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How to Help Your Preschooler Develop a Tripod Grasp

Does it matter how you hold a pencil? 

You have probably noticed that very young children use different ways to hold a crayon, and their pencil grip may vary from time to time.

Little girl holding big red pencil

While there isn’t only one correct way to hold a pencil, one of the preferred ways for effective handwriting is called the tripod grasp. 

What is a Tripod Grasp? 

Also called a tripod grip, a tripod grasp means holding a pencil with the thumb, index/pointer finger, and longer/middle finger of the hand.

Hand holding pencil in tripod grasp

The child writes by moving their fingertips.

There are two different types of tripod grasps:

  • In the dynamic tripod, the pencil is held toward the tips of the fingers. 
  • In a lateral tripod grip, the pencil is held further along the side of the thumb. 

What is an Immature Tripod Grasp? 

If a child has an immature pencil grip, it means his fingers do not move during writing. 

In an immature tripod grasp, specifically, the pencil is still held with the thumb, index finger, and long finger. Only the hand moves, however, and not the fingers, themselves. [source]

Why is a Tripod Grasp Important?

The dynamic tripod grasp allows smooth movement of the thumb, index finger, and long finger, which helps a child to form the curved and vertical strokes found in letters. 

The remaining fingers are available to stabilize and add support. This balanced grasp is also believed to prevent fatigue of the hand and allows children to work longer as they mature and face more challenging writing requirements. [source] 

How Does a Child’s Pencil Grip Develop? 

Just like other aspects of your child’s life, they pass through various stages of pencil grasp development on their way to maturity. 

The following can help guide you with what signs to look for at approximate ages.

Pincer Grasp

With increasing strength and eye-hand coordination, babies typically develop a pincer grasp using the small muscles in their hands at around 9 months

This is the movement that allows them to pick up objects with the ends of their fingers. [source]

Whole Hand Grasp/Palmer Supinate Grasp

In this primitive grasp, children from about 12 months to 1.5 years use their entire hand to hold a crayon, much as an adult grasps a stick to stir paint. 

The child’s entire arm is used to move the crayon.

Child holding pencil with whole hand/palmar grasp

Digital Pronate Grasp/Pronated Wrist Grasp

Another primitive grasp, children from approximately 2 to 3 years of age hold a crayon with the very end on the thumb’s side of the hand. 

Four-Fingered Grasp

In this transitional grip, kids from about 3.5 to 4 years will hold a crayon or pencil between the thumb and ends of the ring, middle, and pointer fingers.

Their wrists and forearms help to move the writing instrument.

Child holding pencil with a four-fingered grasp.

Static Tripod Grasp

Also around 3.5 to 4 years of age, children may hold a writing tool with the thumb and pointer finger, with it resting near the middle finger’s final joint. 

They tuck the pinkie and ring finger into the palm. 

Quadrupod Grasp

A four-fingered grasp may turn into a quadrupod grasp, which features the thumb opposing the ring, middle, and pointer fingers. 

At times, the pencil rests on the ring finger’s side in this transitional grasp.

Mature Pencil Grasps

Between the ages of 4 to 7 years, children typically begin to use a more mature pencil grip.

These include the dynamic tripod, lateral tripod, dynamic quadrupod, and lateral quadrupod grips. 

Using these grasps, the hands or fingers move while the child writes. Their grasp style may continue to evolve until they reach around 14 years. [source]

What are the Different Types of Grasps?

The grips explained above are not the only ones that may be used to write quickly and legibly, of course. 

Other possibilities for holding a pencil include thumb tuck, thumb wrap, finger wrap, and the inter-digital brace.

When Should a Child Use a Tripod Grasp?

The answer to the question, “When should my child hold a pencil correctly?” is not definite.

Look for the gradual signs of transition over time in your child.

Also, think about whether your child is handling a crayon or pencil in a way that is effective for reaching the goals for their stage of development.

You should not be concerned, for example, if your 4-year-old is not writing letters with a good grip. 

A 4-year-old is not yet developmentally ready to begin formal writing and should instead be developing pre-writing skills.

How Can I Help My Child Develop a Tripod Grasp?

As an involved parent, you may want to know how to teach your child to hold a pencil correctly.

Firstly, it’s important that your child has lots of opportunities to draw freely. There are many benefits of drawing, including helping to develop and practise a good grasp.

As you can see, there is more than one way to effectively grip a writing tool to form letters. 

With some grasps that kids try, however, they lack control, or their hands and arms tire easily. In those cases, you can suggest small adjustments that make writing easier. 

  • Be sure the pinkie and ring finger are tucked into the hand’s palm, for example. 
  • Instead of pointing at the ceiling, the eraser at the top of the pencil should be aimed toward the body. 
  • The index finger and thumb should form a circular shape. 

Writing on vertical surfaces can also give helpful practice. [source]

Products are available to guide kids toward the tripod grasp, such as triangular-shaped crayons or pencils and specially-shaped grips that slide onto pencils.

In most cases, the natural progression in their development should eventually guide them to a more mature grasp. 

Focusing on building gross and fine motor skills can also be a great help.

Build Gross Motor Skills

Children need strength in their arms and shoulders to help control their hands for writing.

Outdoor or indoor activities and games that involve jumping, cycling, dancing, crawling, walking, and running are great for exercising the body’s large muscles. 

Here is a guide for developing gross motor skills.

Build Fine Gross Motor Skills

Strong small muscles in the hands are essential for effective writing. 

Activities to help strengthen those muscles include drawing, painting, cutting, zipping, building, lacing, crafting, squeezing, scooping, tweezing, and basically any fine motor manipulation of small objects. 

Too much screen time can be a problem, tempting children to use their fingers in fewer ways than they have in previous generations. [source] 

Tripod Grasp Activities

Although many fine motor activities are beneficial for strengthening a pencil grip, some may be more helpful than others in attaining the tripod grasp.

Here are some simple ideas.

1. Drawing with Stubby Crayons

Instead of throwing those short crayons and pastels away, suggest your child uses them to naturally form a tripod grasp, resting the little finger on the page for control. 

 box of broken oil pastels

Small golf pencils and broken pieces of chalk also work well.

2. Manipulating Play Dough

Show your child how to roll the dough in sausages with their palms, pinch it together with “tripod fingers,” and then squeeze it back into a ball. 

This helps especially with flexibility in the thumb joints.

3. Sorting with Tweezers 

Offer your child a variety of small objects and tweezers for sorting by colour or other characteristics into muffin tins or low boxes. 

Some games you may already have, such as “Operation,” also make use of tweezers or tongs.

4. Sorting Coins with Fingers

Spread out a wide variety of coins onto a surface. Challenge your child to pick up one at a time, sorting them by type into separate containers.

Your child can learn about money at the same time.

5. Spraying with Water Bottles

Fill a spray bottle with water and move outside for some spraying fun. Working the spraying mechanism can strengthen the muscles in your child’s hands. 

Spray the side of the house, driveway, and sidewalk, with letters, numbers, pictures, and various designs.

6. Pushing into a Peg Board 

Encourage your child to form designs with pegs on a pegboard or light cardboard. 

As an alternate activity, offer plastic straws from juice boxes to push into the board. 

Add coloured straws somewhat larger in diameter cut into short lengths, to be threaded over top of the pegs made of straws. 

7. Painting with Sponges 

Cut a sponge into small squares and have your child use one for each colour of paint. 

She will naturally use a grip that is very conducive to a tripod grasp.

8. Sprinkling Glitter

Provide glue bottles and various colours of glitter. Squeeze the glue to form outlines of pictures and designs. 

Your child will use the tips of the “tripod fingers” to pick up glitter and sprinkle it onto the chosen areas of glue. 

How Should a Left-Handed Person Hold a Pencil?

For each of the four “mature pencil grasps” previously noted, an altered left-handed grip exists. The Handedness Research Institute says to avoid a hooked type of grasp often seen with left-handed writers.  

The Institute also suggests grasping the writing tool further up from the pointed end for a better view of what is being written.

In addition, children should turn the paper in the other direction, following the natural positioning of the left arm at a right angle to the paper’s lower edge. 

The hand should be positioned above the line being written, with the wrist straight. [source]

Learning to write clearly so they can be understood by others is an exciting developmental rite of passage for children. This ability seems to outdistance, by far, that of pushing the buttons on electronic devices!

How to teach your child to hold a pencil correctly: pinnable image

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