You might notice your toddler doesn’t hold a pencil properly, and his hand grip looks more like he’s grabbing a drumstick than a writing utensil. It’s natural for children to go through stages of hand grips before reaching a mature pencil grip. A combination of fine and gross motor skills are hard at work to bring about these changes.
From ages 1 to 2, young children tend to hold pencils, crayons or other utensils with their entire fist. The pinky will be closest to the table and the thumb will be pointed up. Since you’re young child has probably mastered crawling by this point but doesn’t quite yet have the steadiness needed for smaller movements, your child will move his arm from his shoulder while holding a utensil in fisted grasp. This behavior is an example of how your child’s gross motor skills affect his fine motor abilities.
The next stage of hand grip development is the palmar grasp, which you will see around ages 2 and 3. It looks a bit opposite of the fisted grasp, as your child’s thumb will point down and the pinky will be up and off to the side. Your child’s elbow will also stick out to the side. As your toddler is able to do more coordinated movements with his arm, such as throw a ball, you will also notice he moves his arm and shoulder muscles to draw or color.
Five-Finger Pencil Grip
By age 4, most children start using a five-finger pencil grip, which is an immature grip. All five fingers are engaged in this grip, as your child uses four fingers to push a utensil against his thumb. The wrist is held off the table, and your preschooler will use smaller wrist movements as opposed to the bigger arm movements he used before. You might also observe your child during this stage develop hand dominance; your child will prefer to color with one hand while using the non-dominant hand as a stabilizer, such as holding the paper steady.
Three-Finger Pencil Grip
Most children reach a mature three-finger grip by age 5 or 6. In this hand grip, a utensil is held between thumb, index and middle fingers. Your child might have tense fingers at first and continue to use wrist movements as he did with the five-finger grip, but he will eventually gain more fine motor control and will start to use finger movements to make shapes and letters.
The website OT Mom Learning Activities suggests not forcing your child to use a mature hand grip too early; as your child gains better gross motor skills, the fine motor skills will follow. You might also notice your child switching between grips, which is a sign that your child’s shoulder and arm muscles are still developing and building endurance. Gross motor games like climbing, pushing or tossing a ball will help build these muscles. The steadier your child’s shoulder and arm muscles, the more he will stay with a particular grip. SchoolSparks.com also recommends modeling proper grip, using golf pencils instead of regular ones, and serving finger foods to develop your child’s pincer grasp. Writing on a vertical surface also helps strengthen arm and wrist muscles needed for proper hand grip.