How to help a student’s pencil control

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Written by Cheri Dotterer

April 2, 2020

Having several classes on developmental milestones, hand grasp and development has always fascinated me. Rhoda Erhardt has the best description of grasp and their age equivalent in her book, Developmental Hand Dysfunction Theory, Assessment and Treatment.

Many OTs write about this topic.

Handwriting without Tears‘s Get Set for School sensory motor program has fabulous ideas to prepare little hands for writing. Some adaptations that are used by OTs include small pencils and pencil grips.

How would you address the following scenario?


You get a referral for Susie, a 6-year-old, in Mrs. Kindergarten’s class. The referral states that she is writing by fisting her pencil and crayon and she is refusing to write. When she does write, the result is unintelligible.

One of your best practices is to interview the parent via phone call. You are told that Susie loves to write at home.

When you enter the classroom to observe the student, you notice that there is a box in the center of every table with large barrel crayons and pencils. As you observe the student, you notice that she does indeed grasp the crayon with her full fist and struggles to tolerate completing the worksheet because her hand hurts. She leaves her desk, work not completed, and goes to a center and begins playing with dolls. She is having no trouble buttoning after changing the clothes on the doll.

My first recommendation and trial would be a standard barrel, small crayons such as the flip crayons and golf pencils from Handwriting Without Tears.

In the OT room, Susie demonstrated a good grasp of these small items. Your next task is teacher education. Through action planning, you can have discussions with teachers 1:1. However, another suggestion is a school-wide training on hand development.

Pencil grips may also be eliminated with proper size pencils and crayons. If a student continues to have difficulty using the small-sized pencil, the grip is the last resort.

There are so many options, the use of grips is truly trail and error. One consideration to eliminate the perception of the student from being different is to offer grips to the entire class. Have a variety to chose from. If they chose not to use on, it is okay.

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