Worried about your kiddo’s pencil grasp? Learn the stages of pencil grasp development, when they start developing, and why your kiddo’s might look different.
Have you ever watched your kiddo color or write and notice that they change their pencil grasp in the middle of the task?
This is not uncommon! But because of them changing their grasp, it can become unclear to how they should be holding a pencil or crayon.
Parents often ask me:
- Does it really matter how my kiddo holds a pencil?
- Why do kids hold pencils in so many different ways?
- How should my kiddo be holding their pencil?
- Should I be teaching my kiddo how to hold their pencil differently?
As a mom of 4 kids, and a school-based Occupational Therapist of 15+ years, I understand the confusion! I have sat through countless of meetings talking about how a student holds a pencil and what, if anything, should be done about it.
I also have first hand experience with my own kids and watching their fine motor develop!
Let’s first talk about the stages of pencil grasp development.
Pencil Grasp Development Stages Broken Down
Before we dive into this, remember that each kiddo develops at their own rate and that the ages mentioned for each grasp is a range.
If you are concerned about your kiddo’s pencil grasp development, speak to your pediatrician or their teacher to see if an Occupational Therapy Evaluation is warranted.
# 1. The Palmer Supinate Grasp
The palmer supinate grasp, or also often described as a “fisted grasp” or “gross grasp”, is when a kiddo picks up a pencil or crayon and holds it by closing all of their fingers around it.
Kiddo’s using a this grasp will move the pencil or crayon around using their whole arm. Their arm generally does not touch the table and they will have less control of their movements.
This grasp commonly emerges around 12-15 months of age and is seen while they are scribbling.
# 2. The Digital Pronate Grasp
The “digital pronate grasp” is when your kiddo starts to hold the pencil or crayon with their fingers. Their thumb will be near the paper and their pinky will be at the top of the pencil.
Kid’s using this grasp generally hold their arm up and stabilize it through their shoulder. Using this grasp, kids will scribble and begin early pre-writing strokes.
This grasp commonly begins to develop around 2-3 years of age.
# 3. The Static Tripod and Quadruped Grasp
There once was a time that the Tripod grasp was the only “right” way to hold a pencil. It allows for easy finger movement which impacts writing endurance and writing legibility. But that is not the case anymore.
A static tripod grasp is when a kiddo holds a pencil or crayon between their thumb and index finger and rests the pencil on their middle finger.
A quadruped grasp is when the thumb, index, and middle finger hold the pencil, while the pencil rests on the ring finger.
Both positions are considered static grasps when your kiddo moves the pencil by moving their arm or forearm rather than their fingers. Kids with static tripod or quadruped grasps are stabilizing their fingers through their wrist or forearm.
This skill commonly begins to develop between the ages 3 and 4 years old.
Here is more information about quadrupod grasps.
# 4. Dynamic Tripod Grasp
A dynamic Tripod grasp is when a kiddo can not only hold the pencil between their thumb and pointer finger while its resting on their middle finger, but they can move the pencil using finger movements and not wrist or forearm movements.
Kiddos who use a dynamic tripod grasp or a dynamic quadruped grasp, stabilize their finger movements through the side of their hand.
At first, their finger movements will look jerky; however, as they develop the skill, their finger movements will become more smooth.
Kids will start exploring dynamic tripod and dynamic quadruped grasps around 4 to 5 years old. However, I have also seen it begin to develop in 6 year olds.
A Dynamic Tripod Grasp. The finger movements is what makes it dynamic!
Why Does My Kiddo Keep Switching Their Pencil Grasp?
As kids are developing their fine motor skills, it is very common to see them switch how they use their fingers during an activity.
Muscle movement and strength take time to develop. When they try different finger movements, it will feel awkward at first. So they will revert back to what is comfortable.
This is also true for strength. As they learn how to move their fingers differently, it requires their muscles to move in a different way. Moving your muscles different requires strength.
The BEST thing to do, is support your kiddo where they are. It is ok to go back and forth between skills as new skills are being learned.
What if my kiddo’s pencil grasp looks different?
The 4 stages of pencil grasp development shown are the ideal pattern. However, there are a lot of different pencil grasp patterns used among kids and adults.
As a school based OT, I have seen A LOT of different grips. In these situations, the pencil grasp needs to be identified as functional or inefficient.
Signs of an inefficient pencil grasp include:
- Difficulty with keeping up with writing demands due to hand fatigue
- Hand Pain
- Decreased legibility
Most inefficient pencil grasps are the result of stability issues. So, kids being resource beings, find stability in other ways….
- Wrapping their fingers around the pencil or crayon
- Straightening and bracing their finger(s) against the pencil or crayon
- Increasing the pressure through their fingers
- Increasing the pressure through their elbow or forearm and using a very light pressure on their pencil
Ideally, kid’s pencil grasps should be worked on throughout pre-school and Kindergarten. Changing a kiddo’s pencil grasp becomes VERY hard as they get older because of writing demands and learned muscle movement.
When an older kiddo starts showing side effects of an inefficient pencil grasp, most treatment strategies include adaptations.
But, that does not mean to say they would not benefit from doing activities that support fine motor development. If your kiddo falls in this category check out theses activities:
- 9 Fun Core Strengthening Activities For Fine Motor Skills
- In-Hand Manipulation Skills: A Key to Fine Motor Success
- 2 Fine Motor Skills Proven to Improve Writing Legibility
- Kindergarten Sight Word Activities Using Fine Motor Skills
Save this Post to Your Pinterest Board: Fine Motor Skills
This way you can reference it as your kiddo progresses through the stages!
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. I am sure that you are not the only one with the same question! I read all comments and would love to hear from you!
Kelly is a licensed Occupational Therapist with 15 years of experience servicing school-aged children and Early Intervention. She is the founder of OT Perspective and a mom to 4 children. To learn more about her, check out her About Me page, here.