The ABCJesusLovesMe motto is to "begin with the end in mind."  In handwriting, the ending goal is that the child will neatly form letters and numbers while holding a writing utensil with a tripod grasp.  This grip utilizes the strongest fingers and is best for the longevity of writing. 

Learning to correctly hold a writing utensil is part of the ABCJesusLovesMe Preschool CurriculumHandwriting Curriculum.

Pencil Grip Development

Just as learning to walk is a building process, there are several stages of a pencil grip before the child is ready for the three-finger grasp.  The good news is that normal development in the child's fine and gross motor coordination naturally progresses the child through each stage.  And the ABCJesusLovesMe Curricula walk the child and adult through the development process at an age-appropriate manner.  

1 to 2-year-olds:  Fist Grasp (Large Movements)
A toddler uses a fist or palm grasp to hold a writing utensil.  The thumb is on top and the shoulder initiates the movement.  Random scribbles are large and uncoordinated.  For this age, I suggest jumbo crayons or short colored pencils, or egg crayonsDo not use markers or pens as the use of them does not build muscle strength.

2 to 3-year-olds:  Palmar Grasp
During this time, the child will rotate the thumb to the bottom of the grasp.  Elbow and arm movements will guide the writing tool.  Occupational therapists have discovered that broken crayons (1” in length) force a child to correctly hold a writing utensil so no bad habits are developed. 

3-year-olds and Beyond:  Tripod Grasp (Small Movements)
With proper muscle strength, the child will move toward the desired tripod grasp.  The pencil or crayon is pinched between the thumb and index finger while supported on the middle finger.  The 3 and 4 Year Curricula suggest using broken crayons or short pencils to assist in using the correct grasp.

Prerequisite to Holding a Pencil

The child’s fine and gross motor skills must be appropriately strengthened in order for the child to properly hold a pencil.  Swiping on a tablet or pointing on a smart phone does not provide the necessary muscle development.  If the child hates handwriting activities, it is typically because it is hard and the fingers do not have the required strength.  Thus, continue to work on fine motor activities (small muscle movement like in the fingers) and gross motor activities (core strength) to increase the child's motor control.  If concerned, seek professional help.

Then as the dexterity improves, try handwriting activities again.  Occupational therapists have discovered that broken crayons (under 1” in length) force a child to correctly hold a writing utensil so no bad habits are developed.

Teaching the Tripod Grasp

After the fine and gross motor coordination is in place, the first step to nice handwriting is a correctly held pencil. Again, the correct hold is debated but most professionals believe the tripod grasp is the desired grasp.  The tripod grasp uses the thumb and pointy finger to hold the pencil while the pencil rests on the middle finger.  Some children will distinctively hold the pencil correctly.  Just watch that it doesn't change at some point.

When the child is ready to graduate from broken crayons to short pencils, teach the child to hold the writing utensil with his thumb and index finger while supporting it on the middle finger. This following teaching techniques work for both right and left-handed children.

Alligator Mouth - Tell the child to make an alligator mouth with his thumb and index finger.  Pinch the alligator's mouth onto the pencil.  Then let the alligator go to sleep and rest the pencil on the middle finger and the crest between the thumb and index finger.

Pencil Flip - Lay a pencil front of the child with the point facing toward her. Ask the child to pinch it with her thumb and forefinger about 1/2-3/4" from the end. Pick it up and flip the pencil back onto her hand.  Support the underside of the pencil with the middle finger.  This technique works with right and left handed children.  idea shared by Lori

Tissue Hold - Place a rolled up tissue or small sponge in the child's palm. Have the child hold the tissue or sponge with his ring and little finger. Then, using a short  pencil, help the child hold the pencil with their thumb and first finger and rest on the middle finger. Having to hold the tissue as well as the pencil will help the child maintain the correct form.  I personally did not find this idea helpful for my kiddos, but I know those who have successfully used it.

Stetro Grips The Stetro Grips helped my kiddos maintain a consistent correct hold.


Activities to Strengthen the Fingers

  • Simple puzzles with knobs (use thumb and pointy finger)
  • Play dough
  • Picking up small toys
  • Holding small balls
  • Tearing paper
  • Picking up items with tweezers
  • And any other fine motor activity listed that requires a child to use his fingers to grip.

Drawing & Writing

Children learn to draw by copying.  Start with lines and progress to simple shapes.

- Play “Draw What I Draw” and have the child draw what you draw and then reverse.  Begin with lines and move to simple shapes.

- Give the child various shaped objects to draw around.  You can also make shapes out of cardboard.

- Read the Learning to Write page for ideas of how to help a child learn to write letters and numbers.

- Visual Perception Workbook Color The ABCJLM Visual Perception Workbook contain over 80 worksheets to help a child with drawing, writing, and visual perception training. Included in this book are mazes and dot-to-dot worksheets which help in pencil control,

- We have enjoyed the How to Draw books.  Click to read more here.

This page may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

Be Intentional Planner

Equip yourself with a planner that helps you be more intentional.

Buy Now

4 Year Curriculum

Prepare your preschooler for kindergarten.

Learn More

Handwriting Workbook

Adopt frustration-free methods for teaching handwriting.

Buy Now