Learning to hold a pencil correctly can be a challenge for many children. Being able to write or print requires the arm, hand and fingers to work together so that there is a rhythm, flow and speed that allows for the correct letter (or number) formation. And all of this coordination requires the visual acuity, mental ability as well as physical development to do this.

Children go through a series of developmental transitions as they acquire the skills necessary for writing. These different levels of development use and refine large motor coordination and fine motor finesse. Writing and using crayons can be very tiring for a child’s fingers. It is important to provide lots of different finger strength and dexterity activities to help children develop coordination and strength.
• An infant or toddler will grasp a crayon using their fist. They will make large circular lines using their entire arm, maybe bending at the elbow but holding their wrist straight.
• As children transition into older toddler or preschool age, they should begin to hold the pencil or eating utensil with their fingers, which allows for more movement in the wrist. At this point, the child is using their forearm, wrist and fingers to create lines.
• Children preschool and kindergarten age should be holding the pencil with their thumb and first two fingers. This ‘pencil grasp’ allows for the necessary flexibility and mobility needed to form letters, numbers and other designs. The fingers and wrist are used for smooth and fluid writing.

How to teach children to grasp a pencil correctly:

  • Using their thumb and first finger or pointer finger in a pincer grip, child holds a pencil or crayon about 1 inch from the tip
    Tip: to help children use just their thumb and forefinger, practicing being a baby bird – use just the thumb and forefinger to make a bird beak, fold remaining fingers into a loose fist; open and close fingers to be the beak, pick up Cheerios or other small objects and move them to a second bowl
  • The thumb and pointer fingerer, should be opposite each other on the pencil; bend the pointer finger to almost a 90 degree angle
    Tip: have children practice rolling the pencil or crayon back and forth with just this pincer grip; this will help children develop dexterity in holding the pencil
  • Children then lay their second finger along the backside of the pencil, lightly resting on the pencil – not gripping it; this finger will be slightly curled; this finger is just a guide for the pencil to help hold it steady
  • Children open up their remaining fingers and rest their little finger on the paper; tip of the crayon or pencil should be touching the paper
  • Children should use their finger control to move the pencil/crayon and not rely on their wrist or arm; their hand should gently slide across the paper as they write

Sometimes, children grasp and use their pencils/crayons with too much pressure. When children hold the pencil too hard, they transfer that pressure from the pencil to the paper, creating lines that are rigid and too dark or strong. This is also very tiring for their finger and hand muscles. Equally, if children are holding the pencil too lightly, their lines will be too faint and flimsy. This could be a result of weak finger and hand muscles.

It takes practice and persistence for children to learn to hold the pencil with the correct amount of pressure. Children that have good muscle tone and strength in their hands will be more likely to be successful with writing activities. Refer to the activities in this newsletter article Fine Motor Strength to help children develop skills and strength needed for writing.

Fine Motor Strength and Agility
We all use our fine motor skills every day! The more strength we have in our fingers and hand muscles, the better able we are to do many activities. Help children develop their fine motor skills and finger/hand strength through these fun activities:
1. Play Dough – squeezing, rolling and cutting play dough uses many fine motor skills; use a variety of play dough – some very soft, some more stiff
2. Cutting Play Dough – use plastic scissors to cut play dough; this is also a great activity for children just learning to use a scissors
3. Tweezers –transfer cotton balls from one container to another using tweezers; can also use tongs
4. Eye Droppers – transfer colored water from one cup to another cup; use eye droppers and water-based markers on coffee filters for a beautiful design
5. Hole punch – punch holes in paper, requires hand strength to manipulate the hole punch; use punched holes to create a mosaic design
6. Stress Ball – squeezing the ball strengthens finger/hand muscles; put different materials in strong balloons such as sand, cornstarch or flour, and rice; children squeeze the balls noting the different textures
7. Tearing Paper – uses finger strength to tear paper; glue torn paper onto construction paper to create design
8. Clothespins – spring type clothespins require finger strength; make card/clothespin matching games so children need to attach the correct clothespin match to the card
9. Stringing beads – children use visual acuity and finger agility to put beads on a string; make it more difficult by having bead pattern cards to follow
10. Q-Tip Daubing – dip Q-tips into paint, dab onto paper; can also use Dot Painters or Bingo Daubers
11. Felt Snapping Strips – Cut strips of felt 6 inches X 1.5 inches; attach snaps to each end so that children can snap felt strip into a circle; they can connect these circles to make a chain; snapping takes finger strength and coordination
12. Zipper Pulls – Make a zipper board by attaching zippers onto a piece of wood – make sure the zipper is connected at the end; children use finger strength to pull the zipper up and down