Pencil Grasp FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions about pencil grasp for parents and teachers

What does an acceptable/efficient pencil grasp look like?

Click to go to Efficient Pencil Grasps

What is the difference between a "static" and "dynamic" pencil grasp?

A "static" pencil grasp occurs when a child's whole arm moves when printing/coloring/drawing.  The fingers and wrist do not move, rather, the movement comes from the elbow and/or shoulder.



A "dynamic" pencil grasp occurs when the movement for printing/coloring/drawing comes mainly from the child's fingers and wrist while the forearm and upper arm are stable.


When should we be concerned about a child's pencil grasp?

There are many "red flags" to watch for that signal concern:

Red Flags

  • Light pressure (Spider writing)
  • Dark and heavy pencil pressure
  • Collapsed web space (the space between the thumb and index finger)
  • Wrist rotated with thumb towards the paper
  • Wrist flexed or "curled"
  • Elbow up in air
  • Pencil tilted forward or to side
  • Complaints of sore hands
  • Whole arm moving
  • Awkward finger positioning
    • Thumb on top of index finger
    • One or more fingers hooking over pencil
    • Fingers spread apart along pencil


Immature Grasps

  • Palmar/Fisted grasp- thumb up is "dagger"
dagger grasp









Palmar/Fisted - thumb down is "shovel"


Digital Pronate grasp

pronated digital grasp







Brush grasp

brush or 3 jaw chuck grasp

Awkward/Inefficient Grasps

  • Lateral Tripod grasp
  • Splayed fingers
splayed grasp
  • Flattened extended fingers (4 or 5)
extended finger grasp
  • Thumb Wrap (especially if child presses thumb hard against index finger)
Thumb wrap grasp
  • Interdigital Brace grasp
Interdigital thumb brace grasp



What can I do about pencil grasp?

Desk Position

When watching children work at their desks, think "ergonomics": feet flat on the floor, ankle, knee and hip joints bent at 90 degrees, table at or just above elbow height, head at midline, paper tilted the same direction as their writing arm. This places their muscles in the best position to work. (hyperlink a picture and reference)

If an efficient body position is still a challenge, the occupational therapist may consider the use of a slantboard to provide better trunk, arm and wrist position.

Teach Pencil Grasp

Handwriting Without Tears Crayon Song Video

Work at a Vertical Surface

Have the child work at a chalkboard, easel, whiteboard, or SmartBoard, at eye level or above, to encourage good wrist and finger position.

Use Short Skinny Writing Tools

Try using golf pencils, broken crayons and chalk, HWT flip crayons, or skinny short markers (Crayola Pip-Squeaks). Placing a pom pom under the 4th and 5th fingers helps to isolate skill finger movements (thumb and index finger movements).

Fine Motor Manipulatives in Centres

Playdough, chopstick and clothespin games, store-bought games such as Giggle Wiggle, Wok 'n Roll, Feed the Dog/Bunny/Monkey. Insert link to activities page.


Should I be using pencil grips in the classroom?


We would like to try alternatives to pencil grips: golf pencils, short markers, broken crayons and chalk, activities to strengthen finger muscles and develop two-point pinch.

Grade One and Up

Depending on the child and the factors influencing their inefficient pencil grasp, we might consider the use of a pencil grip. There are a wide variety of grips available on the market. No one grip will meet the needs of all children, so it is important to determine the best grip for the individual child.


When do we need to stop trying to change a child's pencil grasp?

As a child gets older, it becomes more difficult to change motor habits associated with pencil grasp. In our experience, around the age of 8, if the child is complaining of pain and/or fatigue, or is not able to keep up with classroom demands, we may need to consider alternatives to changing pencil grasp. However, if at this age, the child is functioning with the grasp they have, it is not necessary to modify grasp.


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