A frequent question occupational therapists get asked by teachers is: How can I help my students develop a healthy and efficient pencil grasp when they are beginning to write?

Despite the fact that most children today spend as much time using a keyboard as writing, I believe that writing by hand is and always will be a valuable skill. And, as every educator and teacher knows, a correct pencil grasp is essential.

A correct pencil grasp is one which allows a student to write neatly at a moderate rate of speed without getting tired or sloppy. There are a few “correct” or acceptable pencil grasps. When learning how to hold a pencil, a student must use techniques that are developmentally appropriate for him, so don’t push your students to master handwriting approaches beyond their years—this approach is sure to backfire.

There are several non-intuitive techniques that really seem to work with getting your students comfortable with holding a writing instrument and even having fun while doing so. Here are some of my suggestions:

Another Perspective 1: Have Your Student Write On A Vertical Surface

Sometimes sitting at a table or desk is already problematic for your students. The wrist in extension (as when it is when writing on a perpendicular surface) is the correct position for writing and using the wrist in extension is an important pre-writing skill. Also, an extension position automatically puts the fingers in a better position for pencil grip.
A Magnet Board: Playing with letter magnets can help your students learn letter placement (and reading) and is a fun and easy way to get them to keep their wrist in the extension position as well as warm up to the idea of writing. Another great trick is to stick a flat “canvas” of silly putty on the wall. Hand your student a bunch of toothpicks and encourage them to place the toothpicks on the putty and create pictures (and you or other students can guess what the pictures are). Or they can use the toothpicks to draw and write letters on the putty.

Windows & Mirrors: Encourage your students to write on the window or mirrors with washable markers, crayons on paint specially designed for glass.

Easel or Chalkboard: Small ones are available for home use, and students can use these for a variety of creative play.

Another Perspective 2: Have Your Child Write On All Fours

Encourage your students to go onto all fours (like an animal position). They’ll find it fun if you do it too. Do activities such as puzzles or play games (Othello, Connect Four, etc.) in that position. Have them “keep score” or write while on all fours.

Work on Fine Motor Skills

Ask your students to pick up small beads or coins from a surface and put it into a container that has a small hole or slot in it, such as a round oatmeal container with a hole cut out on top or a piggy bank. This helps their fine motor skills. Sorting coins or beads before doing so, and putting them in different slots adds another dimension of coordination. You can also hand your students a few beads or coins, and ask them to put them one by one in the hole or slot. This really fine tunes their finger skills and strengthens the muscles of the hand and fingers.

Give your students colorful small sponges or child-sized stress balls and encourage them to squeeze them. They might enjoy squeezing sponges more if they are wet or in time to music.

Use Helpful Tools

A rubber pencil gripper can be helpful, kind of like training wheels on a bike. There are a variety of pencil grips available, you can also try making your own out of plastic-clay if you can’t find one that suits your students. Some are as large as a small tennis ball, others are less than an inch in diameter. Most fit around the shaft of the writing instrument. This link shows several examples. 

There are a variety of pens and pencils on the market with different shapes and grips such as the examples shown here.


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