There is enough out there on pencil grasp development to know when a pencil grip looks a bit – or more than a bit – dodgy. But the question that comes up repeatedly is when to change pencil grip for kids and when to leave it well alone. There is no one answer to this very complex subject; however, we can apply a few principles to help guide our thinking.
Does the child want to change their grip?
I am starting with this one because if the answer to this is no, you probably don’t need to go through the rest of the checklist. In general, we are looking for a cluster of things before jumping in to make a changes. But when it comes to pencil grip for kids, one of these items alone may be enough to make us consider a change. If your child is experiencing persistent pain, that alone is a reason to consider a change.
However, there is one that will make us seriously consider not making a change. And that is resistance on the part of the child. If a child is adamant they do not want to change their grip, there is not much we can do. We are not fairy godmothers with magic wands. We cannot do this alone. We need the child to work together with us. If you have a child with a real funky pencil grip, they are, in all likelihood, going to need to make use of a pencil gripper. If your kid refuses one for whatever reason, you will be trying to win an uphill battle.
This leads to whether the child is open to using a pencil gripper.
How does your child feel about using a corrective pencil grip?
Mary Benbow described pencil grips as becoming “kinaesthetically locked in.” Basically, that pattern becomes hardwired and, unless they are focusing conscious attention on it, they are going to revert to that habitual pattern. To change pencil grip for kids, they will need a corrective pencil gripper that is going to physically reposition their fingers. And they need that each and every time they hold the pencil. It is not enough that they hold it correctly when their mom is watching them do their homework or sitting with their OT.
For some children, pencil grippers can be a status symbol. Something that is desired by the others. And many a skilled teacher has through her expert marketing, achieved this in her classroom. But for others, they are a humiliation, a complete embarrassment that makes them feel different. If this is your child, you have to respect that. As with improving handwriting in older kids, we can’t want it for them. They have to want it. So be sure your child is 100% on board.
Is your child keeping up with written demands in class?
Your children don’t need to undergo any fancy assessments to know if their handwriting speed is age-appropriate. There are so many reasons why children don’t keep up with the written classroom demands, but it is a red flag for modifying a grasp if keeping up with written demands is a concern.
Are legibility issues related to pencil control?
There is no doubt that letter placement on lines significantly impacts legibility. But sometimes, legibility is seriously compromised despite sound placement.
If their letters are shaky and wobbly, and you can see they are struggling to control their pencil as they form their letters, it may be an indication to look at modifying their grasp. Children need to manipulate and move their pencils using discrete refined finger movements to develop pencil control. If they are clutching onto the pencil with their fingers in a fixed static position, developing pencil control will be a challenge.
Do they achieve finger movements while writing?
We know an efficient pencil grip facilitates discrete refined finger movements. It is these movements that promote speed and quality of handwriting. Where pencil grasp development has taken an unexpected turn, modifications to the finger positions will determine if the grasp is efficient or inefficient. Modifications that block the finger movements most often result in an inefficient pencil grasp. And an inefficient grasp may be an indicator for changing pencil grip for kids.
Do they experience pain after a period of writing?
This is feedback you may get from the teacher, the parents, and the child themselves. If they can write for a lengthy period without experiencing any pain, we can tick this off the list.
Future projection regarding writing speed
Projecting into the future, do you think they will be likely to meet the speed and endurance demands of a 3-hour exam?
Oftentimes I see children keeping up with their written work, funky grasp and all. But I know in my heart thing are going to come unstuck when they are required to write long tests and exams. The challenge with this is it comes down to clinical judgement. There is no standardised test that will tell us what is going to happen in 5 years’ time. It is our experience of having seen so many children who are battling with their grasp for whom things fall apart when they enter the higher grades. If our clinical judgement tells us this is the case, we must tick it on our checklist.
In closing about pencil grips for kids
We need to consider several factors when deciding whether to modify a child’s pencil grip. First, our children have to want to change their grip, or we really are swimming against the tide. When pencil grasp development has taken an unfortunate turn, we need the external support of a pencil grip. Kids who have an aversion to using an assistive grip will not use it consistently. If we can answer yes to buy-in from the child and yes to a grip, it is time to look at legibility, pencil control, and a future scenario. These principles can guide you when considering whether to change pencil grip for kids.