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2 min read

If you have a toddler that's beginning to explore art materials - crayons, coloured pencils, markers, etc, or use feeding utensils, you might have noticed they hold these items with their whole fist.

You can see what I mean in this picture.


While this is often expected when children first start using writing materials, many parents worry that it goes on for too long.

At What Age Are Children Expected to "Properly" Hold a Pencil?

First note that it IS developmentally normal for young children to use a closed fist grasp as their first approach to handling tools.

They do this before the tripod (or pencil grasp) because it allows them to have a sturdier grip on the writing tool.

It’s not until closer to three years old that children have the fine motor strength to "properly" hold a pencil.

Even then, it depends on how much fine motor practice they’ve had before this.

You might also notice them switch back and forth between a closed fist grasp and the tripod grip until they are fully comfortable and strong enough to use the tripod grip for longer periods.

Preparing The Hand

In Montessori, children begin to develop hand strength and fine motor skills in early infancy. Starting at 3-4 months, the Montessori approach offers a selection of materials the child can explore, grasp, and manipulate, like the Ball With Protrusions or Cube with Bell.

Once children enter the classroom, the Montessori curriculum is filled with manipulatives and sensorial materials designed to further develop the hand.

What To Do If Your Child Is Not Using A Pencil Grasp...

In Montessori, the educators "teach by teaching, not by correcting" so rather than telling your child that they’re holding a writing tool incorrectly, instead offer activities and materials that develop fine motor skills.

When their arms and hands are strong enough, the tripod grip should naturally develop.

Examples of activities you can offer:

  • Peg puzzles - excellent because the child will naturally hold the pegs with their pincer grasp (index and thumb).
  • Tongs - tonging activities or simply adding a small pair of tongs to meal times for your child to serve themselves
  • Playdough
  • Lacing cards
  • Transferring small objects with your fingers, i.e. 1.5cm papoose balls or counting objects
  • Eating dry cereal, puffs, grated cheese, peas, corn, etc. with their hands.

They must do these types of activities well before they begin handwriting.Success with handling writing tools has little to do with age and everything to do with a child's fine motor strength. If your child is over three and still mainly used a closed fist grip, try offering activities like these to strengthen the hand.For children over four years old, that have entered school and are still not using a pencil grasp, this is a good time to talk to their teacher.They can likely offer feedback and activities to help or, if necessary, offer suggestions for a local Occupational Therapist that works with young children.

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