Thumb position for an effective grip

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 stabilised 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.


What is an effective pencil grip?  An effective grip is adapted to the child's joints and allows the fingers to make small movements

Thumb position for an effective grip

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

How to change an ineffective grip

Training finger movements