Pencil Grip 101

As our children start school, one of the important activities that they need to master is handwriting.  One of the key ingredients that sets up a child for success in handwriting is having a good pencil grip. In this blog, I’d like to talk a bit about pencil grip and how it relates to handwriting.  What is a correct pencil grip? Why is it important? And what should you do if your child does not have a correct pencil grip? 

Correct pencil grip:

Let’s start off by looking at what is traditionally considered as “the correct way to hold a pencil” (or pen, or crayon, or marker…).  A (correct) tripod grip is shown in this picture – the pencil is held between the thumb and the first finger (a soft “pinch”) and the middle finger tucks under the bottom of the pencil to give more support.  Many children do not naturally hold a pencil using a tripod grip; especially when they start learning to print and need to be taught the correct hand position.

Why is it important?

Using a correct pencil grip for handwriting gives optimal control of the pencil and allows the fingers to move freely.  If your child is using other types of grips, they may need to use their whole arm to form letters – this can result in poor legibility and slowed speed of writing.  Gripping the pencil incorrectly may also lead to stress on the finger joints and stiffness or fatigue of the hand or arm. 

What do I do if my child doesn’t have a correct pencil grip?

Most children don’t naturally hold their pencil using a tripod grip.  They develop the correct grip by being shown the position and being regularly reminded of the position when they pick up their pencil to start writing.  However, it is important to know that fine motor skills develop at different rates, and some children will struggle with the grip even with reminders and cueing.  Don’t worry if your child doesn’t seem to be able to master the correct pencil grip right away – but do consider how to prevent your child from developing poor pencil grip habits that may be difficult to break once their fine motor skills catch-up.  A good option is to use adaptive tools to help make the correct grasp easier to master. 

An easy “fix” for many young children is to give them pencils with wide diameters, such as those shown in the photo on the left.

The larger surface area of a bigger pencil makes it easier to use a tripod grip.

Another option is to put a pencil gripping aid on your child’s pencils.  There are a variety of these items readily available on the market.  These are generally inexpensive and can be very helpful to children who do not yet have the fine motor skills needed to maintain a correct pencil grasp when handwriting. 


What will happen if my child continues to print using a non-tripod grasp?

There are reasons why we should encourage and train children to use correct positioning when handwriting.  As discussed in the first paragraph, we want to avoid children developing postures and habits that could lead to them having poor function (slow speed of writing, poor letter formation, sore and/or fatigued fingers and hands).  Secondly, the inability to use a correct pencil grasp could be indicative of underlying physical or cognitive difficulties – understanding those difficulties and addressing them early can help your child reach their highest potential.

On the other hand, it is important to remember that a good pencil grip is not necessary for a happy life!  Many children (and adults) use an “incorrect” pencil gripping posture and go on to lead very productive and satisfying lives!  I know this because my own son has an abnormal pencil grip posture. I asked my son, Nick, to send me a picture of his pencil grip and his writing posture for this blog.

I do not know how or why my child ended up with a poor pencil grip – but it is kind of helpful that he did.  It allows me, the therapist who teaches other people’s children to grip their pencils properly, the first-hand knowledge that a “problem” that is not causing problems, is not a problem.. Nick held his pencils incorrectly, but his speed of handwriting was always normal, his handwriting is (fairly) legible and he does not complain of sore or fatigued fingers or hands. And, his pencil grip was not indicative of underlying physical or cognitive impairments – Nick is a healthy and athletic 21 year old who is finishing off his undergraduate studies in physics.  So  even though Nick’s pencil grip is not ‘optimal’ it is functional, and I can tell you confidently that his poor technique did not hold him back in life!

Most parents of young children want to do everything they can to ensure that their child will thrive and be successful.  Sometimes it is difficult to know what to worry about and what to let go.  If your child is having difficulties with pencil grip or with handwriting, and you (and your child’s teacher) would like some guidance, you may want to check in with an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists are trained to identify whether there is a reason for concern with your child’s function and can give advice about how to develop your child’s skills or compensate for weaknesses or delays.

Lydia Phillips

OT and CEO of Meridian Rehabilitation