Purple background with title "Pencil Grasps". Four pictures depicting an evolution of handwriting grasps

Handwriting Grasps: How to help your child become a confident writer

How should your child hold a pencil? This is a question that many parents ask if their child is struggling with handwriting. Pencil grasp is an important place to start addressing handwriting concerns. This can lessen frustration and fatigue with handwriting. Read more to learn about the four best pencil grasps.

Thanksgiving is a holiday focused on cherishing your blessings and spending quality time with family. It is also a holiday about food. And it tends to be a holiday where people have strong opinions about food. Some people never stray from the classic dishes. They are annoyed that you would even suggest such a thing. While other families get adventurous and make a new dish each year. Your mom may swear by rustic mashed potatoes with the skin left on. But your mother-in-law may prefer smooth whipped potatoes. Of course, everyone has their opinions about what to serve and eat on Thanksgiving. There is no correct answer. All that really matters is that the food is delicious.


What does this have to do with handwriting?

Stay with me a moment while I explain. There seems to be this notion that there is one right way to hold a pencil when you write, and if a child is struggling with handwriting, it is because they are not using a Dynamic Tripod grasp. It is considered by many to be the gold standard for handwriting. Yet it's not the full picture.

The Dynamic Tripod grasp is considered to be the ideal pencil grasp because it allows for more efficient and neater writing. More recent research has shown that this specific grasp is not truly more effective for everyone. Instead, there are several grasps that all can work well for people with similar levels of effectiveness.


How do I know which grasp to teach my child?

First, consider the age of your child. There are foundational fine motor skills that a child must have before they can hold a pencil with the Dynamic Tripod Graso. These skills start to emerge around five years old but are not fully developed yet for many children. Pushing the skills before a child is developmentally ready does not improve handwriting.

Second, most teachers will work toward your child mastering the Dynamic Tripod grasp. Once they are in kindergarten or first grade, most children can begin to master this grasp. But this grasp is not the only functional pencil grasp. There are other ways to hold a pencil that work well for some people.

Last, there are several pencil grasps that are not effective for handwriting. These include: the Palmar Supinate Grip, the Digital Pronate Grip, and the Static Tripod Grip. These grasps are stages that children pass through as they build the foundational skills they need for a Dynamic Tripod grasp.

The most important thing is that your child learns to write easily and effectively!


What do all these terms mean?

Check out the image gallery at the bottom of this post to see images of each grasp. 

Palmar Supinate Grip (12-18 months old): An immature fisted grasp with the thumb wrapped at the top of the writing tool. This grip uses whole arm movement. It is a primitive, non-functional grasp that is for scribbling and early drawing/writing. 

Digital Pronate Grip (2-3 years old): This immature grasp uses elbow movement, instead of the whole arm. This improves writing control. The palm is now facing downward. The fingers face toward the bottom of the writing tool, and all fingers hold the writing tool.

Static Tripod Grip (3-4 years old): This immature grasp may still move from the elbow, or wrist movement may begin. The fingers are static, not moving to control the writing tool. The palm is facing down. It is a 3-finger grip (thumb, index, and middle) holding the writing tool using the whole finger pads. The other two fingers provide stabilization but are not tucked into the palm.

Dynamic Tripod Grip (5-6 years old): The thumb and index fingers hold the writing tool that rests on the middle finger. The other fingers are tucked into the palm. The writing tool is held at an angle and the movement comes from the fingers (with some wrist movement). The whole upper arm is stable. The arm rests on the table for support.


What if my school-age child doesn’t use a Dynamic Tripod Grip?

It is only natural for parents to worry about their children. Rest assured that there is seldom cause for concern with handwriting related to pencil grasp. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy did a study in 2012 that showed that handwriting grasp did not show a strong connection to handwriting speed or legibility. This did not include the immature grasps where the wrist and arm are providing the movement. The concern with an immature grasp range from slow writing, hand fatigue, illegible handwriting, and even wrist pain.

If you are concerned about your child’s handwriting, start by talking to their teacher. Often they can provide extra support in the classroom to improve a child's pencil grasp. You can also seek out an Occupational Therapy consultation. Occupational Therapists are specifically trained to address fine and gross motor skills, including handwriting. Shout out to all the OTs! You all are amazing!


Beyond the Gold Standard

Just like different families make different mashed potatoes, there is some variation from the gold standard for handwriting. The Dynamic Tripod grip is textbook perfect but, as I said above, it is not the full picture. Three additional grasps, that closely resemble the Dynamic Tripod Grip, are shown to be equally effective. In all of these grasps, the movement comes from the fingers, and sometimes the wrist, which improves control when writing.

Lateral Tripod Grip: This grasp is almost identical to the Dynamic Tripod Grip. The difference is the thumb does not hold the barrel of the writing tool. Instead, it wraps across the top of the writing tool and rests on the index finger.

Dynamic Quadrupod Grip: In this grasp, the thumb, index, and middle fingers hold the writing tool which rests on the ring finger. The pinkie is tucked into the palm.

Lateral Quadrupod Grip: This grasps is almost identical to the Dynamic Quadrupod. The thumb wraps across the top of the writing tool and rests on the index finger instead.

I do not write using the Dynamic Tripod Grip. As a child, I naturally learned to use the Dynamic Quadrupod Grip. My teachers never corrected me because my writing was neat and I didn’t have hand fatigue. When I was teaching 4th and 5th grade, I saw students use all four of these mature grasps. The grasps they used did not affect the legibility of their writing or their writing stamina. The students who struggled with handwriting, for the most part, had other concerns that needed to be addressed.


What else besides pencil grasp affects handwriting?

There are so many factors at play when a child is writing. Without having the child in front of me it is hard to say what the issue might be for that child. However, there are a few common areas of concern.

Rushing: Many children like to rush through their assignments, For some children, this is because they like to be the first one done. Other children want to quickly get to a different activity. It is important to remind children to slow down and write their best. This might require having them re-write illegible words or having them work for a set time. 

Underdeveloped Fine Motor Skills: Addressing the foundational fine motor skills is an important part of improving handwriting.

Pencil Size: Using those fun oversized pencils or a super short pencil makes it harder to control handwriting.

Length of Task: Too long of writing assignments can make handwriting more challenging, leading to fatigue and frustration.

Positioning: How a child sits when they write matters. Sitting upright and leaning slightly forward with the dominant forearm and elbow supported on the table. The paper should be slightly angled with the non-dominant holding it in place.


Do you want to help your child strengthen their fine motor skills at home? Yay! Play-based activities are the way to go. This helps to keep children engaged in the activity. You can find over 20 fine motor activities here.


If you have additional questions about fine motor development, I would love to help. Drop a comment below or DM me on Instagram @wondertreekids.

You can also check out our overview of fine motor milestones here

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