It is back-to-school time here in the U.S. Stores are pushing clothes, backpacks, shoes and school supplies. Time for teachers to set up their classrooms and get excited about a new school year. When I see the amazing variety of crayons on display at Target or Walmart, it reminds me to speak to the families I serve about selecting great writing and pre-writing tools.
First of all, let’s get the “giant crayons for smaller hands” thing out of the way. My crayon gauge starts with the standard Crayola crayon, and goes up or down from there. Mostly up, since I have rarely seen crayons that are narrower. Pencils? Yes, but not crayons. Most children that cannot hold a crayon with a tripod or quadruped grasp (three or four fingers, respectively) will use a hook or fisted grasp to hold a standard Crayola crayon. Why? Often because they don’t yet have the strength and control to do so, sometimes because they haven’t been taught to hold crayons this way. This is going to create problems for controlling that crayon and those pencils. Let’s not even mention the bad habits that could continue for years.
Crayon and pencil grasp is not something that shows up naturally, like walking. We are wired for walking, but prehension is a skill that developed later in humans. Children that do not teach themselves by copying siblings and adults need to be taught. If you present it as a grown-up skill and reward rather than criticize, many children need no more instruction. Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) does an amazingly simple job of teaching mature pencil grip. Handwriting Without Tears
Kids older than 3 who cannot hold a standard crayon in the mature pattern can benefit from a large crayon that has been snapped in half. Why break a perfectly good crayon? To reduce the shaft length and prompt the child to use their fingertips, not their fist to hold a crayon. Will those super-sized crayons or the triangle/ball-shaped crayons help? Sorry, but no. They appear to have been designed to give infants who use a cylindrical grasp (totally normal) the ability to scrape a crayon across a page. It looks so cute to have your 9 month- old actually coloring! If your older child has serious motor issues such as significant cerebral palsy, they might work. If your child simply struggles to use a mature grasp, you could be setting them back by allowing them to use a less mature grasp to scribble.
Handwriting Without Tears sells their Flip Crayons. These are very short and the diameter of a standard Crayola crayon. Therefore they are shorter and narrower than a large crayon that you broke in half. They will require more fingertip control because there is less space for a child to use much more than a few fingertips. I have had parents remark on how small they are for themselves, and then realize that their pencil grasp is actually not a standard grip either! Not to worry, unless they struggle with handwriting as much as their child does! Children who are adept at flip crayon use will progress quickly to the use of short golf pencils, which HWT sells with erasers, or your local office supply store sells without erasers.
Flip crayons have one color on one end, another color at the other end. Children learn to “flip” them over in their hand to change colors. Great coordination skill, and fun too!! Four year-olds are usually ready to use these, and if not, then they need to work a bit more on fingertip strength and control. What if your child just palms them, even after they have been taught how to hold them? Give them a few supervised turns, with you as the model. If they are still struggling, they are not ready yet and should try the “broken crayon” strategy. Don’t forget to periodically try out the Flip Crayons, since you want to raise their game rather than keep them at a pre-pencil stage if they are ready to move on.
What can you do to help them? All the great activities that develop hand control. Scissors Lakeshore Scissors for Toddlers That Only Cut the Paper, Not the Toddler, dough, tape Melissa And Doug Tape Activity Book Is Reusable Fun, and especially spoon and fork use with a grown-up grasp Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child. Check on them after a month of finger control “boot camp” at home, and see what has happened to their pencil grasp!