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Development of Pencil Grasp from an OT Perspective

Observing a baby grasp a toy or pick up a bite of food for the first time is fascinating! You can just see their determination as they attempt to get their fingers to open and close around the object. So much is happening during this seemingly simple act… their brain is telling their arm to move, the hands are trying to coordinate with their eyes to gauge how far the toy or food is, and their fingers are trying to time when they should open to prepare for grasp and how to firmly close around the object without crushing it. All of that just to pick up a Cheerio?!


Now imagine children going through a similar process when learning to draw and color using crayons, markers, and pencils. The brain and muscles are working together as a child progresses through the developmental stages of pencil grasp. Children are progressing from bigger movements to smaller more refined movements as they become more stable. The chart below is the "typical" progression of the development of pencil grasp patterns:

While this chart portrays the “typical” progression, it does not mean that a certain grasp pattern is wrong or ineffective. As kids grow physically, get stronger, and gain more refined coordination, their pencil grasp changes. The more mature pencil grasp allows for smoother and more controlled movements for writing. However, alternative grasp patterns can be effective and useful for some children. Some research even suggests that alternative pencil grasps may be just as effective for fast and legible handwriting. Therefore, at Handwriting Solutions we look at each individual’s grasp on the given writing tool and gauge whether it is effective for that child. An alternative grasp pattern may be functional for one child. Whereas another child may complain of soreness or fatigue as they use an awkward grasp, and therefore that grasp pattern will need to be adjusted. We also look at the big picture of handwriting... How is the child’s posture? Are their shoulders and wrists in a functional position? What about their hand and finger strength? How is their fine motor coordination and visual perceptual skills? As you can see, many factors contribute to successful handwriting and pencil grasp is just one!


Check out this website for more information on the variety of pencil grasps (Developmental Progression of Pencil Grasp - (mamaot.com).


Need a professional opinion of your child’s pencil grasp and its effect on their handwriting? Contact kelli@handwritingsolutions.org to set up an assessment!

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