What is an effective pencil grip?

A good pencil allows the child to hold the pencil in the hand  in such a way that  small movements of the fingers and wrist can be used to move the pencil point in all directions on the paper. 

The three finger tripod grip the most common configuration: the pencil is stabilized between the thumb and the side of the index and middle fingers. 

  • The ring and middle fingers rest lightly in the palm of the hand.
  • The wrist is held straight (in extension). 

 A good grip allows the child to make small bending and straightening movements of the fingers.

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In this short video you see how I use a combination of small finger movements, combined with small wrist movements to draw short lines in different directions.  TIP: Click on the gear to for slow motion playback. 

The position of the thumb varies

Some children adopt a typical tripod grip with the thumb held away from the index finger with a gap between the thumb and index finger. 

The thumb may also be held close to the index finger (thumb adduction). This position is commonly seen in children with hypermobile fingers.

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Teachers and therapists often recommend that a child adopt a dynamic tripod grip with a gap between the thumb and the pencil shaft. 

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Although many children will spontaneously adopt this position, it does not work for every child, and  especially not for a child with hypermobile finger joints.  Holding the thumb close to the shaft of the pencil seems to work best for these children.  This type of grip is sometimes referred to as a thumb wrap grip. 

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The role of the thumb in creating an effective pencil grip

The fingers and thumb are positioned on the pencil shaft to provide two different functions: stability and mobility.

  • Flexion and extension movements of the fingers provide the mobility function. 
  • The stability function is provided by gripping the pencil between the thumb and the side of the middle finger. This can be done in different ways with the thumb in different positions.

Thumb stabilization in a dynamic tripod grip

In a tripod grip the thumb is positioned with a gap between the thumb and the forefinger.  To achieve this position the thumb must be abducted. 

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The pencil is held between the pad of the thumb and the side of the forefinger.

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The shaft of the pencil rests in the corner of the thumb web space or against the side of the forefinger. 

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The thumb adduction grip

In a thumb wrap grip the pencil shaft is stabilized between the thumb and and the side of the forefinger and the middle finger. 

The thumb is held close to the forefinger - the thumb is adducted.

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Holding the thumb in adduction provides stability, especially for a child who has hypermobile thumb joints. 

An adducted thumb position is effective if it allows small movements of the fingers to move the pencil tip.

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The thumb does not play an active role in moving the pencil tip

In a conventional tripod grip with the thumb in abduction the thumb joints do move. This movement happens in response to the changing position of the fingers as they flex and extend. 

This is an important point because it underscores the role of the thumb in pencil grip. The thumb provides stability and this can be done with the thumb in  a number of different positions as long as the grip as a whole allows for easy finger movements. 

Grips that are not functional

A grip is not functional if it does not allow the child to easily make small bending and straightening (flexion and extension) movements of the fingers to manipulate the pencil point on the paper.

A tight tripod grip

A tripod grip where the pencil is held very tightly with the index and middle finger  strongly flexed at the first middle finger joint and over extended at the end finger joint does not allow for easy small movements of the fingers.

Straight finger grip with index finger resting on top of the pencil shaft

In this grip configuration the pencil with the middle finger resting on top of the pencil shaft. The index and middle fingers straight (extended).

In the picture below the pencil is stabilised between the pads of the thumb and fingers.

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Four finger grip

Some children hold the pencil with all the fingers resting on the pencil. This position does not allow easy finger movements.

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What next?  

How to assess your child's pencil grip and finger movements

How to change an ineffective grip

Training finger movements for handwriting

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