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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Marnell, OTD, MBA

Improve Pencil Grasp with these 3 Daily Activities!

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

The Challenge:

As a pediatric OT, the number one question I'm asked is this:

"How can I help a child develop a proper pencil grasp?"

In light of research reported in 2012 I ask myself:

"What is a proper pencil grasp?"

This is because a study published in 2012 in the Australian Journal of Occupational Therapy looked at the effect pencil grasp has on the speed and legibility of writing in fourth graders (Schwellness et al. 2012). Click HERE to see this study. Results (SURPRISING RESULTS) showed that the type of grasp a child used did not affect the quality or speed of his or her handwriting.

So . . . When Should I Worry About Pencil Grasp?

As an OT, I recommend helping children develop an open web space over time. An open web space means there is a circle formed between in the web space between the thumb and index finger.

An open web space is seen in these two mature grasp patterns:


Also, I recommend working on developing grasp when a child struggles in any of these following ways:

1- When a child cannot move his fingers freely. This happens with a closed web space, as seen here to the right.

2- When a child typically grasps a pencil too tightly.

3- When a child's hand tires easily (during tasks such as cutting or writing) or when a child appears to be weak when taking part in fine motor activities.

The Plan: Help Kids Develop a Functional Pencil Grasp with these 3 Daily Activities!

1- Write with short pencils or short crayon pieces (for ten minutes or more every day).

The short length encourages a better grasp, so kids are using their fingers and thumb properly.

2- Have kids tuck a sponge under the pinky and ring fingers (for one to five minutes every day).

Then, have the child take part in ANY fine motor activity - this can be drawing, coloring, building with blocks, playing with Lego or Unifix cubes. Holding the sponge tucked away like this helps to develop overall hand strength and dexterity.

Holding the sponge in place can be tricky, so I encourage making a game out of this. I call this game: "Shy Sponge". And I tell kids that the sponge wants to see the kids in the classroom, but that he or she is shy. He only wants to peek out at the kids. Encourage kids to keep the sponge tucked away for longer and longer each day - until they reach 5 minutes or more!

3- "Wiggly Worm" Pipe Cleaner Game

This activity is so simple and fun, yet so great for promoting pencil grasp and finger dexterity!

Simply have children hold a pipe cleaner as though it's a pencil, then ask them to "walk" their fingers along the pipe cleaner until the child reaches the other end. Then they "walk" their fingers back to the starting end again.

This game is called "Wiggly Worm" because the pipe cleaner wiggles and moves all over the place, just like a worm. (EEEW!)

Use this activity with math, to practice counting - "walk" up and down the wiggly worm as children count together.

Are you following me on Facebook Pinterest or Instagram? Please do! Keep up to date as I post more tips to help teachers and parents help kids master skills!

Lisa Marnell MS, OTR/L

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