There are multiple types of pencil grasps that a child needs to work through to develop the eventual goal of the dynamic tripod grasp as a mature grasp. The general pencil grasp development goes from palmer-supinate grasp, digital pronate grasp, four-fingered grasp, and then static quadruped or tripod grasp.
However, as children develop pencil grasp, you may also see the thumb wrap grasp.
What is Thumb Wrap Grasp?
In a thumb wrap grasp, the tip of your thumb often bends over the pencil and other fingers.
Here, the thumb aims to provide stability to the overall grasp but at the same time, it can limit mobility. Therefore, the dynamic tripod grasp is still the ultimate aim as an efficient and functional pencil grasp.
Often, children use alternative pencil grasps because they have not yet developed fine motor skills to hold the pencil correctly. This could be due to a lack of muscle development in their fingers, dexterity, and open web space.
The thumb wrap grasp can be seen as an inefficient pencil grasp as it does not allow free-flowing finger movements and potentially reduce pencil control. Having a tight thumb wrap can also cause pain and fatigue, especially when writing for long periods of time.
Why does my child use a thumb wrap grasp?
When your child is wrapping their thumb over to hold the pencil, they might be attempting to enhance the stability of their writing tool by substituting their muscles.
This pencil grasp prevents your child from using their thumb skillfully and is not a correct pencil grip. This can also hinder the movement of other fingers to control the pencil.
Children make use of interesting grasps during the phase of their pencil grasp development. In some cases, they squash their thumbs against the pencil while in others, they wrap their thumbs around their fingers.
Very often, the pencil grasp that your child is using demonstrates the weakness of their hand muscles. The development of their pencil grasp is very dependent on the child’s age.
However, if your child is wrapping their thumb around the pointer finger while holding a pencil, your child is gradually learning the art of proper pencil grasps.
How to Improve My Child’s Pencil Grasp
Kids need to strengthen their wrist, forehand, and finger muscles (thumb, index, and middle fingers) to improve their pencil grasps and handwriting. There are lots of day-to-day activities that can help your child to hold their pencil functionally, and write with endurance and fluency.
To improve your child’s functional pencil grasps, you need to encourage them to improve their fine motor development, open their thumb web space, utilize the two sides of the hand, learn in-hand manipulation, and so on. Thus, some of the exercises to improve your child’s neat handwriting and pencil grasps are as follows:
Understand Correct Pencil Grasp
Teach your child how to correctly hold the writing utensil by showing them how you hold the pencil or a visual of a mature pencil grasp.
Encourage your child to hold the pencil in the webspace with the thumb pushing against the index finger, while keeping their middle finger under the pencil.
Play-dough is always a great tool to develop fine motor skills that translate to pencil grasp and hand grasp development. They are fun to manipulate and can be used for a range of fine motor activities.
To develop hand and finger strength, you can encourage your kid to play with playdough and ask them
- Make different shapes
- Squeeze it
- Pull it apart
- Roll it flat using a rolling pin
You can also encourage your child to use their pincer grasp using the pincer fingers (index and middle finger) to pinch out objects while playing and crafting.
Use tongs, tweezers, or even chopsticks to pick up small objects. Use two separate bowls, one with all the small objects and the other to fill it up with.
Have a race between other children to see who can pick up all the small objects from one bowl to another, obviously using the tongs!
This is an activity to strengthen your child’s fine motor skills. Provide your child with scrap paper or sheets of newspaper and encourage them to crumple up those sheets into tight balls.
You can turn this into activity by crumpling different colored tissue paper and creating a piece of artwork.
Separation of the Two Sides of the Hand Exercises
For proper pencil grasp and handwriting, it’s important that your child uses the two sides of their hands separately.
Apart from enhancing fluency and control in writing, this helps your little one use objects like cutlery and scissors.
To make your kiddo use both sides of their hands separately, encourage them to practice exercises like:
- Coin flipping
- Building shapes with pipe cleaners
- Playing Battleship
- Squeezing a spray bottle
- Inserting coins into piggy banks
- Grasping cotton ball while coloring, writing, or crafting
Open Thumb Web Space Exercises
An open thumb webspace is important for doing tasks that need in-hand manipulation like picking up a pencil. When your child keeps the webspace closed, it causes slow and clumsy handwriting.
Activities to open your kiddo’s thumb web space are:
- Popping bubble wrap
- Rolling play-dough using the thumb pads
- Playing Origami
- Threading beads onto string
- Playing checkers games
In-Hand Manipulation Exercises
It is the ability to move an object around without the usage of another hand. In-hand manipulation is a complex fine motor skill that can be developed with activities like:
- Squirreling small objects from palm to fingertips
- Moving objects with the help of the pads of fingers
- Rolling items using fingertips
Teaching children correct handwriting techniques at an early age can improve their fine motor skills, dexterity, self-esteem, and overall academic performance.
Although a thumb wrap is considered an inefficient pencil grasp, it is still common to see children using this grasp. If you have a child who has a thumb wrap grasp, try and develop their fine motor skills by using the above-suggested activities.
Try and encourage your child to develop a dynamic pencil grasp. However, if it is not causing any pain, fatigue and your child has a reasonable handwriting speed compared to their peers, then it may be suitable for your child to still use this grasp.
For extra assistance with their handwriting, you can always connect with your Occupational Therapist directly. They can guide you through proper therapies and activities, and help your child improve their handwriting.
Developing correct pencil grasp patterns that focus on functional grasps are such important hand skills that help your child in life.
Beck, B. (2019). Pencil Grasp Exercise for Thumb Wrap Grasp – The OT Toolbox. Retrieved 14 January 2022, from https://www.theottoolbox.com/pencil-grasp-exercise-for-thumb-wrap/
Improving Your Child’s Pencil Grip – Occupational Therapy Helping Children. (n.d.). Retrieved 14 January 2022, from https://occupationaltherapy.com.au/improving-your-childs-pencil-grip/
Lippincott, C. (n.d.). The Wrapped Thumb Pencil Grasp. Retrieved 14 January 2022, from http://make-the-grade-ot.com/The%20Wrapped%20Thumb%20Pencil%20Grasp.html
Thumb position for an effective grip | Skills for Action. (n.d.). Retrieved 14 January 2022, from https://skillsforaction.com/handwriting/thumb-position