How a child's pencil grip develops (and how you can help)

How a child's pencil grip develops (and how you can help)

Having the ability to hold a pencil correctly is an important milestone in a child’s development. It helps them with their writing skills, as well as being linked to hand-eye coordination and other areas of learning. However, it can be difficult for parents to know how best to help their children develop the right pencil grip. In this article, we will provide some useful tips on how you can assist your child in developing the correct pencil grip confidently and efficiently.

It can be helpful to understand the stages of fine motor skills development, and the wide variety of skills that children develop over time.

These include:

  • Improving isolation of each individual finger
  • Separation of the two sides of the hands
  • Hand dominance
  • Open thumb web space
  • Pincer grasp
  • Pinch grip
  • Gross hand strength
  • Thumb joints
  • Palmar arch
  • In-hand manipulation
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Wrist and hand development
  • Proprioceptive system

You can read more about all of those skills here. 

Pencil Grip: The Phases

CYLINDRICAL GRIP: students wrap all of their fingers  around the pencil or writing utensil.

Pencil grip- cylindrical grip

DIGITAL GRASP: fingers are now pointed downwards  towards the bottom of the pencil, but all the fingers are  being used, along with the arm.

Pencil grip - digital grasp


  • Static Tripod: children use the whole pads of their fingers on the pencil, and they may use their wrist/ arm to move the pencil rather than their fingers.  Three fingers are being used to hold the pencil in a  tripod grip, but the 4th and 5th finger are not yet  tucked into the palm of the hand.
  • Quadrapod: Also known as the four finger grasp. 3 fingers are on the pencil and then tucked onto the fourth finger.

Quadrapod grasp

DYNAMIC TRIPOD GRIP: Uses the tips of the fingers on  the pencil, and the pencil is more on an angle rather than  vertical. The finger movements are dynamic rather than  static, meaning that students don’t need to use their  wrist or arm to move the pencil. Two fingers are on the  pencil (thumb and pointer finger) and they rest on the  middle finger. The 4th and 5th fingers are then tucked  into the palm of the hand, which helps to stabilise the  hand as it is writing.

dynamic tripod grip

I recommend using triangular pencils when kids are  first learning to write- these are all I use in  Kindergarten, because they are fantastic for encouraging the correct tripod grip. I use Staedtler Jumbo Triangular lead and coloured pencils.

Ways to improve pencil grip

It is important that students use a pencil grip that will allow them to write neatly and with stamina. If they are using an incorrect grip or grasping too tightly, this will cause them pain as they complete longer pieces of writing. An efficient pencil grip uses a tripod grasp (thumb, index and middle fingers) There is also an open space between the index finger and thumb.

Some ideas for improving pencil grip could include:

  • Using resistance putty to help build hand strength- focus on using the pincer grip to pinch the putty or pull things out of the putty (e.g. beads, marbles, coins).
  • Tweezers- encourage children to have three fingers on the tweezers and the other two tucked in.
  • Use smaller writing implements- these naturally encourage the correct grasp. For example: break crayons into small pieces- using a short crayon encourages the use of a tripod grip. 
  • Encourage children to rest their little finger on the page- this will help to stabilise their hand and also encourage the tripod grip.
  • Popping bubble wrap using the tripod grip.
  • Finger warm ups- these can include things like finger ‘push ups’, finger stretches, twirling pencils around , moving fingers up and down the pencil. These activities can help to warm up the small muscles of the hand so  that they are ready for writing.
  • A tip for students pushing too hard- give those students a pacer pencil (where you push the top and the lead goes down). They have a really fine lead so if the kids push too hard, they  break. This helps them to learn not to push so hard.

Plus, here are a few other ideas to try:

Holding a pom pom or ball of playdough in the two fingers that don’t get used.

This will stop children from trying to grip the pencil with these fingers. This tip would also work with any other small object that you have!

pencil grip idea

Attaching a bulldog clip to the pencil

This will help children to rest their pointer finger in the middle of the clip, and the other two fingers on either side. 

Pinch and flip technique

Children lay the pencil on the table with the nib facing towards them. They pinch the pencil with their thumb and pointer finger, then flip the pencil up and over towards their hand. 

pinch and flip

it is important to remember that pencil grip development in young children is a process. It should not be rushed and each child has their own unique pace of learning how to hold a pencil correctly. Parents can help by providing opportunities for practice and using fun activities such as writing with paint or chalk on the pavement. With support from parents, teachers and other professionals if necessary, most children will eventually master holding a pencil properly without too much difficulty - but patience is key!

Looking for more tips?

Download my FREE Fine Motor Handbook. With over 50 pages, it so far includes the following areas:

  • The stages of fine motor development
  • All the different aspects of fine motor development and the various skills that should be worked on
  • Pencil grip tips
  • Hundreds of activity ideas for the home or classroom, with detailed pictures
  • Fine motor craft ideas
  • Ideas for early intervention
  • Inspirational accounts to follow for more fine motor ideas