Learn what a Tripod grasp is and the difference between a static and dynamic tripod grasp by an OT. Also find activities that promote this preschool skill.
Pencil Grasps is one of the common concerns teachers and parents have for Occupational Therapists. Partly because within a class, you can see several different pencil grasps. The focus of this post is to only look at the tripod grasp.
Being a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and working within the schools for 15 plus years, I have worked on developing a tripod grasp with countless preschoolers and kindergarteners!
As a mom of 4 kids, I also know how hard it is to make sure everyone is working on their appropriate foundational skills! At the end, I included some board games that work on developing a tripod grasp that the whole family can play!
What is a Tripod Grasp?
A tripod grasp is when you use the thumb, index, and middle finger to manipulate an object. This grasp is used for picking up small objects but most commonly used in describing pencil grasp.
A tripod pencil grasp, is when the thumb and index finger pinch a pencil and the pencil rests on the middle finger. The shaft of the pencil then rests in the webspace between the thumb and the pointer finger.
In this position, the ring finger and the pinky finger, should be curled into the palm providing additional support.
What is a static Tripod Grasp?
Static Tripod Grasps are developmentally seen in kiddos 3 to 4 years old.
A Static Tripod Grasp is when a kiddo holds a pencil with their thumb, index finger, and middle finger. But, their fingers do not move in order to move the pencil around.
Kids who use static tripod grasps will often hold their arm in the air, rather than resting it on the table. A common telltale sign of this is when a kiddo prefers to stand while writing at a table or desk.
Because their arm is not resting on the table, coloring and writing is not accurate. These kiddos will also fatigue faster because their arm becomes “heavy”.
The best way to help support kiddos to use static tripod grasps at this age, is hand, shoulder, and core strengthening.
What is a Dynamic Tripod Grasp?
Dynamic Tripod Grasps are developmentally seen in kiddos between 4-6 years old. It is important for kiddos to have a dynamic grasp for writing accuracy and endurance.
A dynamic tripod grasp is when a kiddo moves their thumb, index finger, and middle finger in order to move a pencil around the paper. Kiddos will generally rest their arm on the table.
If a child is not using dynamic finger movement, they can be seen using their whole arm to color and write. This will cause them to fatigue faster and have less accuracy as writing demands increase.
Full arm movement during writing and coloring causes fatigue because they are using larger muscles for precision work. When a dynamic tripod grasp is used, the larger muscles are activated to support the hand muscles.
Using larger muscles will also decrease written accuracy. Large muscles are meant for big movements and stabilization, not precision. Precision is required for more mature coloring and writing.
Common writing examples of a kiddo not using a dynamic tripod grasp would include: coloring outside of the lines, difficulty with letter and number placement on a line, and writing either very large or very small.
How Does A Tripod Grasp Develop
Babies begin working on grasp patterns as early as 1 month old. The foundation of developing a tripod grasp begins with core, shoulder, and arm strength.
As they become stronger and begin to push themselves up, they are actually prepping their hands for fine motor activities! Babies quickly begin grabbing more and more items which begins teaching them how their fingers work!
One of the most important developmental stages that impacts tripod grasps is the crawling stage. When a kiddo crawls, they begin to dissociate their hand into two sides: the skills side and the stabilization side.
The skills side includes the thumb, index finger and the middle finger. While the stabilization side is the ring finger and the pinky finger.
Do you see how crawling helps develop a tripod grasp?! If your kiddo skipped crawling, it’s not too late! Do games with them that incorporate crawling. For example, animal walks, or obstacle courses!
Some Great Activities That Promote a Tripod Grasp
Here’s an Occupational Therapist tip: If your kiddo uses all of their fingers to complete writing or fine motor tasks, have them hold a small object with their pinky and ring finger.
To get you started, here are a few activity ideas that your kiddo will love! Because a tripod grasp usually entails manipulating small objects, please supervise your kiddo.
- Paint or write letters or numbers using sponges cut into 1 inch pieces
- Tighten and Loosen a nut on a bolt
- Wheelbarrow Walking
- Color/ Write using broken crayons and pencils – Not sure how small to break them? They need to be as small as your kiddo needs them in order to just use a tripod grasp.
- Tong Games – Avalanche Fruit Stand
- Beading with small beads – Beading onto pipe cleaners is easier than onto a string and great for beginners!
- Peg Board Games – Lite-Bright, Trouble, Operation
Important Things to Consider
All kids develop at different rates. Although most kiddos will develop a static tripod grasp between the ages 3-4, it does not mean that ALL kids will.
This is the same for a dynamic tripod grasp. Although most kids develop this skill between the ages 4-6, it does not mean ALL kids will.
As your kiddo’s grasp matures from a static to a dynamic tripod grasp, you will begin to see bursts of dynamic finger movement over time. These bursts will become longer and more frequent as they develop their finger muscles!
It is a process and does not happen in a day or even in a week! Be patient!
Your kiddo may complain that their hand hurts when completing activities that promote a tripod grasp, especially when coloring. When this happens, acknowledge that they are working hard and see if they can complete the task for one more minute!
My BEST Occupational Therapist advice is to meet your kiddo where they are and support their growth from there. This way, you are not asking your kiddo to do something that they are not ready to do. And you are not skipping a foundation skill that supports a more advanced skill.
A strong foundation will help a child develop throughout their life. A foundation with holes because of skipped foundational skills can crumble when asked to complete a higher level skill.
I am here to help you!
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!
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Read More On Fine Motor Skills Here!
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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.