The Pencil Grip
By: Mikaela Martinez
Imagine that your child has grabbed their first writing utensil, be it a crayon, a paint brush, or a marker they are ready to start scribbling on any available surface. You notice that they are gripping their crayon with their full fist and using their entire arm to make marks across the paper and you start to wonder, how will my toddler go from grabbing the crayon with their entire fist to holding it the way I do?
To begin, it is important to incorporate fine motor activities into your child's routine. Fine motor activities allow your child to build the necessary muscles in their fingers and wrists to be able to manipulate and control a writing utensil. Some simple fine motor activities you can begin today include: playing with play dough, using tweezers to transfer objects, lacing beads, peeling and sticking stickers, pinching small objects (cereal, berries, rocks, coins), and playing in nature.
Your child's pencil grip will begin as some variation of full fist grip, called a Palmer Grasp. Their hand will be fully wrapped around the crayon and they'll utilize their entire arm to make marks. At this stage, encouragement and opportunity is all they need to find joy in coloring. You may then notice that your child will flip their hand over, holding the crayon with their full fist seemingly upside down, with their wrist on top, and they may even use their index finger to point the crayon down to steady it. In this position, your child is now refining their control and is making marks from their elbow. This is a great time to introduce an easel or other vertical drawing surface!
Following these Palmar Grasp, your child will eventually begin to pinch their crayon between all of their fingers, this is called a 4-finger grip. At this stage, your child's marks are becoming more intentional as their wrist begins to control the movement of the crayon. Over time this grip will morph and change into the traditional tripod grip utilizing their thumb, index, and middle fingers to control their crayon. When this pencil grip begins to take shape, providing opportunities to draw and color while laying on their tummy is a great way to build shoulder strength for sustained writing.
While your child is navigating the development of their own writing abilities from the ages of 12 months to 7 years old*, it is important to provide multiple types of writing utensils for them to experience and experiment with. To help your child refine their tripod, or traditional pencil grip, you may choose to introduce rock crayons, triangular shaped jumbo crayons or pencils, broken crayons or crayon tips, or miniature pencils. Your biggest role in their writing development is your encouragement and support! Get on their level, grab a crayon, and join them in their exploration. Your enthusiasm and participation is the best modeling your child can have in their journey!
*If at any time you have concerns about your child's fine motor development, please reach out to your child's pediatrician regarding occupational therapy support.
Mikaela Martinez is a certified educator, wife, and mom of one. She runs the Instagram accounts @raisinglittlegoose and @projectbasedprimary where she shares educational insight for parents and early childhood educators as they create meaningful and developmentally appropriate learning opportunities at home or in the classroom. Mikaela is also the CEO of Project Based Primary LLC, an early childhood education membership that guides parents and teachers through monthly project based learning units that can be used to educate children from 3-6 years of age, and an educational printables shop full of learning resources for infants through 2nd grade. When not teaching, Mikaela enjoys being outside with her family, reading memoirs, and eating way too many sunflower seeds!