Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Question for Primary Teachers

Prior to the younger kids came home from Ethiopia, they were encouraged by orphanage workers to use pencils and crayons.  I have been struggling ever since to correct how Lizzie holds a pencil/marker/crayon and it's becoming a very tiring effort on my part.  I need an opinion.

I see many adults holding their writing instruments in the manner that she does...I notice it because of Lizize's tendency.  So my question doesn't have to do with people who use different pencil grips.  But I don't know if there's some downside to her being allowed to use a pencil in a way that it comfortable.

Below, on the right, is the way I have tried to teach the kids to hold their pencil; on the left is more like how Lizzie holds it.  If reminded, she will hold it properly; however, within a minute, her thumb begins to slide until it resembles the picture on the left.

Every. single. time. that she picks something up to draw or print, I have to remind her (usually repeatedly) to correct her hand position.  When she is holding it correctly, she has a tendency to hook her curl her arm over in an upside-down J so that the pencil is positioned underneath her then she's got the right pencil grip but the wrong position.  Ahh.  Even when she's holding it properly, within minutes her thumb is sliding back over the pencil.  Clearly, it is much more comfortable for her to hold it with her thumb over top.

How important is it that she holds a pencil the 'right' way?  And why is it important?  

I've been working on this for 2.5 years and I don't know how much longer to do battle on this front.


  1. As a music teacher in a primary school I can only tangentially answer this, but my impression is that the grip on the left is actually more labour intensive and doesn't allow as much control over the pencil. Have you tried using thicker pencils with Lizzie? I often see Kindergarten and Grade 1 students using them and apparently it is because they encourage the correct grip and are easier to manipulate correctly. I also see students in older grades using normal sized pencils but with triangular rubber "grips" on them, which also naturally guide the thumb and fingers to the right positions.
    I know this doesn't actually answer your question, but maybe those two things will help if you decide to continue waging this particular battle... :)
    My sister is an occupational therapist and this question is right up her alley - I'll see what she says too!

  2. I'm sort of wondering too - why does it matter? Won't they all be keyboarders anyhows? I googled it - because, you know, Google is my friend, & there is a plethora of information & opinions - to do with comfort, ergonomics, drawing small, and all manner of other things. Of course, there is a rip-roaring business to be had in 'aids' for things to put on your pencil to help you get the 'correct' grip. Capitalists!! ;)

  3. Hi Ruth,

    I am not a primary teacher but have you focused on fine motor development. I recently started having R paint her finger nails with clear polish, (I did not let my older daughter wear polish until she was 13 LOL) we play a silly game picking up black eye peas with two fingers, laces through holes,, etc. She might have formed a habit of using it that way when she was younger but you might want to strengthen her fine motor development so she can hold her pencil the way it is featured on the right. I don't want to say the right way because I am not sure it is. I assume she will be able to write faster and move to cursive more easily if she holds it that way. I'll send you a picture soon. R cut off all her hair. We miss you all.

  4. Hi Ruth,
    My thought is not to worry about this at all right now. It's obviously how Lizzie feels most comfortable holding it. I know from my own experiences teaching, and my own personal experiences, that these things can be learned and practiced at any future time if necessary. I recently changed the way I knit. It took a little conscious practice but actually not that much. I've had children in grade 4 or 5 change the way they hold their pencils. Either because I suggested it because they were having trouble with something (fine motor usually) or because they wanted to. Lizzie is too young to consciously practice and it sounds like she's doing fine that way. I've tried holding my pencil different ways children did it, to see if it worked, and it usually did and their writing was just fine, so I left them alone. At Lizzie's age, children are still developing their nerves in their hands (and eyes! the last to develop). They don't always have much conscious control over the way they do things with their hands which is why some children are quite clumsy for a long time while others aren't. Their hand coordination develops differently for each child. So I'd leave this for now and maybe when she is 7 or 8, and if she is having challenges with how her letters are formed, colouring etc, then i'd suggest to her at that time that she might want to try to practice holding it 'differently' (rather than calling it the 'right' way). ps. I also did that hook j thing with my arm until I was an adult. It caused a lot of shoulder and arm problems, so I also changed the way I wrote and held a pencil - it even can be done at that stage! : )
    hope this helps.

  5. Have you tried any pencil grips? Some slip over the tips of the fingers to hold them in place.
    Don't really have any suggestions as I really don't know what the current thoughts are on this. How is her printing when using her way? The more traditional way?
    If you find there are other fine motor quirks it could be worth talking to an OT.

  6. Talk to an occupational therapist and they will give you a listing of the acceptable ways to hold a pencil. There is more than one way. If it is held the wrong way, it has to do with muscles getting tired more quickly. With the use of laptops etc. to start taking notes/doing research projects once in middle/high school, I am not sure how big a deal it is anymore. Staples sells a triangular pencil that is a little thicker than usual and can sometimes be a quick fix.

  7. Thank you thank you for all of your comments. I want to go back and read them all over again, but wanted to add (as I forgot to earlier) that yes, I have tried various grips for Lizzie - thicker pencils, triangular pencils that cost a fortune (!), a triangular shaped rubber device that slides over the pencil, various other grips that attach to the pencil, and even a glove (designed for this purpose) that limited how she could hold her fingers on the pencil.

    I should also have added that Lizzie generally has excellent fine motor skills - she's great at buttoning the tiniest of buttons, lacing her own shoes, colouring and drawing, weaving things, picking things out of her own (and others'!) hair, etc etc etc. She's not clumsy at all in her fine motor skills...quite sharp, actually.

    OK, I want to go back and read and consider...but again, thank you so very much for your comments!!!!!

    Hugs to all.


  8. Good questions. And I can relate to issues that are persistent despite lots of attention!

    I am an occupational therapist with some (but limited) exposure to school health/fine motor work (I could tell you a lot more about adolescent mental health, or motor vehicle accident-related injuries - but that' won't help you in this situation)!

    I would say that the main ideas behind the "tripod" grasp pictured on the right is to increase control of the writing instrument and use fewer muscles (e.g., control the writing instrument using fine finger movements), rather than the hand, wrist, and arm. Muscle fatigue and strain are concerns with less efficient grasps. There are a few alternatives to the classic tripod grasp that are still considered efficient.

    I think it can be helpful to try some very inexpensive pencil grips to encourage a more efficient grasp, and/or to use thicker writing utensils. You may have already tried some things like this. I do think it can be harder to un-learn an inefficient grasp later on, and the problem with waiting is that issues with fatigue, etc., may not be as obvious at earlier writing levels. (At the same time, there are certainly many folks with unusual and technically inefficient grasp who have not experienced problems).

    In a school setting, I am guessing that grasp issues most often only come to the attention of teachers when a child is not keeping up with written work demands, or not producing legible work. - succinctly and simply explains some of the thoughts behind grasp (and some of the unknowns), and the implications of certain grasp patterns. - this also explains some of the "whys"

    Not sure what to suggest, really. I would keep an eye on things and see whether you notice any signs of arm and hand fatigue (not wanting to write, stopping assignments part-way through, going slowly, shaking out the hand/arm periodically, etc.). If you do decide to "wait and see" it is possible that Lizzie will be more able to re-train her grasp at a later date than she is now. Tough call.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Joy, and for the links...which I will check out.

      Lizzie does get fatigued when printing...though she's also only 6.5 and so doesn't write much or therefore practice much.

      Bottom line, I think I have much food for thought here!!

      Thanks again. Hugs,


  9. Oh goodness gracious, I am going to put aside all of my professional experience and answer this personally. I held my pencil exactly as you report that Miss Lizzie does. I still do. I never formed that wonderful soft, rounded, feminine cursive, but I get by. I write long letters to friends, send tons of cards, and wrote casenotes by hand for years with no complaints. I was absolutely tortured by teachers/adults who thought my pen grasp to be an abomination. It isn't worth it. I wrote less when I was hounded more. I held back on putting quality out for others to see because I thought the negative messages about my pen grip meant my work was negative too. I'm pretty sure that it is worth trying the odd activity, but I'm sure she'll be fine even if it never changes. :)

    1. Huh, so you, too, hold your pencil like that. I see more and more adults who do, including many with lovely handwriting. It seems to have been as natural for you as it is for Lizzie. Just yesterday I was watching her colour something; she started out (by her own initiative) holding it the 'correct' way, but within a minute or two her thumb was sliding over the top and she reverted to what was clearly most comfortable.
      That's interesting, and sad, Charity, that you would experience your work as being negative - I certainly don't want that for Lizzie. Thanks for sharing that.

      I hope all's well in your corner of the world...and thanks for letting me know your experience.