Any Tips on Encouraging 4 Year Old to Hold Pencil/crayon the Right Way?

Updated on November 06, 2012
M.A. asks from Boston, MA
20 answers

My daughter just turned 4 - I am SAHM right now so I'm home with her and my 18 month old son. I don't have her in preschool but probably will have her go in the fall (her b-day is October so she won't start Kindergarten for two more years). She's very smart and I don't have any concerns about letters, numbers, things like that. But one thing she's not good at is writing or holding a pen/crayon the "right" way. LIke she still just grabs it, like a toddler would. She doesn't hold it with that pinching motion, know what I mean? She can write her name, make shapes, etc...but she doesn't hold the crayon/pencil the right way. I try to show her but she is so stubborn.. the more I encourage her and tell her that it's easier to write when you hold it the right way, the more she resists and then she says she doesn't want to draw/write anymore. I know her personality and I know I know she needs to decide on her own how she wants to hold it. I've seen other 4 year olds looking so much more adept at writing and I'm just wondering if anyone has any tips on how I can get her to do it. Or do I not push it...I'm sure she'll eventually come around. I think if she were around other kids in a pre-school environment she would see everyone doing it and naturally start doing it. But, that won't be for another year and I don't want her to get teased or feel weird if she's not able to write as well as others when she does start preschool. Am I overthinking this? Do your 4 year olds do this? Do you think I should do other things to encourage this, or just let it go and let her hold it how she wants? thanks in advance!!

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So What Happened?

thanks, as always, to all of you! I am trying to relax and not bug my daughter about it right now. I will definitely keep in mind the products and tools you have recommended and see how things go over the next few months. thank you again!

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answers from Savannah on

The triangle is what you need! Triangle pencil grips and triangle crayons will help her learn to write with a good grip. However, she is still young so you con't need to push it to hard right now. I would just get her those things, and if she is still having a problem with it in a year, then try to focus some of her attention on it. When I was student teaching, I often saw the kindergarten teacher using pencil grips for students who did not have proper grasp.

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answers from Tulsa on

I wish I had addressed this when my son was 4. He's about to turn 6 and I would have to remind him every time to hold the pencil the right way. I have bought some triangle shaped pencils and the finger grips and it is helping at home, but it is a slow process!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boise on

She is not ready for that kind of dexterity.

I taught all three of my children at home, using a renowned program (Cursive First and Spell to Write and Read.)

There was a reason that formal education didn't start until kindergrten. Just as we can't force a 10 month old to walk, we cant force a young child to be ready to write. There is a lot of dexterity that is involved including small motor movement, hand - eye coordination and the readiness of the nervous system. Age 6 is a good time for the 'average' child to be ready for that, hence, that was the set age to start school.

For the early years, pre k, I let the child hold a crayon the way they want. They are typically going to grasp it with a fist. that is ok. The big chunky crayons and fat markers are designed for this. The child may wish to write their name. You can try to help but for the most part i would let the child just explore. Dont try to make a child hold a crayon or marker int he pencil grip style. Only a pencil should be used for that training.

Formal penmanship education did not start for my son until he was 5.5. pencil grasp was a huge struggle, so I waited another 4 months for that part of it. (so at first we wrote letters in the shoebox-sand box with our finger). That 4 months made the difference in his readiness. My girls were a little earlier, I want to say ...maybe 5 or 5 and a half.

It is not just the way the child holds the pencil. It is also how the paper is tilted, the placement of the other hand on the top of the paper to hold it in place, the placement of both feet flat on the floor with the chair at the right height, and the chair pulled up to the table so the child's back is straight. A regular sized number 2 soft lead pencil should be used, not a fat pencil (made for fist writing) or markers. If you can't get the right finger placement on the pencil, they have little rubber pencil grips you can put on the implement. If the child is squeezing the pencil too hard, they might have too low of a grip - it should not be at the very bottom. Also that kind of squeeze will produce fatigue FAST so it must be corrected.

The very sad thing is they don't teach cursive in many schools anymore. What a huge shame, because you can write so much faster in cursive. I taught 2 of my kids cursive only. They learned manuscript on thier own a little later. By the time they were in the last part of second grade they had beautiful penmanship. I would have never believed it had i not seen it with my own eyes. I think the schools dont teach it anymore because they assume all the kids will be using computers to write. But truth be told, there are a lot of brain- eye- hand connections that need to be made in the brain at a young age with WRITING by hand, and if they are never formed, there will be learning gaps.

Fear not mama. Re-introduce it every 4 months until you see that she is ready, and when she is, you will know it. If she is not, just wait. Otherwise you are banging your head against a wall for nothing.

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answers from Washington DC on

Beenthere had a wonderful suggestion with the playdoe, also I would let it go, you're right when she sees other children doing it "the right way" she will learn, and also instead of telling her just show her look how mommy does it when you are older you will hold it like this and just have her watch you but don't force her she has to start somewhere and that is her comfort level, she will hold it differently when she feels ready & like you said she is a young 4 and every child learns at a different level. Good luck M.!

Pre-school teacher

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I wouldn't worry about it too much since she just turned four. Rather than focusing specifically on how she holds a pencil, focus instead on improving her pincher grasp and strengthening the muscles in her fingers. Find toys that encourage her to build on her fine motor skills and the pencil grip will soon follow.

Also, the triangular crayons help them work on holding things correctly, so make sure you have lots of those around and find some great coloring books that she's excited to use. Make it fun - no workbooks or actual writing for now.

I'm a Discovery Toys consultant and some of our toys are designed to help build the pincher grasp and strengthen the finger muscles. You can view them at and see if there's anything you like (they make great gifts for the holidays!) Below are a couple of our most popular toy in this age group that will build find motor skills (the first two are my favorite products in the entire toy line):

Playful Patterns:

Motor Works:

Pillar Pockets (this one also teaches critical skills such as buttoning, tying laces, zippers, buckles and more):

Bendy Beads (lots of cute design suggestions included):

Tub Art Pirate Set:

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answers from Dallas on

The triangle pencil grips are great. You might try strengthing her dexterity by playing with playdoh. Don't tell her your motive! Baking and playing with the dough would help also.

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answers from Dallas on

Have her hold a cotton ball against her palm with her pinky and 4th finger. It will make the other 3 fingers do the work.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

Pre-school children all hold their writing utensil differently, they really try to work on that once they start kindergarten. It would be nice if she'd just do it but the more you focus on it the more she will likely focus on not doing it your way.

So I'd drop it and let her enjoy coloring and starting to write letters. She is just barely 4 so she is doing fine. She is still using her hand from the wrist and not quite at the fingertips yet. Those fine motor skills will come but not for a while yet.



answers from Providence on

My 4 year old does the same thing as does many of the 4 year olds in his pre K class. I just had his first parent teacher conference and this was something we talked about. I was told this is normal for this age and this is one thing they work on with the kids.


answers from New York on

You're right -you need to make it fun, I like the suggestions about the teeny tiny crayon stubs(you could make the melted multi colored rectangles!)
find toys that encourage the pincer grasp, golf tees in a block of wood, use tongs to pick up pom poms and put them in a jar, games like operation, perfection, and wiggly apple game.


answers from San Francisco on

Help her strengthen her hand muscles and dexterity the same way they do in preschool, with lots of opportunities to work on her fine motor skills: play doh, cutting, beading, lacing, tracing, putting together legos, etc.



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi my name is J. and I do not hold my pen/pencil/crayon/marker correctly and I am 30. For me it was never comfortable to hold it the "right" way. Totally let it go. She is too young to worry about quality of penmanship. If in a few years her penmanship is poor and she is holding it wrong see what you can do then. I was always told that my penmanship would be poor if I didn't hold my pen correctly and I actually have really nice writing. I pretty much even have several "fonts" that I write in.



answers from Burlington on

OneStep has pencil grips for left and right handed kids. I bought several since I was determined to help my son start off on the right foot when school began. Pre-K and preschool teachers said not to worry, it will happne when it happens. Don't stress. Don't over correct. They were right. He holds the pencil fine now, although still needs to improve fine motor skills. Do any thing that helps with that skill...tracing, coloring, rolling balls of clays...anything that works that pincer grip. Fuse beads are fun, especially tricky if they use tweezers. Bottom line. It will happen when it happens, and it will not be delaying her progress at all.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I remember my daughter's preschool teacher commenting on how my daughter held her crayon. I don't think she dwelled on it too much as to not make her self conscious about it. Well she still doesn't hold it right but she gets by okay so does it really matter?

I once asked her kindergarten teacher about it and she said that a small binder clip on her pencil would force her to hold it correctly. Yeah that went over like a lead balloon and peer pressure for handwriting (pencil holding) is non-exisistent. Just embrace it.

BTW I once had a college professor stop class to comment on how I held my pencil. I guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree!



answers from Las Vegas on

None of them write good at 4 years old. She is developing her coordination right now. Holding a pencil is an awkward thing, although it is natural to us now. Allow her to color/scribble as much as she likes. She is developing the control to keep the crayon to the page right now, then keep in in the picture, then in side the lines in a more detailed fashion.

As far as teaching, well I have a few stubborn ones here. I try not to fight them. I would sit down with a letter page from a workbook and make the most perfect letters and then hang it on the fridge door with pride. Soon she will want to do the same (hopefully).



answers from Pittsburgh on

Fine motor skills develop differently in different kids.
To develop her proper grip, use teeny tiny crayon stubs, (forces proper grip) or try triangular crayons, pencil grips.
Also have her draw/write on an easel, which encourages proper wrist position.


answers from Kansas City on

I would let her learn to draw her way and when she's a bit older and had more time drawing and writing you can work with her along with preschool on the right way to hold it. I am so disappointed in the schools here as our grandson holds his wrong and he's in second grade and at the top of the class but they let him do it his way in K and 1st grade. When I tried to help him change it he got like your daughter and would quite writing or drawing. He is an excellent artist, a perfect speller, great reader so maybe we should just let them struggle on holding it wrong? I don't know. Most people today don't hold pencils and pens correctly and soon who will be writing anyhow with computers and phones. :-) I used to get my papers up for display for penmanship and now can hardly write my name with a pen due to computers. All this to say, work on it slowly, try to get it right but don't push at this age.


answers from St. Louis on

There are children who cannot or who don't feel comfortable holding the pencil or crayon the way most of children hold it . I was one of them, and I still hold pens, and pencils in a very odd way even though my handwriting is good. My little one inherited the same thing. I don't mind it at all while he still is able to write perfectly fine. However, if you feel more comfortable having your child writing or holding her pencil/crayon the right way, you may let her play "cook", "chef" or "restaurant" with "scissor " salad tongs (preferably wooden or plastic). This game will help her to strengthen her muscles. It works pretty well. Do it casually and without making a big deal out of it. Keep in mind she is just 4, so she needs more time to develop her skills, milestones and muscles.



answers from Austin on

I think a lot of it has to do with motor control... the suggestion of working the muscles with playdoh and such is a great idea, as are the triangular pencil grips.

I see so many students in middle school with incredibly poor pencil grip and as a result, poor penmanship.... I wonder how they are able to write without getting cramps! Maybe that is why they resist writing?

I'm glad you are seeing this and want to help early... don't push it, just get the grips and see if that helps.... correct her gently as you see her holding the crayons/markers/pencils poorly.

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