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Does It Really Matter How You Grip A Pencil?

How different handwriting grasps affect new writers.

Forcing a pencil grasp on a child that does not work for them may be detrimental to their participation in writing activities. It is also important to not force a mature grasp for a child who may not be developmentally ready.

Writing is an incredible medium that allows us to express, communicate and organize our thoughts. It allows us to think creatively. But as imaginative as writing may be, it seems that the way we are taught to write has become quite structured. We’re directed to create our letters a certain way, sit in a certain position and hold the pencil with a proper grasp. For an activity that is supposed to be expressive and personal there seems to be a lot of rules. To start, does the way we grip a pencil really matter in regards to handwriting? Occupational therapists are known for helping children with achieving a good pencil grip, but is it beneficial to encourage a grasp that may not fit their needs? Let’s discuss the various functional pencil grips and the pros and cons of each:

Dynamic Tripod Grasp

The dynamic tripod grip allows both stability and mobility. The 4th and 5th digit rest on the table while the intrinsic hand muscles control the 1st three digits for writing

Considered the standard grip that children should learn when writing. The dynamic tripod grip requires the thumb, index and middle finger to be placed on the barrel of the writing utensil. The ring and pinky fingers are stabilized against the palm, allowing for a strong palm arch hat provides stability for the writer. The tiny muscles in our hand manipulate the pencil, allowing us to create neat and aligned letters. Many of the adaptive grips on the market encourage the tripod grasp. However, a child who is directed to use the tripod grasp, but may not be ready, is at risk for squeezing the pencil way too tight. This can result in poor legibility, fatigue or even pain! It is important to allow your child to develop their fine motor muscles before forcing a tripod grasp.

Lateral Tripod Grasp

The lateral tripod restrict the movement of the pencil. You can see in this photo the "thumb wrap" around the pencil.

Another functional grasp! This grasp still utilizes three fingers on the pencil barrel, but the thumb is slightly wrapped around the pencil. This decreased the web space and may provide less stability and support. Furthermore, without the thumb opposing the index and middle finger, there is less precision and manipulation available to the writer. The grasp has also been noted to cause early fatigue. However! Recent studies have demonstrated that the lateral tripod grasp has no negative effect on legibility. If the grasp is working for the child and they can participate in all handwriting activities without fatigue or pain, then forcing the typical tripod grasp can be detrimental to their handwriting.

Dynamic Quadrupod Grip

The 4th digit is both stabilizing on the writing surface and manipulating the writing utensil.

Similar to the dynamic tripod, but the ring finger also supports the writing utensil. While this provides more stability on the pencil, there is less stability for the palmar arch. This leads to less support for the hand to rest on the writing surface. Although the dynamic quadrupod is also considered a functional grasp, it may lead to earlier fatigue since there is a greater demand on fine motor musculature. However, studies have demonstrated that this grip can produce just as legible handwriting with limited fatigue. This may be due to the writer becoming accustomed to the quadrupod grip while developing writing proficiency.

Lateral Quadrupod Grip

This persons handwriting looks great! But the lateral quadrupod may cause early fatigue for some children.

This grasp is one of the more infrequently used grasps. It is similar to the dynamic quadrupod grasp, but the thumb wraps around the pencil. This provides a lot of stability on the pencil, but can restrict the free-flowing movement required of writing. Oftentimes, occupational therapists call this grip a “thumb wrap” and will try to correct it. This is because a thumb wrap and quadrupod grasp can cause early fatigue, resulting in a child writing or drawing for less time. This can affect their participation as well as the quality of writing they produce. If their hand is tired, they may not want to go write all the imaginative detail in their heads and that is restricting creativity! However, this is considered a functional grasp and if a child is accustomed to this grip and demonstrated efficient handwriting, then it may be counter productive to force a different pencil grip.

Writing with Meaning

With all the various handwriting grips and ways to form letters, we must remember that the way we write is not as important as what is written. If a child uses a slightly different pencil grip, but can write legibly, comfortably and for as long as they like, then they should write as often as possible in their very own way! Children become great writers by…writing more! Sound simple? Well it is! It is up to parents, teachers and therapists to create an enriched environment for children that invites written expression. We need to make children love writing, not feel forced into a pencil grip that doesn’t work for them. We know how important writing by hand is for our development. With the increased prevalence of technology in our children’s lives, we must ensure that they continue to be exposed to writing.

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