Pencil grips are frequently recommended but mostly ineffective in improving pencil grasp. They are often placed at the wrong part of the pencil for best use, or quickly and repeatedly lost like mittens. I wrote a post on how to decide if you need a grip for a child Should Your Child Use A Pencil Grip?, but once you need a grip, there is only one I can recommend. I have found only one style that actually builds strength and control, instead of just propping up fingers on a piece of plastic. As an occupational therapist, I spend a lot of effort working with preschoolers on hand strength. For good ideas that actually work, not waste your time, read Strengthening A Child’s Pencil Grasp: Three Easy Methods That Work. If they continue to struggle to control a crayon and cannot hold a pencil as they enter and complete kindergarten, I really have to think about whether a pencil grip would help them. This is the only one that does.
I must have purchased every known type of grip over the years, and also constructed grips out of rubber bands/string/etc as well. They all went in the trash after I found this style about 10 years ago. Turns out, this grip requires the use of the small muscles of the thumb and fingers to write, unlike the other types on the market. It cannot be used comfortably without the child actively contracting those muscles. This style blocks most of the compensating patterns that children develop by providing “wings” that prevent fingers from sliding over or around the pencil. It has a trough for placement of the thumb-side tip of the middle finger (radial aspect of the DIP joint on digit III for all those therapists out there) to support the thumb and index finger.
Many pencil grips look terrific, but if a child has true weakness, little fingers will wrap around the other grips and their hand collapses into a hook or gross grasp. This is the very same (ineffective and immature) pattern they use without a pencil grip! Now teachers and parents find themselves repositioning the child’s fingers or constantly telling them to “fix” their fingers. Too much work for everyone!
A good OTR will do their best to develop hand strength and control and not hand out pencil grips like candy. Younger children who are not yet writing words and sentences should have full opportunity to develop the required hand control. But if a kindergarten teacher is insisting on pencil use when your child really does not have the physical control required for pencil grasp, you have to really think about what you are going to do.
UPDATE: Since writing this post, I have used the Grotto grip, the version with stiffer sides, with two four-year-olds that have seriously weak and unstable fingers. These little girls tried very very hard with but never achieved much with therapy putty and finger exercises. I think that is because therapy 2x/week for was not frequent and intensive enough practice, and they could compensate/cheat but seemingly perform each exercise. They have been writing and coloring age-appropriate activities every day using the grip for the last 3 months, and the progress is significant! It really is doing everything I promised with these younger preschoolers. The grip places their fingers in a position to build muscle bulk and they are able to assume a better grip on pencils without adaptations for short periods. Strengthening is a long process, but they now know how the correct grip should feel.
Most children want to use a pencil. They don’t care that their fingers wrap around the pencil like a snake because they are finally “writing like the big kids”. Children have no idea that they are being set up for years of poor control, slow writing, hand discomfort and fatigue, and eventually an avoidance of writing just when they should be doing creative composition. Imagine if your writing was slow and your hand was tired or sore: would you want to write more about your summer vacation? You would write the minimum required. And that is from a compliant child. I have heard of kids screaming that they don’t care about grades or losing privileges, they won’t write at all!
This style is available in some learning-oriented stores and therapy catalogs both online and in the mail. The Therapy Shoppe calls theirs the “Grotto Grip” and there are copycats that are a bit softer but also incorporate the “wings” and a trough for third digit placement. If you have an OTR at school, they may have one available or be able to help you find one of these grips if they think it is time to consider using it. Because it requires the use of finger muscles that might be initially very weak, I recommend short periods of use that increase gradually. Forcing large amounts of writing all at once when they cannot fall back on their compensatory finger patterns creates the risk of developing total resistance in a child. I think the shape reminds me of a cobra’s head. Lots of little boys find that using a pencil grip in the shape of a potentially deadly animal is a very appealing concept. Sometimes you just have to spin things the right way to appeal to your audience!
Want more information on how to help a child succeed in school and in life? I wrote an e-book just for you!
The JointSmart Child: Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume Two: The School Years is a resource for parents and therapists. I explain how hypermobility creates sensory processing and social/emotional challenges as well as motor issues, and how to build independence at home and school with ease. Learn how to pick the right backpack, desk chair, even clothes and spoons, to make life easier. I include forms and handouts for positioning, teaching educators and coaches what they need to know, and even explain how to speak with medical professionals to be heard clearly and get answers to your questions.
Think your child needs a better pencil, not a grip? Take a look at Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills if they are over 5 and have a tripod or quadruped grasp. And don’t forget erasers: Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser will help you outfit your child with tools that make writing more successful.