How to Improve Pencil Grasp

You’ve noticed weakness in how your child holds a pencil. Here are a bunch of quick and easy ways you can improve pencil grasp for your child.

Pencil grasp.  We know it’s so important for writing that children hold the pencil correctly.

Besides learning how to read, learning how to write is the most important task for school success. And it starts with a good pencil grip.

An improper grasp will cause hand fatigue and messy penmanship.  Even in this digital world, it is still important that your child have legible handwriting.

While I’m not an OT, I have been to weekly OT appointments with my child for three years.  I also taught hundreds of students how to print when I was teaching second grade.

Here’s my round-up for EASY ways you can improve pencil grasp.

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Worried about pencil grasp? children writing on chalkboard

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Yoga Improves Core Strength

I know this sounds crazy, but if your child is struggling with handwriting, yoga can really help.  Both my daughter’s school and private practice OTs have recommended that children do yoga.

Children with poor handwriting likely have a weak core. A lot of children don’t do enough core building activities like climbing trees and swinging from monkey bars.  Especially with the pandemic and being stuck at home, it’s hard to get sufficient exercise.

Yoga is an effective way to develop their core strength. Plus you can do this as a family.

You can try these resources:

Obstacle Course

Similar to doing yoga, try a simple obstacle course at home.  In the obstacle course incorporate tasks to build core strength with some fine motor tasks.

The only supplies you need are play-doh and some coins or beads.  Bury the beads in the play-doh for your child (make sure your child doesn’t put things in their mouth!) and place on a table in a room in your home.

Here’s a super simple obstacle course we’ve tried:

  • Start with a bear crawl across the room.
  • Have your child dig a bead or coin out of play doh.
  • Then have your child crab walk back across the room.

The bear crawl is done on all fours with straight arms and your child’s bottom in the air like a bear.

In the crab walk, your child places his or her arms behind them on the floor and lifts their core up to crawl across a room.

Use chalk to improve pencil grasp

Using small pieces of chalk forces a proper pencil grasp. Children can’t hold little bits of chalk in their palm so it isolates their thumb and index finger.

Similarly, using chalk on a chalkboard gives children tactile information as they draw or write.  This will help them internalize how to write with a proper grasp.

Write on vertical surface

Writing on a vertical surface forces a proper arm and wrist alignment.  It also strengthens the shoulders and elbow.

These will improve pencil grasp by developing other parts of the body and putting less pressure on just the fingers and hand.

You can use a chalkboard like we do, or simply use painters tape to put white butcher paper to the wall.  Use chalk, crayons, or markers to draw or write on the paper.

Paint with q-tips

My daughter has been practicing her lower case letters with q-tips.  We put a little washable paint into a small cup and gather some q-tips.

Using q-tips forces proper pencil grasp because it’s so short. It isolates the thumb and first finger.

Peel off dot stickers

You can use dot labels or dot stickers to improve pencil grasp.  Children have to peel them off a sheet with their thumb and forefingers.

You can make this easier for children by removing the white part of the sticker sheet that is between the dots.  This way the children can grasp the stickers a little easier.

When they are ready, skip this step to create a little more challenge and further strengthen their fingers.

You can grab this free lowercase alphabet notebook to use with dot stickers.

Pick up pom poms

Small one inch poms poms are great for improving pencil grasp. Encourage your child to pick them up with a thumb and index finger instead of the whole palm.

Some of our favorite ways to use pom poms:

  • sort them by color
  • use them to dab paint on paper
  • match to colored dots on paper
  • count them into groups of ten

Pick up items with tongs

I really love these little strawberry hullers for tongs. They are the right size for children’s hands and offer a good amount of resistance. They also isolate the thumb and forefingers.

You can also try other commercial-made tweezers to pick up items. Just make sure your child is using the first two fingers to strengthen pencil grip and not the whole hand.

One of our favorite activities is to pick up pom poms with the strawberry huller and place them in a dump truck.  My son likes to pretend he’s being a crane when he does this.

Push coins into a slot

You can make a simple DIY coin game for your child.  Find an empty plastic container and cut a narrow slot.  Push a coin or a counting chip through it.

Make sure its not so tight that your child will just give up.  However, you don’t want the slot to be loose at all.

You want your child to grasp the coin with the thumb and index fingers to push the coin through the slot.  The small amount of resistance will build hand strength (plus it will wear out over time).

For younger children, try using large counting chips.  There is more surface area for your child to grasp the coin and it’s less of a choking hazard.

Trace with broken crayons

Broken crayons force children to use a proper pencil grip because they are too short to use a full wrist grasp!  They have to use their thumb and index finger.

In the Capital Letter Tracing Printable Pack, children trace letters with broken crayons.

This allows children to learn proper letter formation without all the pursue of a pencil.

Roll play-doh into little balls

Play-doh is so great for improving fine motor skills.  One really helpful activity to have your child first roll the play-doh into logs using the fingertips.

Then your child can pinch off a piece and roll it into a ball using a thumb and forefinger. Challenge your child to make as many little play-doh balls as their age (so 7 for a 7-year-old).

Recapping How to Improve Pencil Grasp

Here’s the summary for all you busy parents:

  • Do yoga exercises to strengthen the core.
  • Create an obstacle course that involves core strengthening and fine motor skills.
  • Use little pieces of chalk.
  • Write on a vertical surface.
  • Paint with q-tips.
  • Peel dot stickers.
  • Pick up pom poms with a thumb and index finger.
  • Squeeze tongs or tweezers to pick up items.
  • Push coins or counting chips into narrow slots.
  • Color with broken crayons.
  • Roll play-doh into little balls.


If your child needs to improve pencil grasp and isn’t getting that help during distance learning, these activities will work for you.

They all have simple supplies and quick and easy set up.  Pick a few to try today and with practice, see your child’s pencil grasp improve.

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