Pencil grasp development through the early childhood years
Grown ups shouldn't force children to write early and well. Understand the development of children's pencil grip by age.
The biggest responsibility of a child’s early growth and initial years of development lie on the shoulders of a parent or a guardian. And this responsibility, if not carried out in the proper fashion, can hinder a child’s natural growth and have an impact on their entire personality.
In this regard, the gravest mistake that most parents or guardians tend to make is seeing the early developmental years of a child as a race; a race to see how fast they can count, read, or write. Contrary to that, these years should only be treated as a window of space and time to let the child learn and develop at the pace which is suitable for them.
In this article, we’ll take you through the different stages of pencil grip or pencil grasp development in a child’s early years and the tips and techniques you can use to make the child learn at a natural pace.
Always remember, if a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must teach in the way that a child can learn!
Pencil grip at varying ages of a child
At the age of 3 years
The different stages of pencil grip development play an essential role in early childhood development. A child should never be forced to hold a pencil correctly, i.e. with three fingers on the pencil, at a young age.
A three year old child should thus, only be expected to play with a pencil and hold it anyway he wants, because the muscles of a child are not steady enough at this age to hold a pencil properly. As the child develops physically and starts motor activities, such as pushing and climbing, the shoulder and arm muscles gain strength and this helps the child’s pencil grip to mature.
Such a small child is most likely to exhibit a ‘fisted grasp’. The child will carry the pencil or a crayon in their fist and move it across the paper by moving the shoulder rather than the wrist.
At the age of 4 years
The child gains more muscular strength at the age of four years, therefore it’s expected to witness the ‘palmer grasp’ of the pencil. The pencil lies across the palm of a child’s hand and the child uses the arm muscles to move it around.
At the age of 5 years
At the age of five, the child is most likely going to exhibit an immature ‘5-finger pencil grasp’. The child grasps the pencil using five fingers and moves the wrist for drawing or coloring. Initially, the crayon or pencil is held very tightly, but immature finger movements can emerge later at this stage.
At the age of 6 years
Being six years of age, most of the children comfortably use a ‘mature 3-finger pencil grasp’. This is called a ‘Tripod Pencil Grasp’.
At the beginning, the fingers will be stiff and the child may still use the wrist movements for coloring or drawing, but the finger muscles are expected to become more strong and steady with time, which will help the child to stop the usage of a wrist movement and start using the fingers for coloring, drawing or forming letters.
Some children can also switch between different pencil grasps during early years of development. This is absolutely natural and a child should never be forced to use a specific pencil grasp. This approach will hinder the process of development and de-motivate the child to carry on with sketching and coloring. Each child is unique and must be given the liberty to take their own time to develop a mature pencil grasp.
At the age of 7 years
After seven years, children develop ‘hand-eye coordination’. They begin to ask questions and form small sentences. The children can be expected to use a pencil to write their name and draw significant structures. A seven year old child becomes more coordinated in motor activities, such as swimming or climbing. Therefore, the hand movements become strong and steady accordingly.
At the age of 8 years
Once a child is of eight years, a child develops refined finger control and can be expected to write proper and short sentences. The thinking of the child becomes organized and logical and they begin to recognize and understand initial concepts of counting, such as 4+2=6 and 4-2=2.
Tips to help children hold a pencil correctly
Use shorter pencils
The use of shorter pencils will ensure less space for cramming in all of fingers. This will help the kids pinch it with an index finger and thumb. You can also snap a single pencil into two pieces or use broken crayons for this purpose.
Occupational therapists also make use of shorter pencils or broken crayons to help children who have inappropriate grasp of pencils as per their age.
Make the children hold something under their last two fingers
If the shorter pencils don’t help, make the child hide something under their last two fingers. This will help those fingers bend towards the palm and the child will be able to write with the thumb, index and middle finger. Make sure the item isn’t too big or heavy to cause hindrance in writing. A small marble, small piece of tissue paper or a cotton ball can be used for this purpose.
Children are our greatest asset and most treasured resource. Each child is unique with different potentials and abilities to carry out different activities. We, as guardians and parents, thus, need to make sure that they grow and develop at their unique pace rather than competing in a race as they only have a few precious years to grow, evolve and prosper.
Eileen Kennedy sums it up beautifully for us, “The path of development is a journey of discovery that is clear only in retrospect, and it’s rarely a straight line.”