Pencil Grips and Pencil Grippers. An Ultimate Guide.

Pencil grips or pencil grippers are popular when it comes to assisting children in achieving the optimal pencil grip for pencil control, speed, and legibility of handwriting.  They are placed on the pencil with the goal of correctly positioning the fingers on the pencil, to develop the optimal pencil control for handwriting.

pencil grips south africa

Way back when I first started working in this field there was only the triangular grip and the stetro pencil grip so it was easy to choose.  But now the world of pencil grippers has exploded and there are so many options, it can be difficult to know which way to turn.  We have looked at the different pencil grips and mentioned in which circumstances they can be useful.  While this can be helpful, at the end of the day, the only way to truly know which pencil gripper is best for your child is to try them out and find the best fit.

We know for sure that there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to remediating an incorrect pencil grip.  When do you use the Start Right Pencil Grip, when do you use the CLAW and when is the Stetro or Crossover the best?  Is there a checklist, a magic formula to choose the correct pencil grip?

Like so many aspects of the developmental challenges I have faced over the years, I wish there was a magic formula.  I wish there was a set of guidelines to follow to choose the best pencil grip for each child.  But, at the end of the day, your best option is really to try them all and see which is a good fit.  Which grip facilitates the optional position of the fingers, and which one promotes the emergence of the finger movements during handwriting?

Pencil grips and pencil grippers: general principles to apply before choosing the best grip.

Before we explore which are the best pencil grips and pencil grippers to use in different situations, let’s look at some general principles to apply before choosing a grip for a child.

  1. Every child is unique.  There is no such thing as one grip fits all.  Just like you need to try on a few pairs of jeans to find the perfect fit, you need to try out different grips to find the best one for each child.
  2. If a pencil grip device brings about a significant improvement in pencil control, please do place a grip on each of your child’s writing tools.  This includes pencils, twisty crayons and pencil crayons.  Your goal is to achieve the optimal grip every time they write, colour or draw, not only when they use a pencil.
  3. Pencil grip needs to be taught, and the monitored use of a simple pencil grip device can go a long way to ensuring establishment of the correct pencil grip.
  4. Muscle development, movement patterns and positioning come first, and pencil grips next.
  5. Know what you want to achieve and analyse if you are getting it.  Finger positioning is not everything.  Pencil grippers that correctly reposition the fingers, but block the discrete refined finger movements are not usually what you need.  Positioning and discrete refined finger movements need to go hand in hand.
  6. Pencil grip devices don’t work in isolation.  You need to build in the foundational muscle and movement patterns for pencil control which will facilitate optimal use of the grip.
  7. Social acceptability matters!  For some children a pencil grip is a status, while for others it is a humiliation.  Never force a reluctant child to use a pencil grip in the classroom.  They need to see the benefits and to want for themselves to use it.  It is not enough for us to want it for them.

Corrective vs positioning grips.

I have always believed that we need to identify the smallest grip that is going to bring about the best functional position of the fingers on the pencil.  When it comes to pencil grips, we are not looking for go big or go home.  We want the fingers placed on the pencil in the optimal position to facilitate the development and emergence of the finger movements.  Why would we place a huge grip on the pencil if a small one will do?

Some grips have more of a positional function.  They merely place the fingers, while others have an active corrective function.  They correct an entrenched mal-adaptive position.  If you are wanting to choose a grip to teach a child how to hold their pencil, you are going to choose a different grip than if you are selecting a grip to assist in correcting, for example, an entrenched thumb wrap.  It is unusual that a whole classroom of children would need a crossover grip – it is a “corrective” grip with high profile wings to actively reposition the fingers.  While the Crossover can be a fantastic grip for a thumb wrap, it is not necessary to have such a cumbersome, high profile grip for your average Grade 1 child.  Pencil grips are being included as standard items in our children’s stationery packs.  And I am delighted that teaching of the correct pencil grip is being placed front and centre.  But we need to choose a positional grip such as a Stetro grip or The Pencil Grip, rather than a corrective one for this application.

We have looked at the following grips and will be adding to this post as we come across more grips that we find useful.

  1. Stetro Pencil Grip
  2. The Pencil Grip
  3. Crossover Pencil Grip
  4. Pinch Grip
  5. CLAW Pencil Grip
  6. Start Right Pencil Grip

Stetro Pencil Grip

The Stetro Pencil Grip is your go-to beginner grip.  The cues will help your child to know exactly where to put their fingers and with a little practise with the song, they will be well on their way!  Before you get stuck in with the song, please do be sure that you have the grip on the correct way.  There is a tiny arrow on the grip and that should point to the tip of the pencil.  The Stetro Grip is perfect for both your right or left-hander.  While not wanting to discriminate against your left-hander, our rendition of the song is for the right-hander.  Your lefty will put their index finger on the star, so their words will be: “Put your pointer on the star, do it now. . . . ”

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How to use a stetro grip.

I love that the Stetro Grip was invented by a father to help his son.  His wife was baking cookies and he took some of the dough and moulded it into the shape that has become the Stetro.  Why Stetro?  He named the grip after his two children – Stephanie and Troy and the grips must have been used by millions of children since!

Mary Benbow, one of the Grandmother’s of handwriting, reminded us that pencil grip needs to be taught to our children. She cautioned against only paying it attention once it had gone wrong.  And for me, the Stetro is the ideal beginner grip.  Be sure to place one on each of your child’s writing implements so that every time they pick it up, they do so with the correct grasp, thus establishing good patterns from the start or as The Happy Handwriter always aims for: “the right way the first time!®”

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the-happy-handwriter-pencil-bed, how to use a stetro grip, stetro pencil grip cape town

The Stetro grip is ideal for use in the classroom setting and is great for pencil crayons, and as you can see, the twisty or retractable pencil grip.  You are going to need to use some elbow grease to get them on the twisties but it is well worth it!  Be sure that they are not too close to the tip or they will block your child’s vision of the pencil tip.  If this happens, just move them slightly up and you will be on your way.

Now that I have persuaded you that you need one for each implement, do pop over to our shop and take a look at the pack of 24.  If that is too many for you they also come in singles or pack of 6.

We make use of the Stetro Pencil Grip during the class group Muscle Mania programme presented to the Grade R learners.  At the beginning of the programme all the Twisties and pencils that we use have a Stetro Pencil Grip on them.  To help the children to remember where to place their fingers, we sing a song every time they start drawing or writing.  What we love about the song is that later on in the year, we only have to initiate the first line of the song and the children will happily continue singing the song while working.  The majority of the children will check their grips and assume the correct pencil grip while singing the song.  The song together with the Stetro Pencil Grip assists typically developing children with the adequate knowledge and motor pathways to assume and maintain an adequate three-point pencil grip.

Belinda von Wielligh, Occupational Therapist, Green Point.

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The Pencil Grip

The Pencil Grip was the next pencil grip to come to South Africa and was a revolution to pencil grips and pencil grippers!  The grip was designed by a medical doctor.   The body of this grip forms the foundation for the Crossover as well as the Pinch Grip.

The Pencil Grip,

The Pencil Grip has a bulb at the top and tapers down to three sides – one for each of the thumb, index and middle fingers.  The grip is suitable for both left and right-handed children. There is an L and an R on the sides of the grip. The right-hander places their thumb on the side with the R, while the left-hander places their thumb on the side with the L.  The Pencil Grip’s goal is to position the fingers in the tripod pencil grip position.

This grip really works well for some children.  However, the downside is that it is ineffective for both the closed webspace – the round open space between the thumb and index fingers – as well as for the thumb wrap.  In both these instances, children with entrenched grasp patterns either wrap their index finger over the grip, or close the webspace over it rendering it ineffective in repositioning the fingers to allow for the development of the discrete refined finger movements responsible for speed and quality of handwriting.

webspace, thumb wrap

As with all of the grips, it is a matter of testing it out and finding what is best for each individual child.  Again, this grip cannot work in isolation.  It has to be accompanied by the development of the foundational muscles and movement patterns needed for pencil grip and pencil control.  It is of little use to remedy the grasp pattern if the child continues to use a whole-hand movement while they are writing.  The goal is always the facilitation of the refined finger movements.  If the development and use of these movements has been hampered by a closed web space or thumb wrap, we need to build them in and “teach” the fingers how to move independently of the hand.  The Pencil Grip comes in volume discount packs of 24, packs of 6, or as singles.

The Crossover Grips

crossover pencil grip, crossover pencil gripper, thumb wrap, how can I improve my child's pencil grip

The Crossover Pencil Grip is one to try for children who have a persistent thumb wrap.  It is most certainly a “corrective” grip.  Its structure prevents a child from crossing their thumb, or closing the web space, and is popular among pencil grips and pencil grippers.  But what is the big deal about the thumb wrap and why should we worry at all?

thumb wrap

The discrete refined finger movements which are so essential for speed and quality of handwriting, are blocked when a child wraps their thumb over their index finger.  There is no way the finger joints can move with that thumb holding on fiercely and tightly.  And that is a problem.  Children then start to initiate movement for handwriting from their wrists, rather than from their fingers.  Wrist joints are bigger than finger joints and can’t move with sufficient speed and agility to achieve a fast, legible and appropriately sized script.

It’s hard for a child to “just change” their pencil grip.

And as every good mother, teacher and therapist knows, no amount of telling a child to correct the position is going to make a difference.  If you are lucky they may adjust it while you are watching, but the minute they are no longer focusing conscious attention on it, they will revert to the wrap which becomes more and more entrenched with each passing day.

The wings on either side of the central body of the Crossover Pencil Grip prevent the thumb from sliding forward and it is the hope, that with time, the new pattern will become the new normal.

Do be cautious with little hands to check that when the child is holding the grip it is not so big that it blocks off the finger movements.  Sometimes the size of the grip in a little hand is just too big and you will need to try one of the other grips that can be used to remediate a thumb wrap.

As I always say, if your child could hold with the “perfect pencil grip” they would.  You haven’t failed as a teacher or parent, and they haven’t failed because of some muscle imbalance, weakness or other unknown issue that resulted in the development of a thumb wrap.  But we do know that using pencil grips and pencil grippers can assist in re-positioning the fingers and the Crossover Pencil Grip is a popular option.  The Crossover Grips come in volume discount packs of 24, packs of 6, or as singles.

It is essential to work on developing the muscles and movement patterns for handwriting at the same time as using the grip and the Fine Motor Fun kit is a hit across the age spectrum.

The Pinch Grip

The Pinch Grip, in its stunning colours, is a natural progression from the crossover grip.  The wings on the grip are smaller which means the child is assuming the correct grasp more actively.  As I mentioned previously, it has the same body as The Pencil Grip.  This means that it is also suitable for both right and left-handers.

the pinch pencil grip

The goal of pencil grips and pencil grippers is to achieve the correct position with the least bulky grip we can.  We don’t want huge devices on the end of pencils where a low-profile one will do the job.  I love the Pinch Grip because of exactly this reason.  It re-positions the fingers without overwhelming the hand.  I always start with the Pinch before trying the crossover.  If the Pinch is going to do the job, then I don’t want to go for something bigger that is going to allow the child to rely on the external structural support of the grip, instead of using their own muscles to do the job.

The Pinch is less well known than the Crossover but for those who have discovered it, it is a definite option to try out when looking to remediate a thumb wrap or closed webspace.  The Pinch Grips are packaged as volume packs of 24, packs of 6, or may be purchased as a single grips.

The CLAW Pencil Grips

The CLAW pencil grips with their unusual design is what makes them fantastic pencil grips.  When I first heard of them and saw their name, I thought I would never use them.  They looked and sounded strange!  After someone asked about them on our Facebook page, I went off to explore them, and I am now a total convert!  They are my “go-to-grip” for improving many of the strange pencil grips that we see!

CLAW Pencil Grip, The CLAW, pencil gripper, pencil grips and pencil grippers

The cups are perfectly positioned for accommodating the thumb, index and middle fingers for handwriting.  I like the fact that the children place the fingers in the correct position, while at the same time facilitating finger movements which is what gives us speed and quality of handwriting.  They are excellent for thumb wraps and thumb tucks, and seem to position a closed web space well.  They are also a good choice if you are looking to modify a tight four-point grasp which is blocking off the finger movements.

When it comes to pencil grips and pencil grippers the CLAW is one of my go-to grips!

Despite its unusual appearance, most of the children love using the CLAW.  This is a grip for both lefties and right-handed children that easily fits onto any sized writing implement.

If you are trying to modify an already established pencil grip, it is imperative that each and every time your child picks up their writing implement, be it a pencil or retractable wax crayon, they need to do so in the correct pattern.  So, if you find that your child responds well to the positioning with the CLAW, please do invest in some extras and place one on each of their writing implements.  Grips that get switched between the different coloured pencil crayons get lost and then you are back where you started.  Changing a mal-adaptive pencil grip is a commitment, and part of the commitment is investing in a big bag of the correct grips!  You may purchase your CLAW grips in a volume pack of 24, a pack of 6, or as a single grip.

The children find the pliable material soft and comfortable around their fingers and seem to really enjoy this grip that repositions their fingers without causing discomfort.  The CLAW comes in two sizes.  The medium CLAW is the size for most children from Grade 1 and up.  Reception year children usually comfortably use the medium, while those with very tiny fingers use the small.  Try these remarkable grips to develop the finger movements your children will need for handwriting.  If you aren’t sure it is the correct grip, you may prefer to take a look at the Assorted Pack which has one of each of the different types of grips.

Pencil grips and pencil grippers don’t work well alone – you need to add activities to develop the underlying muscles and movement patterns.

Remember pencil grips are a bit like hammers and nails – they work best when used together.  You can’t use a pencil grip in isolation – you need to work on developing the muscles and movement patterns for pencil control as well.  Take a look at the Fine Motor Fun kit which has a large variety of activities that target exactly this.

Children love the CLAW grips and call them their Spiderman Web-blasters!  The CLAW grip supports the fingers and encourages a dynamic pencil grasp whilst assisting in the development of fine isolated finger movements necessary to control the writing tool.  The grips can fit onto pencils and crayon pencils.

Santie Coetzee, Occupational Therapist, Bloubergstrand.

The Start Right Pencil Grip

While choosing pencil grips and pencil grippers, trying them out is still your best option.  However, there certainly are pointers as to when the Start Right is the grip to try.  The Start Right Pencil Grip was designed and developed by an occupational therapist.

start right grip

It is most certainly one of the grips I would try when confronted with a child with a hyperextended thumb.  The hyperextended thumb is a thumb that is locked into a static position like a banana.  As soon as the thumb is unable to achieve movement at its joint, the finger movements necessary for speed and a legible handwriting script are blocked off.  This will result in the child achieving the primary movement for handwriting either from their wrist, or even the whole arm.  Big movements are inefficient and tiring.  They also don’t allow for a fluid, legible script.

The Start Right Pencil Grip is a great grip for remediating the hyperextended thumb because the disc on the top forces the thumb into the bent or flexed position.  With this change in finger position, we frequently see the immediate emergence of the discrete refined finger movements.  And, it is with these finger movements, that we see an improvement in speed and quality of handwriting.

I also like the fact that the thumb and index fingers have to hold onto the stem of the grip.  This is unlike some of the other grips where the children just pop their fingers into the indentations or behind the flaps, and there they stay.  They may be getting the correct position but their fingers are not having to work to hold on.

 

start right grip
start right grip

The grip in the picture is the perfect grip for this child.  His thumb is instantly repositioned, and the position is retained.  He complained that the inner palm of his hand was starting to ache after he had written with it for a while.  This is because his in-hand muscles had never really worked before.  So, together with some exercises to develop in-hand manipulation, this was the perfect grip for him.

For me the most critical factor in all of this is that we analyse what we are seeing.  We need to analyse what the child is doing initially, and how this changes with the different grips.  If the child wasn’t achieving finger movement without a grip and the Start Right facilitates the emergence of these movements, then this grip is certainly one to consider.

The Start Right pencil grip – what to look out for.

My only reservation of the Start Right Grip is that it is rather big.  You do need to watch out for little hands that the grip isn’t too big and overwhelming, or blocks their ability to see what they are writing.  If this is the case they are going to make some other positional adaptation, and you may find that while you have the correct grip, you have sacrificed some other critical aspect of hand position.  Oh, and there is a second.  While I am the master of placing pencil grips onto each of the children’s twisty retractable wax crayons, even I cannot get this grip on a twisty!  So, the Start Right grip is definitely the one for pencil crayons and pencils.  Get your Start Rights as a volume pack of 24, a pack of 6, or as a single grip.

There is more to improving pencil grip than pencil grips and pencil grippers.

As I always say, pencil grips cannot, and must not be used in isolation.  When I first started working in this field over 30 years ago, that is exactly what I did.  I gave the child a pencil grip and expected that all would be well.  But it usually didn’t work.  The reason for this was that they needed specific muscle development to go hand-in-hand with the grip.  Just as our boy in the pictures had never developed the deep muscles in his hand, neither had the other children.  By providing activities to improve pencil grip and associated muscles and movement patterns, you are ensuring that together with the grip, you are promoting both muscle development and the correct finger position.  It is the combination of the two of these that is going to bring about the most effective changes.  This graphic that shows the development to pencil grip, reminds us that pencil grip is right near the top.  We cannot forget to develop the foundational building blocks to get there.  A child with a pencil grip which needs remediation has, almost certainly, missed out on some of these foundations along the way.

foundations for fine motor hand skill development

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The best pencil grips and pencil grippers for handwriting?  You need to try them out.

A pencil grip gone wrong is a tricky thing to change because the grip pattern becomes “hard-wired” in the position.  To accommodate this, you are going to need to have a few of your chosen grip for each of your child’s writing tools, so each time they pick up their writing tool, it is in the optimal position.

Tammy Hunter, occupational therapist from TAMOT4KIDS in Durban also weighs in on pencil grips.

I believe that every therapist, teacher or person working in this field needs one of each of the pencil grips and pencil grippers in their tool box!   This can serve as a guide, but at the end of the day, each child is different and we need to decide, in conjunction with them, which the best grip is for them.

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

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