I recently completed kindergarten screenings for a few private schools. I look for age appropriate copying skills, pencil grasp, sensory motor, fine motor and self help skills. One of the most "flagged" areas is pencil grasp. Yes, about 50-70% of our kindergarten kids are not using a functional pencil grasp. Why is holding your pencil correctly so important? The way we hold a pencil determines how much pencil control we have as well as which muscles are being utilized during handwriting. Holding a pencil ineffectively changes handwriting/coloring from a task using finger muscles to a task using the large muscles of the hand, arm and shoulder. The latter causes muscle fatigue, especially as they reach 2nd grade. How can you help?
Changing a child's pencil grasp gets more difficult as they get older. It is possible to implement a change in pencil grasp up to about 2nd grade given the child is motivated to do so. The easiest way to change a poor grasp is by changing the tools they use to draw and write with. Throw out those "choo-choo" pencils and crayons and stick to small crayons and pencils that are no more than 2" long. Reducing the length of the shaft to 1-2" ensure that the child cannot get all their fingers on the shaft and requires them to practice a "pincer" grasp (thumb and index opposition) which leads to increased muscle strength in the small finger muscles of the hand. Skip the pencil grips. I haven't had good luck with those. I feel it is best to train the muscles and the child to hold the pencil correctly, rather than rely on a pencil grip to help. Besides, when they pick up a crayon at a restaurant it won't have that special grip on it, and you are back to square one. For pictures of functional and not so functional grasps, go to our OT page near the bottom.
About the blogger: Stephanie Wick is a pediatric occupational therapist that founded and is lead O.T. at Learning Charms.
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