the child holds the pencil, you should see the thumb joint stick out and the fingers form an “O”.  The tape provides the extra stability for the thumb and puts it in a good position to work.