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Holding a Pencil & Handwriting Tips

Handwriting is one of those topics that creates an array of emotions.  Even professionals don't agree on the procedure of teaching and practicing.  Add in the vast difference of development among children the same age and what a mess we all face. 

No matter which side of the fence you live on there are two absolutes.  The process of teaching handwriting should never be a negative experience for a child.  Secondly, the personality and development of the individual child needs to always be forefront.  No matter what other children the same age are doing, remember the child before you is unique and special.

There are several stages of pencil grip before the child gets to the three-finger grasp that we all think of. Time and changes in the child's fine and gross motor coordination will automatically move the child through these stages. 

Half way through the 2 Year Curriculum, activities are provided to help the child hold a pencil correctly.  IMPORTANT:  At this point in a child's life, some children will not be ready for this activity and that is okay.   Be careful not to frustrate the child while doing this activity.   

Prerequisite to holding a pencil:

No matter how much you work with the child, if the fine and gross motor skills are not at the level they should be, your child will not be able to properly hold a pencil.   If this is the case, continue to work on fine motor activities (small muscle movement like in the fingers) and gross motor activities (core strength) to increase the child's motor control.

Teaching the tripod grasp:

After the fine and gross motor coordination is in place, the first step to nice handwriting is a correctly held pencil. Again, the correct hold is debated but most professionals believe the tripod grasp is the desired grasp.  The tripod grasp uses the thumb and pointy finger to hold the pencil while the pencil rests on the middle finger.  Some children will distinctively hold the pencil correctly.  Just watch that it doesn't change at some point.

• Alligator Mouth - I tell the child to make an alligator mouth with his thumb and index finger to pinch the pencil.  Then the alligator goes to sleep and rests the pencil on the middle finger. 

• Lori, on our ABC Jesus Loves Me Facebook Group shared this similar idea, "Lay a pencil front of the child with the point facing toward her. Ask her to pinch it with her thumb and forefinger about 1/2-3/4" from the end. Pick it up and flip the pencil back onto her hand.  Support the underside of the pencil with the middle finger."  This technique works with right and left handed children. 

• Short pencils and broken crayons are best to start with if the child does not use proper grasp.

• Pinch the pencil with the thumb and index finger.  Strength is required in these two fingers in order to control the pencil.  (The fine motor skills.)

• Stetro GripsWith my kiddos, the Stetro Grips have been the best at helping hold a pencil correctly. 

• Place a rolled up kleenex or small sponge in the child's palm. Have the child hold the kleenex or sponge with their ring and little finger. Then, using a "fat" pencil, help the child hold the pencil with their thumb and first finger and balance on the middle finger. Having to hold the kleenex as well as the pencil will help the child keep the correct form.  (I personally did not find this idea helpful for my kiddos but I know those who have successfully used it.)

Activities to Strengthen the Fingers:

  • Simple puzzles with knobs (use thumb and pointy finger)
  • Play dough
  • Picking up small toys
  • Holding small balls
  • Tearing paper
  • Picking up items with tweezers
  • And any other fine motor activity listed that requires a child to use his fingers to grip.

Drawing & Writing

Children learn to draw by copying.  Start with lines and progress to simple shapes.

- Play “Draw What I Draw” – have your child draw what you draw and then reverse.  Keep shapes very simple.

- Give your child different shaped objects to draw around.  You can also make these out of cardboard.

Learning to Write - Read this page for ideas of how to help your child learn to write letters and numbers

- Visual Perception Workbook Color  The ABCJLM Visual Perception Workbook has over 80 worksheets to help the child with drawing, writing, and visual perception training. Included in this book are mazes and dot-to-dot worksheets which help in pencil control,

- We have enjoyed the How to Draw books - read more here.

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