Pencil Grip is Less Important than Letter Formation and Speed

Children's pencil grasp is less importantThe increased use of computers and tablets in schools and at home has shifted educational focus toward a child’s keyboard skills rather than handwriting. Children are still expected to learn how to write by hand, but the importance of letter formation and speed is often overlooked.

A recent study, published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, found that the kinetics, speed, and legibility of writing were not different among children who used four different types of pencil grips after ten minutes of writing.

The findings suggest that a child’s pencil grip is less important than their ability to correctly form letters at various speeds. The researcher found no kinetic differences among the four commonly occurring pencil grips: dynamic tripod, dynamic quadrupod, lateral tripod, and lateral quadrupod.

A child’s pencil grip pattern is often associated with handwriting problems and messy letter formation. However, this conclusion is not evidence based and overlooks the complex interplay of abilities that are needed for functional handwriting, such as fine motor coordination, cognitive, perceptual, and language skills.

In order for a child’s pencil grip to be functional for handwriting, it must provide the ability to efficiently create a legible written product in the required timeframe. Children must be able to write long enough to adequately complete their homework and class assignments. If a child’s pencil grip is preventing them from achieving grade-appropriate functional writing, it is suggested they be referred to occupational therapists.

The NeuroNet program is specifically designed to address the area of handwriting in children. For handwriting to be a functional tool, it needs to be performed automatically and fluently. NeuroNet exercises are performed in the context of rhythmic movement. Additionally, visual-verbal integration exercises facilitate rapid letter naming and sequences of the alphabet. Parents of children struggling with handwriting can view our Therapist Directory for a list of certified providers, or view our new Listen, Talk and Write program trial.

Journal reference:

Schwellnus, Heidi et al. 2013. “Writing forces associated with four pencil grasp patterns in grade 4 children.” AJOT: American Journal of Occupational Therapy 67(2):218.

Photo reference:

Koziatek, Susan M., and Nancy J. Powell. 2003. “Pencil Grips, Legibility, and Speed of Fourth-Graders’ Writing in Cursive.” The American Journal of Occupational Therapy 57(3):284–88.

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  • Jorge A Rivera

    Here you have another study which is a waist of money and time. How cares how you hold your pencil when writing as long as you know how to write. heavens . . . there are people that even have to use their feet to write. A study to support common sense . . . what a waste.

    • Ilianet Cardona

      Coming from a parent of a child that struggles with letter formation and what is causing her problem, this is very informative to me and not a wast of time or money. Thank you very much for your research and insight.

  • Barrie Galvin, OTR/L

    As an OT who works with many children with dysgraphia and motor planning problems, I agree that letter formation and speed are critical however, I agree with the Neuronet conclusion which looks at integrating visual and verbal skills and success over time. I hope that grasp pattern is not the only marker for referral to a school based OT for a child struggling with fine motor and or written expression issues.

    Even when ones grasp pattern does not affect legibility or speed, the use of unnecessary arm and shoulder muscles also contributes to pressure problems and later in the day ergonomic issues involving shoulder and or neck pain from incorrect muscle use affecting children and adults. It shouldn’t be just about the product.