Grip is a process! Learning to hold a pencil requires multiple steps and preschoolers can only navigate one to two instructions at a time, so this is tough stuff. Some preschoolers work on grip their entire preschool year. But, rest assured, they will get it with practice and once their little hands have the proper strength and dexterity. You will find lots of great tips on strengthening preschool hands in posts to come!
Here is the super effective process we use at Harmony Learning to teach grip. You can try it at home! And just an FYI… in our preschool, we do not even focus on grip until preschoolers are one year away from kindergarten. It has never felt developmentally appropriate to teach grip before a child is four, going on five.
1. Place the pencil on the table so the tip (or top) points to the preschooler’s writing hand.
2. Make an alligator mouth with pointer finger and thumb.
3. The alligator chomps the pencil at the tip.
4. Using your “helper hand” (the non-writing hand), flip the pencil over 180 degrees and rest it on top of the writing hand.
5. Now it is time to sing our fun song!
“Pick up a crayon (or pencil), Pick up a crayon.
It is easy to do.
Pick up a crayon. Pick up a crayon.
I’ll just tell my fingers what to do.
My thumb is bent.
Pointer points to the tip.
Tall man uses his side.
I tuck my last two fingers in,
and take them for a ride”.
The Crayon Song, Handwriting Without Tears
6. Rest the pencil on a tall man.
7. Tuck ring finger and pinky finger into palm of hand.
8. Place grip hand gently on paper. Make sure to not squeeze too tightly!
9. Use your other hand, your ‘helper hand’ to hold the paper so it doesn’t move around while you draw with your pencil.
And just a few other helpful tips…
FINALLY, A USE FOR THOSE SHORT PENCILS
Grip practice works the best with crayons and short pencils. Markers are quite large and hard for little hands to use when practicing grip.
THE PRESSURE’S ON
Along with learning grip, a preschooler must learn how much pressure to apply from their writing utensil to the paper. Some children do not have the strength in their hands yet to apply adequate pressure to leave a dark line on a paper. Although markers are not ideal for grip practice, in cases like this, markers are nice because little pressure is needed to create colors on a page.
THE SET DOWN METHOD
It is common for a preschooler to not have decided which hand is their writing hand. Just when you think you have figured out that a child is a lefty, they start using their right hand the next month. Occasionally, there are even kindergarteners who are still doing this. That is okay! For children who are still figuring out hand dominance, I practice the “set down” method: I have the child sit at the table and I set down the crayon or pencil in front of them on the table and let them decide all on their own which hand will be picking it up that day.
I WANNA BE A BIG KID!
Oh, and here is a little phrase that always encourages a preschooler to keep practicing grip: “Let’s try to hold our pencils like big kids!”