Writing is undoubtedly a critical part of academic development. It affects all levels of the learning process, including communication. Children who learn to write with an improper grip experience fatigued muscles, sore fingers, and hand cramps. Furthermore, children might experience additional barriers like underdeveloped sensory sensitivities, arm and hand muscles, and delay in fine motor.
Writing continuously with an improper grip, beyond physical fatigue can also interrupt the cognitive flow. A child’s ability to create content and the level of concentration for the page can be slowed or halted.
Pencil grasps is one of the most common concerns that teachers and parents have when they visit Occupational Therapists. This is partly because, in a class, you come across several different pencil grasps. The focus of this blog is only on the tripod grasp.
What is a Tripod Grasp?
The tripod grasp is a kind of grip that involves using three fingers of the hand, the index, thumb, and middle fingers. A child generally develops this grip at the age of 3 -4.
It is an efficient grasp that is vital for a number of tasks, such as fastening buttons or holding a pencil. As kids enhance their fine motor and dexterity skills, they will be able to transition into a tripod grip with ease from a relaxed hand.
Some basic forms of tripod grasps are – Static, Dynamic, Modified, and Lateral grasps.
Static Tripod Grasp
Static Tripod Grasps are generally used by kids between the age group of 3 to 4 years old. It is when a child holds their pencil shaft with their middle finger, index finger, and thumb. However, the position of their fingers does not change when they move or use the pencil.
Rather than using finger movements, they often use their wrist and arm to control the pencil. Children using static tripod grasps will usually hold their arm above in the air as opposed to resting it on the study table.
Whilst the pencil is held in an ideal pencil grip, the lack of wrist motion and compensation with the arm indicates an immature pencil grasp. A common giveaway of this is when a kid wants to stand while writing at a desk or table.
Since their arm does not rest on the table, writing and coloring are not precise. These children also tend to experience fatigue much faster, as their arms become heavy after a certain point in time. The best way to support kids to use static grasps is to improve shoulder, core, and finger muscle strength.
If a child uses their entire arm to write and color they experience fatigue faster and their writing is much less accurate. Full arm movement while coloring and writing create exhaustion because they involve larger muscles to perform precision work.
Dynamic Tripod Grasp
Dynamic Tripod Grasps are seen in kids between the ages group of 4 – 6 years old. Kids must possess a dynamic grasp for endurance and writing accuracy. Dynamic Tripod grip is when a kid moves their middle finger, index finger, and thumb to move the pencil on the paper. In this case, kids generally rest their arms on the table while they grasp the pencil.
When a child uses a dynamic tripod grasp, their larger muscles support the muscles of the hand and are used as stabilization. Using larger muscles of the body diminishes written accuracy and should be avoided for pencil grips. They are meant for big stabilizations and movements, not precision when holding a pencil correctly. Therefore, learning to use smaller finger muscles for the movement and larger muscles for stabilization is the best method for handwriting.
Lateral Tripod Pencil Grasp
The Lateral Tripod Pencil Grasp is similar to the static and dynamic tripod grasp. However, the thumb pad is utilized as opposed to the thumb tip.
When kids use the pencil, their pencil pressure automatically increases. It might be tiring when writing or painting for long hours when using this grasp. It might be possible that kids might owe this tiredness to a reduction instability on the side.
Alternative Tripod or Modified Pencil Grasp
The lesser-known of the grasps, but extremely effective for some kids, is the alternative tripod or modified grasp. In this grasp, the kid places the pencil between the web space of the middle and index fingers. They curl them along with their thumb around the pencil.
This feels very strange when it is tried for the first time. Nevertheless, it takes the weight off the pencil shaft, so for kids with low muscle tone, it is a great choice. It secures the pencil in their hand and even if it is let go, it mostly stays in place.
While this grip does feel and look very strange, it is a great alternative as it lets the child use it in any way the pencil is held, rather than requiring them to remember or find their grip. It is also an efficient functional grasp, which means it does not cause lots of pain and fatigue when used for longer writing tasks. Additionally, it is practically effective for kids who have a thumb wrap grasp, if they are able to alter it.
When and At What Age Do You Use a Tripod Grasp?
The development of a proper pencil grasp for writing begins much earlier in children than you think. From the time your kid begins grasping for objects, they are developing their four pencil grasp patterns. Often times can child develop an affinity with one of these grasps but with the correct pincer grasp practice through fine motor activities, your kiddies should have a mature pencil grasp in no time!
By the age of 3 to 4 children will switch to a quadruped grasp and static tripod grasp. They use the entire pads of their fingers on the utensil used for writing and eventually hold the utensils crudely. There might still be some amount of forearm and wrist movement to work the pencil, with the fingers static or not moving.
As discussed earlier, the static tripod grasp is a grasp using the middle, thumb, and index finger. This is achieved with two of them pinching the pencil and the 3rd finger placed on the side of the utensil, creating a tripod. The fifth finger and fourth finger, also known as the ring finger and little finger, are generally static and do not get tucked into the palm of their hand.
Development of a Tripod Grasp
Babies start working on their grasp pattern as early as when they are just one month of age. The foundation of a tripod grasp development begins with the cylindrical wrap grasp, followed by digital pronate grasp, and then with whole arm movement static tripod grasp, where the shoulder and core strength are usually required.
As they grow and become stronger, they start pushing themselves and preparing their hands for some fine motor functions. Babies begin to grab more items quickly which teaches them the complete functionality of their hands.
How Do You Teach a Tripod Grip?
There are several ways to back the development of a conventional tripod grip, both at home and in school.
Finger gym activities are smaller physical tasks that help develop fine motor skills like pinching and gripping of the index and middle fingers with the thumb. This might involve shifting marbles from one cup to another, grasping a range of distinctly shaped objects. Correct dynamic tripod pencil grasp will be achieved when a child begins to mobilize their thumb joints and participates in tripod grasp activities that develop their thumb, index, and middle fingers.
Several EYFS classrooms have a massive stock of three-sided, large pencils that encourage younger children to advance their pencil skills and shift to a dynamic tripod grasp from a static tripod grasp. Sometimes rubber grips are used for kids who are learning to grip smaller objects like pens and pencils or those who have limited fingers and mobility.
The best way to strengthen and develop your kid’s child grip is to motivate them to practice handwriting at all opportunities. This is often done through activities and games that focus on pencil control, handwriting speed and other fun ways to develop the child’s pencil grasp. Browse through a range of exciting and fun resources for handwriting to help your kids with the process made by a Ready Kids occupational therapist.
Pencil Grip Activities and Games That Help Strengthen a Tripod Grasp
If your kid uses all fingers to complete fine motor and writing tasks, encourage them to hold smaller objects with their ring and pinkie finger.
To get them started with the process, here are some activities that kids will absolutely love. Since tripod grasp comprises manipulating small size objects, make sure you supervise them at all times.
- Write or paint numbers or letters using 2-3cm cut sponges
- Loosen and tighten nut bolts
- Get the child to walk on hands while you hold their feet in the air.
- Write or color using broken pencils and crayons. Break them into small pieces, sufficient for them to use a tripod grasp
- Beading with small beads using pipe cleaners as opposed to strings, especially for young children
- Pegboard games like Operation, Trouble, and Lite Bright
- Tong Games like Avalanche Fruit Salad
Something To Remember
Every kid’s pencil grasp development is at different rates. Though most kids will advance to a static tripod grasp at the ages of 3 and 4 years, this does not apply to all kids in general.
This is similar even for a dynamic tripod grasp. Remember, that the majority of kids progress in this skill set between the age group of 4 to 6 years. Again, this might not be applicable for all kids of the same age group. Some will take a little longer to get their pointer finger in the right place for mature pencil grasps.
If your child is having trouble with developing a tripod grasp, try some of the activities above.