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Development of Pencil Grasps for Children

Close-up of kid writing in notepad
Table of Contents

Children often struggle to write properly and get tired of it easily. Educators thus refer these children to Occupational Therapists for the assessment of concern over their pencil grasp.

Holding a pencil accurately with a functional grasp not only helps them to write neatly but also at a reasonable speed without tiring easily. Poor pencil grasps do not make use of hard muscles efficiently and look awkward.

Thus, if your child struggles to produce neat handwriting or easily gets tired while writing, it can be due to a poor grasp that needs to be assessed and improved.

As children grow, they naturally develop the skill of holding their pencils and crayons in different ways. The way in which they hold their pencil or crayon depends upon how ready their arm and shoulder muscles are.

It is essential for a child to go through the different stages of pencil grasp. It is a crucial part of their childhood development. With each stage, they develop control over the larger muscles of their arms and shoulders.

The development of proximal muscles (muscles closer to the centre of the body) before the distal muscles (smaller muscles of the hands) is important for an accurate pencil grasp.

What Is Pencil Grasp?  

Kid’s hands writing

A pencil grasp or grip is defined as the way an individual holds the pencil. Pencil grasp develops as the child matures and their body muscles (especially shoulder and arm muscles) strengthen.

A good pencil grasp allows your kid to keep their wrist steady so that they can make small movements of their fingers for moving their pencil tip in different directions. A pencil grasp is important for creating short, straight, and curved lines. It is one of the important skills that need to be developed for neat and fast handwriting.

Thus, as you would not expect a toddler to walk like a 5-year old, similarly you must not expect your toddler to grasp a pencil and write like an older child. Their muscles need to mature in order to develop a pencil grasp at the right time.

Generally, given sufficient play and development opportunities, a child must develop the correct pencil grasp by the age of 5–6 years. However, if children are forced to have the correct grip before their muscles get developed, they might develop an awkward and improper pencil grasp.

Why Is It Important To Have A Correct Pencil Grasp? 

Tiny grasp

Parents usually watch out for all crucial aspects of their child’s development and learning. However, even for the most attentive parents, small aspects like how the child holds their pencil or crayon can go unnoticed. Remember, pencil grasp is an important aspect of childhood learning.

Whether it’s about letter formation, legibility, endurance or speed, a good pencil grip facilitates your child in many ways. With an efficient pencil grip, the child can have full control over the writing tool through their finger movements. This happens when the palm and fingers support the whole hand against the writing surface, allowing the user to hold and move the pencil or crayon in different directions.

As mentioned earlier, holding a pen or pencil is determined by how strong your child’s finger and hand muscles are. Mature and strong muscles enable the writer to have a correct pencil grasp, which is important for controlling the writing tool with efficient finger movements.

If your child has moved past pencils and onto pens, a pen gripper might be for them!

The ability to hold a pen or pencil plays an important role in determining your child’s attitude to learning and school work. This skill is thus crucial for a child’s academic achievement as well as their skill development. An inappropriate grasp can be painful to those little hands and might cause the child’s arm to fatigue quickly.

As children play, they develop different grasp patterns, include the pincer and tripod grasp. The pincer grasp is where they use their thumb and index finger to hold the object. The tripod grasp is where they use their thumb, index and middle finger to hold the object.

A great way to teach your child the correct grasp is to engage them in different art activities like drawing, coloring-in, tracing, and so on. With practice and proper guidance, their muscles get matured for holding writing tools and controlling their fingers. Kids who learn the correct art of holding pencils can write neatly and at a proper pace without making their hand muscles sore.

What is Pencil Grip Should a Child Have? 

An ideal pencil grasp for your child is the one that enables them to:

  • Move the fingers not the whole hand or the arm; fingers play the most important role in controlling the pencil
  • Complete their writing or drawing tasks efficiently without getting tired
  • Write and draw neatly at a reasonable speed

Pencil Grasp Development And Age Of A Child

The pencil grasp development starts a lot earlier than most people think. It starts from a very early age as your child starts grasping different objects with their hands. Acquiring the right pencil grasping skill is one of the most important physical skills that a child needs to develop and most of that takes place during their preschool years.

A child’s pencil grasp entirely depends upon their age. As their grasping skill starts to develop before they begin writing, it’s important for parents to focus on this skill development for a better academic future.


Usually, this physical development begins at 3–4 months of age, as soon as they begin grasping toys. As your baby holds a rattle, they are demonstrating the first step in learning how to write.

As their finger muscles are not as strong for grasping an object properly, babies might use their arms to support that object. Though they can grasp a toy, it does not mean that their fine and major muscles are developed to control the grasp.

As babies gain mastery in grasping objects, it is known as palmar grasp, where they make use of their whole hand to grasp an object. As they grow, they keep on developing their grasp and learn how to control their shoulder, arm and finger muscles.


As your baby turns into a young toddler of 12– 15 months of age, they eventually develop a palmar supinate grasp, where they start using their whole hand to hold an object.

At this stage, they can hold a pencil with their entire hand including the thumb and palm. However, as they grow as older toddlers or preschoolers, their grasping skills develop and they shift from whole hand grasp to radial cross palmer, where their fingers are all pointed down.

They start utilizing all their fingers and taking less support from the palm. At this phase, the child starts developing the traditional pencil grasp. By now, their control on an object has already shifted from their whole hand to fingers and thumb.

As your child’s fine and gross motor muscles become matured, their fingers, wrists and hands become stronger and thus, have full control over their grasping ability.


Most children between the ages of 4 and 7 years develop the desired grasp (dynamic tripod grasp) recommended by occupational therapists. Now, they can pinch the pencil with their thumb and pointer finger.

The grasp provides your child with more flexibility and mobility of their wrist and the entire hand. This allows children to have more control over dynamic movements and thus, they can efficiently write and draw intricate patterns without much difficulty.   

Developmental Stages of Pencil Grasp

There are five developmental stages that your kid needs to go through before they can hold their pencil more efficiently, in a controlled manner. All the five stages of pencil grasp development are important as each plays an important role in strengthening your child’s hand, arms, shoulder, and finger strength and improving their mobility. Working through each stage enables your child to move to the next developmental stage more efficiently.

Most kids can develop an accurate pencil grasp by mastering the following grasps:

Fisted Grasp Or Palmar Supinate Grasp

Baby fist

When children initially pick up crayons or pencils, they mostly hold them in their closed fists like daggers. As their hand muscles are still not mature enough, they make use of their whole arm movement from the shoulder to make a mark.

While adopting this pencil grasp, children prefer to work on a vertical surface due to their whole arm movement. In most cases, they learn this kind of grasp by the age of 12–15 months. As here, the arm movement will be controlled by their shoulder, they can only scribble and color.

Palmar supinate grasp is the first stage of pencil grasp development. In this grasp, your kid holds a pencil or a crayon with their entire hand, including their thumb. The palm nearest to their pinky will remain closest to the paper. The writing utensil will remain at a 90-degree angle to the surface, making the crayon or the pencil completely vertical.

Digital Pronate Grasp 

digital pronated grasp

As your child grows up, their shoulder and arm muscles become stronger too and they start having more control over their grasp. At the age of 2–3 years, most children learn the art of holding a writing utensil with their fingers.

At this phase, they hold the crayon or the pencil with their palm facing down towards the surface of the paper. To have a strong hold, children of this age make use of fingers and thumb to hold a pencil. The movement in this grasp is controlled by both the shoulder and elbow. Again, as the movement of the arm is still not mature, children prefer to scribble, draw and write on vertical surfaces.

Quadrupod grasp

By the age of 3½–4 years, your child might learn the art of holding pencils with 4 fingers. Pediatricians and occupational therapists consider this to be the transitional grasp that helps children to adopt the tripod grasp easily.

Quadrupod grasp is the grasp that lets your child learn how to write effortlessly and legibly. Identical to tripod grasp, this grasp allows your child to pinch the pencil using the pad of their middle finger, thumb and pointer finger.

This leaves the pencil resting on their ring finger and provides them with mobility. This is a static grasp. As kids still cannot move their fingers independently, the movement in this grasp comes from the elbow and wrist.

Static Tripod Grasp 

A kid writing

As your little one’s muscles of hands, wrists and fingers become stronger, their pencil grasp will reflect the added strength. After they reach 4 years of age, most children develop the desired tripod grasp.

Occupational therapists and paediatricians consider it as the accurate grasp to hold a writing utensil, as it is an efficient grasp (meaning it uses less energy).

Here, the child makes use of their thumb and pointed finger to pinch the pencil. In this grasp, the pencil rests over the middle finger that touches the pad of their thumb. For added support, the ring finger and the pinky finger are tucked under but do not touch the pencil.

With this static tripod grasp, your child won’t hold the pencil vertically, but rather more of an angle to the paper. The tripod grasp provides more mobility and flexibility to your child’s wrist and hand.

As this grasp gives your child better control over their hands, fingers, and wrist than the previous grasps, they can now write more accurately than before. However, the child still needs to improve their grasp for further mobility and flexibility, as sometimes they still make use of their wrist and arm to control their pencil.

Dynamic Tripod Grasp 

Kid Writing in Notebook.

Traditionally considered to be the most appropriate pencil grasp for handwriting, children through the ages of 4–6 years keep on developing this dynamic tripod grasp.

The dynamic tripod grasp allows children to move their fingers independently and thus, draw and write on paper more precisely with less hand and finger strength.

This is a more mature grasp than a static tripod grasp where they can control the pencil with the tips of their thumb, middle and index finger.

Here, the thumb sits opposite to the index finger, whereas the ring and the pinky finger are curled into the palm for providing more stability to the writer. As this grasp enables the fingers to move freely, your child can now form letters smoothly. Unlike static tripod grasp, here, the child does not use their wrist and arm movements to form letters.

Other Pencil Grasps

There are also other grasps that are not quite functional but can be commonly seen among children. These include:

Thumb Wrap Grasp

Thumb wrap grasp is where the child wraps their thumb around the pencil and other fingers, rather than using the tip of their thumb to control the movement of the pencil.

This is a common grasp seen among children as it can provide additional stabilization over the pencil. However, this grasp does not provide the accurate control over the pencil and may cause pain and fatigue. Check out our article about thumb wrap grasp here.


This post has outlined the development of pencil grasps for different ages, how it is affected by hand manipulation and affects handwriting speed. It is important to note that these developmental milestones offer a general guideline of age-appropriate pencil grasp patterns.

However, some children with poor fine motor skills or low tone can find these pencil grasps tricky and therefore resort to immature pencil grasps.

Check out our other posts for specific strategies to help your child improve their pencil grasp and develop a functional pencil grasp. Additionally, if your child is over the age of 6 and still having trouble with using a functional pencil grasp, then you may benefit from reading our post about pencil grips.


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