Proper pencil grasp development for writing 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.
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 handwriting 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
Typical Pencil Grasp Development in Kids
Let’s start at the beginning. Again these are average ages ranges, every child is different. If you do suspect your child is behind in their development, please talk to your pediatrician or consult with your local Occupational Therapist.
3-5 Months Old
- 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 being used at this time.
Your child will start using their entire hand to grasp at objects, including some thumb movement. This is called a Palmar Grasp.
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.
They begin 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.
2-3 Years Old
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.
3-4 Years Old
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. This grasp is also referred to as a 4 finger grasp, 3 fingers being on the pencil and then resting on the 4th finger.
5-6 Years Old
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. This grasp is also referred to as a 3-finger grasp, the first 2 fingers on the pencil while resting on the middle finger.
Did You Know??
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 Occupational Therapy.
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!
Get a Grip: Grasping Patterns in Young Children
For more handwriting tips like this one, check out my Handwriting Pinterest board below.