Developing pencil control at home
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
"Tommy Thumb, Tommy Thumb, where are you? Here I am, here I am, how do you do?"
Peter Pointer, Toby Tall, Ruby Ring and Baby Small, too!
There's no doubt about it; juggling home schooling with working and all the other commitments we have, whilst adjusting to new ways of life and being together at home ALL the time, is difficult. Teachers are working hard to set activities and work for children to complete from afar but something they may not be able to do is check on the development of pencil control and how children hold their pencils. In school, each time your child picks up a pencil in sight of an adult in the classroom, he or she will be reminded to hold it correctly, at a stage appropriate to his or her development, but what does this look like?
Our youngest children will grip a pencil in their fist, usually with the thumb at the top. See ABCDoes grip 1: https://abcdoes.typepad.com/files/grip1.pdf. From here, they may begin to turn the hand over, pointing the thumb and index finger down towards the paper. See ABCDoes grip 2: https://abcdoes.typepad.com/files/grip2.pdf
With encouragement to place the pencil resting between the thumb and index finger, the grip shown in ABCDoes grip 3 will begin to emerge and movements will become more precise: https://abcdoes.typepad.com/files/grip3.pdf. The next stage, in my experience as a teacher and mum, is the most difficult to master: https://abcdoes.typepad.com/files/grip4.pdf The nipping motion between the thumb and the index finger (Tommy Thumb and Peter Pointer) is easy but getting the other fingers out of the way is the challenge. Using a small pom pom, cotton wool ball or tissue, held in the palm of the hand by the third and fourth finger (Ruby Ring and Baby Small) works for those fingers but still, there's the middle finger to position correctly.
It's around the time children start their reception year that we might be able to expect the correct grip to come into play but for many children (like my two), this takes longer. In reception, some children have still not decided if their left or right hand is the dominant writing hand and so experimenting with both should continue. Little reminders and modelling from parents and teachers can help children on their journey to the correct pencil grip, for either hand, and if we can continue to provide these prompts in the absence of their teachers, we are doing our best to continue along the right route. Different advice is available for left handed writers and little adaptations can be made to make things easier. This article is a great starting point: https://www.weareteachers.com/left-handed-students/?utm_content=1578611281&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR0JdUWBBHlNzD-2ztmFR9CJnnwQ2al8II8Epqri8YuFZyd2xB7mOmm9Dlo
There are, of course, lots of other factors that contribute towards forming an efficient pencil grip, and finger strength is one of those. Shonette Bason Wood is leading the way with her ever popular Dough Disco* and this provides one of the best ways to develop the many muscles in the fingers but it's not the only way. Providing lots of opportunities to nip with the finger and thumb can help and can be a fun way of learning without realising it's 'work.' Using tweezers and tongs, pegs and pins can be fun, as can picking up any small items such as dried beans, marbles or Lego pieces. Printing with the fingers, writing in salt trays and squeezing water from sponges are classic EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) activities. Threading beads, weaving with ribbon and painting with water outside are just a few of the other ways we can develop strong fingers. The list is endless but the message is the same; in the absence of our children's teachers, we need to be mindful that these months could be crucial in their development of an efficient pencil grip so we must model and remind them fairly frequently. We can do this!
In searching for images of the correct pencil grip, I came across this document, which might be useful:
If your child is finding the pincer grip (nipping with the thumb and index finger whilst tucking the middle finger under the pencil) tricky, you could try these:
* https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCj0shfH3pzhrf3dOrSj_pRw/ Shonette Bason Wood's YouTube channel.