Tips For Teaching Correct Pencil Grasp

Getting a child to use the correct pencil grasp for writing and drawing is something that many educators and pediatricians seem to encourage parents to worry about.  Recently, at William’s four year check up, the pediatrician (whom I absolutely adore) stated that William had an immature pencil grip.  He prefers what I call the “modified death grip”, but what professionals call the digital grasp.  This is where child pinches the pencil with his thumb and index finger and loosely holds the rest of the pencil under his palm which is facing the paper.  So, I immediately went home and made some writing practice sheets of various shapes and line variations.  We set to practicing his writing skills everyday.Tips for Teaching Correct Pencil Grasp

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After about a week my college and professional education kicked in and reminded me that using the correct pencil grasp is developmental and it was ok that my four year old didn’t have a grasp that looked just like mine.  After all, I knew that writing practice in preschool seldom involves a pencil and paper.  (For more information, read my articles What Writing Practice Looks Like in Preschool and Development of Emergent Writing).  I put away the writing practice sheets and got out the Play-Doh Case of Colors, our Nuts & Bolts Matching Shapes Set, our Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Learning Piggy Bank,the Learning Resources Mini Muffin Match Up,(affilitate links) as well as several other fine motor activities I’d seen on Pinterest.  (For more ideas see these posts: Stacking Fruit Loops and How It Develops Fine Motor Skills, Easy Fine Motor Activity For Babies, and Faux Sand Art.)  I was confident that William’s pencil grasp would improve proportionately to his overall fine motor skills.

This has not been the case. William is very skilled at many fine motor activities, most of which are ideas I got from my Pinterest boards Fine Motor Skills, Gross Motor Skills, and Writing for Little Hands.  Still, when placed in front of a tracing sheet, or even just a blank sheet of paper, he still prefers the modified death grip.  I was having difficulty getting William to transfer the grasps and skills from our fine motor activities to the pencil.

Until one day I saw him using a broken crayon as he was drawing a picture of our cat, where he displayed a near perfect grasp, as seen in the picture on this post.  Now I know what to do with all those broken crayons at our home writing center.  They are not for melting into cute Valentines!  Now when I have William practice formal writing, I have him use a broken crayon…or six, one for each color of the rainbow.  If you have a little one who loves all things art, these Crayon Rocks in a Muslin Bag make a thoughtful and unique gift.

Still, however, we mostly focus on activities that strengthen fine motor muscles, but those writing practice sheets come out once or twice a week and his pencil grip and developing and getting better and better.

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Kids Activities from Hands on Moms

11 thoughts on “Tips For Teaching Correct Pencil Grasp

  1. I just found this on Pinterest, so glad I did. I have a Kindergartner who is a death gripper. I’ll have to try this. I’m glad I found you, you have some great ideas!!

  2. This works! I first heard about it from my sister when she was teaching Kindergarten. I have tried it with both of my kids and it honestly works wonders. I don’t know what it is about a broken crayon, but for some reason it really encourages correct pencil grip. I’m sharing this on Pinterest so even more people can learn about it! :)

    • It has been my experience that by using a broken crayon, the child doesn’t have the length to hold it incorrectly, thus forcing the use of the pincher grasp.

  3. Smaller pencils (“golf” pencils) and markers that are shorter and skinnier also work wonders. My kindergarten students love them because they are just the right size.

  4. Hi, thank you for sharing, I’ll have to try this, my little girl (I call her that, but actually she is not so little anymore – 10) has been holding her pens and pencils wrong since she started writing. She was seeing an occupational therapist who gave her some exercises to do, but she went back to her old way of writing as soon as we stopped seeing the occupational therapist.

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  6. This technique is from Handwriting Without Tears. This company makes these crayons that are double sided. Really neat. All OTs will tell you not to use the fat crayons or a long pencils. Sharpen a child’s pencil to the size you would use to keep golf score. Even up to third grade, you can add your own erasers.
    Never have them trace dotted lines. Just from an old teacher.

      • I was also going to comment on that! HWT is a wonderful approach to teach correct letter formation and fine motor skills. I have been using this technique with my students (450) in a large preschool and it works excellent!!!

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