As therapists in the school setting for many years, one of the most common things we have heard from teachers is that they notice their students’ poor pencil grasp. They mentioned that this issue is becoming more and more common and they are not quite sure how to help those struggling.
Now, you might be wondering why this is SO important-aren’t there many people who hold their pencils funny? You are correct, there are many people, young and old who have poor pencil grasp and many times there are no problems with those alternate grasp patterns. However, there are times that alternate grasp patterns can cause pain, or a writer can lose endurance as they write or color even after a short time. The muscle strength you need to hold a pencil properly also translates to improving one’s overall fine motor function. So even though many have “gotten by” with poor pencil grasp, why wouldn’t you set your child up for success as best you can? We are here to help!
If you are a parent of a toddler, preschooler or kindergartner, you can use playtime at home to target all these fine motor muscles need for coloring, writing, cutting, and gluing through simple play!
1. GROSS MOTOR PLAY
Using the large muscles of the body (gross motor skills) are often underestimated as a foundation for fine motor skills. The core and arms must be strong to support the smaller muscles in the hands. Activities like wheelbarrow walking, bear walking, crawling through tunnels, climbing, hanging from monkey bars and playing tag are super fun and a very important precursor to fine motor functioning.
2. VERTICAL SURFACE PLAY
Strengthening the whole arm from shoulders to fingers can be done using a vertical surface like an easel or wall. When your child colors, paints, places stickers, or plays tic tac toe on a vertical surface, she won’t even realize that her arms are getting a workout. Working against gravity, she’s building up strength and stability in her shoulder muscles, which form a solid foundation for coordinated hand skills. You’ll also notice that when she colors or paints, the crayon or brush will naturally fall into the thenar webspace (the soft area between the thumb and forefinger), promoting a proper tripod grasp.
3. PLAY WITH RESISTIVE MATERIALS
The hands themselves also need to be strong. Play dough and putty are great mediums for your child to strengthen their intrinsic hand muscles. Take out some play scissors, rolling pins, and measuring spoons to encourage lots of squishing, squeezing, and cutting.
4. PLAY GAMES WITH SMALL PIECES
When children pick up and manipulate small objects, they recruit strength from their arms all the way through to their fingers. Legos, Topple, Apples to Apples, and Light Bright are all great games for this purpose (and provide a night of family fun).
5. COLOR WITH BROKEN CRAYONS
Why throw away what can actually be put to good use? Broken crayons are the perfect size for small hands and force the use of only the thumb, index, and middle fingers to color. If your child struggles and complains when using a small crayon, it likely indicates that those hand muscles are a bit weak. Try short spurts with a broken crayon at first, along with all the above recommendations.
Bottom Line: Prioritizing both gross and fine motor play is essential for school based functions! It’s never too late to learn the right way to write!