Proper pencil grasp development starts a lot earlier than you think in children. From the time your child starts grasping for objects with their hands, they are developing pencil grasp, whether good or bad habits.
If your child has ever received or been evaluated for Occupational Therapy, this is one thing that the therapist will be looking at when assessing their fine motor skills.
Before we get started here are some term definitions that will help explain some of the hand grasps:
- Radial – Thumb side of the hand
- Digital – Finger or pinkie side of the hand ; can also mean digits as in fingers
- Palmar – Palm side, or inside part of the hand
- Supinate – Palm facing up or forwards
- Pronate – Palm facing down or backwards
So let’s start at the beginning. Again these are average ages ranges, every child is different. However if you do suspect your child is behind in their development, please talk to your pediatrician.
- By age 3.9 months your baby should be able to grasp a rattle or other objects.
- By age 5.2 months they reach for objects with their whole arm using a crude palmar grasp (grabbing at objects with the pinkie side, or palmar side, of their hand. The thumb is not .
- By 6 months your child will start using a more palmar grasp, or using their entire hand to grasp at objects, including some thumb movement.
- By 7 months they will begin involve the thumb and all fingers, while using more of the thumb side of their hand to grab objects or using a radial palmar grasp.
- By 8 months your child will start to use a raking type grasp.
- Between 8-10 months old your child will start to perfect the pincer grasp using a Radial Digital Grasp & Inferior Pincer Grasp.
- By age 10.2 months, they should be able to use a thumb-finger grasp (pincer grasp). The difference between the Inferior Pincer Grasp and a regular Pincer grasp is all in the placement of the finger tips. If more of the pads of the fingers are holding the object than the tips of the fingers, that is an Inferior Pincer Grasp. A true pincer grasp is using the tips of the pointer and thumb finger.
- By age 12-15 months they use a palmar supinate grasp. They use their whole arm to color and move the marker/crayon to where they want it on the paper. You will also notice that the writing utensil is at a complete vertical angle.
- By 2-3 years old, they move to a digital pronate grasp, which looks like the picture below. This is the beginning of a proper looking hand grasp. The fingers are now pointed down towards the bottom of the writing utensil, however all the fingers are being used along with a lot of whole arm movements.
- By age 3 to 4 they will switch to a static tripod grasp or quadruped grasp. They hold the writing utensils crudely and use the whole pads of their fingers on the writing utensil. There also may still be some whole arm movement, with the wrists being still and not fluidly moving, or static.
- By the time your child hits kindergarten they will use the most mature grasp, the dynamic tripod/quadruped grasp, when they use the tips of their fingers on the writing utensil and also hold the crayon/pencil more at an angle than vertical. This is much like an adult grasp. Their wrist movements are also dynamic, which means they move back in forth without any full arm movement.
For a while, the tripod grasp was the only mature grasp to be considered a proper pencil grasp past the age of Kindergarten. However, an exception was made for the quadruped grasp, since so many people and children use that type of grasp (myself included) and are able to print neatly and at a decent writing speed. I always encouraged a mature tripod grasp when working with my students, however if they used a quadruped grasp consistently and were able to produce legible work and good letter formations when writing I considered their handwriting/pencil grasp goals met. Be sure to talk to your child’s therapist to see what type of pencil grasp they will be looking for in order to consider that goal met, if your child has a pencil grasp goal in OT.
Again, these are average ages ranges and every child is different. However this gives you a good idea of what to look for as your child starts to explore the wonderful world of writing!
10 Hands-On Ways to Practice Pre-Writing Lines
Pre-writing lines are typically copied and trace on paper, however here are some fun, non-conventional ways to practice them.
- Use a paintbrush in sand
- Use a finger in shaving cream
- Use stickers to place along the pre-writing lines
- Use wooden sticks or craft sticks to place on top of pre-writing lines
- Use fine motor tweezers to place cotton balls along pre-writing lines
- Cover the pre-writing line page with cornmeal and trace with a finger
- Use bath crayons on the bathtub or during a shower
- Use play dough to form pre-writing lines
- Squeeze glitter glue along pre-writing lines
- Use pip-cleaners to place along or form pre-writing lines.
It’s a very simple yet intelligent way for indoor activity for our motor development time.
Use simple tape to make shapes to our kitchen floor.
We jumped from shape to shape.
We hopped on one foot.
We side stepped
We crawled while trying to only put our hands, knees and feet inside the shapes.
Did you notice that I keep writing “we”? Yes we have to play right along with the boys and even crawled on the tile. I am a firm believer in actively participating.