If you have a preschooler, you’ve probably noticed that they hold their pencils, crayons, and markers differently from you. Young children often hold onto writing utensils with their entire hand. This can leave you wondering when and if you should correct their pencil grasp.
All children go through stages in their pencil grasp development. We’ll walk you through these stages one by one, so you can have an idea of what’s normal. And if your child is a little behind in their pencil grasp stage, don’t worry. There are plenty of things you can do to get them on the right track.
Pencil Grasp Development in Kids
Pencil grasp development varies from one child to the next. Some children will be a little slower to develop their pencil grasp, and some children may skip stages altogether. However, there’s a typical series of stages you can expect your child to go through before mastering this fine motor skill.
Your child’s fine motor development is dependent upon their gross motor skills. Think of your child’s motor development as working from big to small. Larger muscle groups need to be strong in order for them to move on to strengthening the smaller muscles in their hands and fingers.
This means that even as a baby your child is working toward their pencil skills. As your little one learns to sit up and reach for toys, they’ll be strengthening their trunk, shoulders, and arms. And when they start picking up smaller objects like cheerios or even blocks, they’ll begin to strengthen their pincer grasp.
Although your child will begin working on pre-writing skills in preschool, most children don’t develop a mature pencil grasp until 6 or 7 years old.
If you’re struggling to teach your child how to hold a pencil, check out this fun and interactive Nogginsland video on YouTube: How to Hold a Pencil! This video uses a cute story to put the tripod grasp into terms your little one will understand and remember easily.
Pencil Grasp Stages By Age
The following pencil grasp development chart can help you know what to expect as your child grows. But please keep in mind that every child is different.
Palmar Grasp: Ages 1 to 2
The palmar grasp is a fisted grasp that requires your toddler to use their entire arm when coloring. This is normally how a child will first attempt to hold a writing utensil, around age 1 ½ or so. With this grasp, the entire hand is gripping the pencil, instead of a few fingers.
You may have heard of the palmar grasp reflex when your child was an infant. This is the involuntary grasp response a baby has when something (like your finger) is placed into their hand. Your toddler will first grasp a crayon or pencil in this same way—although now it’s intentional.
Digital Pronate Grasp (or Radial Grasp): Ages 2 to 3
Around 2 to 3 years of age, your preschooler’s pencil grasp will begin to use their fingers rather than their entire fist. The digital pronate grasp, sometimes called radial grasp, uses all of the fingers, with the thumb and index finger near the tip of the pencil.
This grasp will also involve more use of the elbow, rather than using whole arm movements. As your child switches to a digital pronate grasp, they’ll have a bit more control of the pencil or crayon as they draw and color.
Quadrupod Grasp: Ages 3 to 4
By 3 or 4 years of age, some children will use the quadrupod grasp, also called the four finger grasp. In this stage, your child is moving closer to a standard pencil grasp, but they’re still using four fingers instead of three.
Keep in mind that some children will skip this stage altogether. And while it’s not as mature as the tripod grasp, it can be an effective way for some children to write, as they will be making smaller movements with their wrist during this stage.
Tripod Grasp: Ages 4 to 7
Between the ages of 4 and 6, your child will begin developing a static tripod grasp. This grasp uses 3 fingers, which move together as one unit. With the static tripod grasp, your child’s wrist and forearm are still doing much of the work to move their pencil.
It isn’t until around 6 or 7 that most children move on to the dynamic tripod grasp, which is usually considered the most mature, functional pencil grasp. With this grasp, your child’s fingers will actually be moving to control the pencil.
Other Functional Pencil Grips
While most children will eventually use the dynamic tripod grasp, some will develop an alternative pencil grasp. One example of this is the modified tripod grasp. This pencil grasp still uses three fingers; however, the pencil is placed in between the pointer finger and middle finger.
As long as your child’s pencil grasp isn’t affecting their writing speed or legibility, don’t worry too much. Research has actually found that many alternative grasps don’t negatively affect handwriting skills.
So, what is it about the dynamic tripod grasp that makes it an ideal pencil grip? This is such an efficient grasp because of the finger movement involved. This allows your child to make more precise movements, and it prevents fatigue and discomfort.
With this in mind, a functional alternative pencil grasp should:
- Involve finger movement instead of whole arm, elbow, or wrist movement alone.
- Allow for precise movements that result in neat handwriting.
- Result in an appropriate writing speed for your child’s age.
- Be comfortable and prevent fatigue from writing.
If your child’s pencil grasp isn’t functional, it’ll begin to affect their schoolwork. However, if your child isn’t struggling to keep up in class or getting tired from writing, there isn’t anything wrong with using an alternative grasp.
How to Help With Pencil Grasp
If your child is struggling to keep up in school because of their pencil grasp, there are some things you can do to help. Once they’re in school, this may mean encouraging them to use a tripod grasp if they aren’t already. Try some of the following to help improve your child’s pencil grip.
Magic Tissue Trick
If your child is having a hard time getting the tripod grasp down, the magic tissue trick can work wonders. It may sound a little strange, but here’s how it works:
- Fold or roll up a single tissue.
- Place the tissue in your child’s dominant hand, and have them hold it in place with their pinky and ring fingers.
- Help them grip their pencil using a tripod grasp.
- Practice writing!
This will help them to get used to using just those three fingers to hold their pencil. If they become tired, let them take a break. But try to practice a little bit each day until the tissue is no longer needed.
Strengthen the Pincer Grasp
Some children struggle with pencil grasp because of a weak pincer grasp. You’ll need to help them strengthen the muscles in their hands before they really feel comfortable holding a pencil. Even simple activities like coloring with crayons have been found to improve pencil skills.
Here are some easy activities to try:
- Using tweezers or tongs to pick up objects like cotton balls
- Stacking blocks or playing with LEGO
Use Pencil Grips
Pencil grips can be very helpful in teaching your child how to hold a pencil. These give your child something to grip onto and make it so their small hands feel more comfortable as they write. Over time, they’ll build up enough strength to use a pencil without any grips.
Check out these Nogginsland pencil grips if your little one is having trouble learning how to hold a pencil. These adorable animal friends will make your child more excited to practice their writing skills.
Occupational Therapy for Pencil Grasp
Your child’s teacher or pediatrician may recommend meeting with an occupational therapist for fine motor skills if your child is struggling with holding a pencil. An occupational therapist can help determine the root cause of your child’s writing difficulties. They’ll then work with your child on strengthening the muscles in their hands and practicing an efficient pencil grasp.
Should I correct my child’s pencil grip?
Remember that most children don’t use a “correct” (or functional) pencil grip until they begin school. It’s important not to push your child to use a tripod grasp before this age. It’s completely natural for them to be using another grasp during preschool.
However, once your child has started kindergarten, their pencil grasp may begin to affect their schoolwork. By that time, you can discuss correcting your child’s grip with their pediatrician, teacher, or occupational therapist.
Does pencil grasp affect handwriting?
There are some different types of pencil grasps kids can use without affecting their handwriting. But if your child is still using a whole hand grasp when they begin school, this will likely have an effect on handwriting. These are appropriate pencil grasps for preschoolers, but will make forming letters neatly and quickly difficult at age 5 or 6.
What age should a child use a tripod grasp?
Most children will begin to use a tripod grasp around 4 to 6 years of age. Once your child is in school, not having this grasp down can make it hard to keep up. Talk to your child’s pediatrician or occupational therapist if you have concerns about their pencil grasp.
“Hi! My name is Lydia and I’m a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and education. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and worked as a teacher and tutor before deciding to stay home full-time with my two young children. As a mom, I’m passionate about early childhood education and am always looking for fun and practical ways to teach my kids at home.”