Holding a Pencil

Eliza Clark
September 23, 2015

The thing about these precious preschool years is that Kindergarten is right around the corner. And in most Kindergarten classes, working on writing and drawing is a big part of the program. So it goes: sooner or later, these little tots of ours will need to learn how to hold a pencil. "Of course my kid can hold a pencil!" you may be saying to yourself. "Just look at all those scribbles on the wall." But is she holding it correctly? Kindergarten teachers are always talking about the three-fingered "tripod grip" for good reason. When children are learning to form letters, the tripod grip allows for flexibility of movement and doesn't strain the hand. 

There are lots of ways for parents to help very small kids learn this crucial skill, and many will pick it up easily with enough chance to practice. The most important is to give them plenty of opportunity to draw and paint at home. Open access to a box of crayons or washable markers and plenty of paper will make practice a part of daily life. (Model the correct grip by drawing alongside your kids now and then.) And for kids who need a bit more help strengthening their little fingers and fine motor skills, here are a number of activities that are sure to put them on the path to confident pencil wielding before you know it.

Chalk the Walk

Mark off an area of your driveway, sidewalk or any other washable surface and let your kids go to town with Sidewalk Chalk. You can ask them to draw shapes, letters or numbers, or just let the little ones doodle. I'll draw objects or animals and then ask my son to run and jump on them, which adds a little physical activity. My son loves to finish up the chalk play by leaving daddy a welcome home message on the driveway!

Tracing Shapes

Before starting this activity, take a half sheet paper and draw with a heavy black marker several simple shapes (heart, moon, star, flower, car, face, etc...) onto the paper. Then, give your child several half sheets of tracing paper and colored pencils. Have your child use a piece of tracing paper and colored pencil to trace different shapes and then create a setting around them. For instance, he or she can trace a moon and stars and then draw the rest of the night sky.

Using Tongs

Set a pile of cotton balls on the table. Have your child use tongs (small ones) to pick up the cotton balls and place them in a small bowl. This activity is a wonderful way to build up the hand muscles that your child will use when he or she holds a pencil or crayon. You can also use this activity as a way to practice basic math skills -- counting, addition, and subtraction.

Q-Tip Painting

Draw a simple picture on a piece of construction paper. For example, a large tree. Then show your child how to fill in the picture by using just the tip of a cotton swap. This will create "dots" of color that blend together to make a whole. It is fun to watch your child try to fill up all the white spaces without using a brush stroke. 

Drawing Music

Put on some music for your little one. It can be classical, jazzy, kids or adult music. Give him a paper and crayon and have him draw the music he hears. Does it make him want to make slow, lazy loops or fast and frantic dots? Does it make him feel like using a blue, red or yellow crayon? Do it alongside your child and compare whether your drawings are the same or different!

Straw Beading

For many kids, stringing beads on a string can be frustrating. You can make it easier if you let them string beads on a coffee stirrer or pipe cleaner. You can hot glue a bead on one end of a straw or bend the end of the pipe cleaner to act as the "stopper" bead, then let your little artist go to work! They can make a multicolored creation, a solid one, or a pattern of alternating colors. You can save their creation by hot gluing the last bead in their design or if they're not sentimental, dump the beads back into the container and start all over again! 


From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    Hi Eliza, I like your article with lots of useful ideas, but how unfortunate that your accompanying photo shows a child with a 4 finger grip, not a 3 finger tripod grip. Not very helpful!! Jo Morton

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    Hi Eliza, I forgot to mention that I am a pediatric OT. My blog is called Milestone Mom (www.milestonemom.com)

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 3

    Hi Eliza, I like your article, and you give some good tips. However, I'd like to add some information. By the way, the tripod grasp, which is the "correct" grasp, can be very stressful and is not always the best grasp for some children. Handwriting skills are directly related to postural control, shoulder strength and stability and the development of the hand arches. Sometimes the activities you mention are not sufficient. I have several articles on developing handwriting and will be offering a newsletter giveaway on the topic. My posts give in depth explanations as to why a child may have handwriting issues and how to treat based on the origin of the problem.

    over a year ago


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