Need Ideas

Updated on October 16, 2008
C.R. asks from Ashburn, VA
49 answers

My question is actually for my sister-in-law. She is home schooling her 5 year old son. He knows his letters and numbers and all that jazz, but he is holding his pencil in a very awkward way. She was asking me if I knew any tricks on teaching how to hold a pencil, like a little rhyme or a song or something. She said that he gets frustrated and she can see the dread in his eye when she pulls out the tracing numbers and letters papers. He is starting to not want to practice writing anymore because it's such a battle about the pencil. Can anyone give any suggestions?

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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone. I've sent my SIL all the responses and I'm sure she has a few ideas on what to try. Thank you for sending your ideas and I'll be sure to try this again if I need any advice in the future.

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E.K.

answers from Washington DC on

He is likely holding the pencil in an awkward way because the muscles in his fingers aren't yet fully developed (not unusual at this age, particularly for boys)so his fine motor skills are on the weaker side. To help develop them, I would have him engage in play activities that serve to strengthen those muscles, like manipulating modeling clay, play-doh, etc., using finger paints to write letters, numbers and shapes, building (and taking apart) with legos, jigsaw puzzles, cutting with developmental scissors, etc. You get the idea. As for writing, use a wider diameter pencil (sometimes called "primary pencils") or even a Crayola marker (broad tipped), try different lengths of pencil (some kids prefer pencils the size of those you get when playing mini golf...they find they have more control), or affix a pencil grip on the pencil (there are many different types, so it may take some trial and error). But above all, don't force writing on him. It will come. Forcing will only increase his frustration and his avoidance. It is more important that he develop his muscles at this point than it is for him to have legible handwriting. Gradually incorporate formal writing activities with those mentioned above. Best of luck!

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K.W.

answers from Roanoke on

Very short pencils. You have to hold them right to hold them at all. There was a nice little piece about this in last month's - was it Parents or Parenting magazine? one of those - that suggested this as well as other games and activities that really help with the motor skills needed for writing. I don't have it anymore or I'd tell you more! September issue.

Just remembered - a coworker of mine at a former job had a pen that had a hole in it for the index finger. This is hard to describe, but the length of it, instead of being straight, looped outward in two parts and came back together for the nib. She said it was much more comfortable and this would also "force" the hand into the correct position. Anyone know where these can be found?

Back again - I'd pulled the article out. It's called "Letter Perfect," form the May 2008 issue of Parents - farther back than I'd thought. Again, for kids having trouble holding a pencil, rubber grips or a golf pencil is recommended. ALso, activities that use the pincer grip: "stringing beads, playing bingo with cheerios, putting together puzzles, building with blocks." Ways to make learning handwriting more interesting are having kids write in shaving cream on the kitchen counter or table, draw letters with finger paints, using Wikki Stix, Play-Doh, or Legos to shape letters. Make it fun.

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T.V.

answers from Washington DC on

They have these little triangle shaped things that go on a pencil to help you grip it correctly. I know they sell them at school supply stores and might have them at Staples/Office Depot.

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N.R.

answers from Richmond on

Hey there C.! This is so cool! I just found a neat gadget in a magazine I got in the mail last week. It's called a Pencil Gripper, but it's NOT your regular pencil gripper. It's designed to help teach a child how to hold a pencil correctly, left handed or right handed. And a 3pack is only $6.95! How cool is that?! Their website is www.leapsandbounds.com and it's item #11942 to make her search quicker. I suggest she kind of give him a little rest on writing for a little while. If he starts to associate frustration with writing at this stage, her work will be much harder later. (How well I know!) And I promise he will not get behind if they take a time out from formal writing. Then if she gets these grippers, she can make it a fun thing to try again. I have had to learn a lot the hard way. Be sure to pass along to her to keep learning FUN!!! And he will love it for life! And for them ALL to ENJOY homeschooling too.

We too are a homeschooling family. (I bet you couldn't tell, huh? LOL!) Please give her my email [email protected]____.com, if she would like to connect.

Take Care,
N. :) SAHM homeschooling 3 boys 12, 7 & 2yrs old and married to my Mr. Wonderful for almost 15yrs. I love to help other moms, who want to be SAHMs, reach that goal. If you or someone you know would like to be a SAHM, please email me at [email protected]____.com. Thanks!

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J.H.

answers from Seattle on

Your sister can try using a triangle-shaped pencil or put on of the rubber gripping things on the tip of a regular pencil or pen. Maybe he can even pick out which color he uses so he has a say in things, which often helps. Here's a link for a sample of what I mean:

http://www.otideas.com/Items/PencilGrips.htm

Also, a fatter pencil/pen should be easier for your nephew to hold than a regular, skinny one, so she can try that as well for him. Maybe they can try tracing lines in coloring books rather than focusing on just letters/numbers to make it more fun until he gets the hang of it. Crayola even has triangle-shaped crayons. The key is to try making it fun & something he'd like doing rather than making it a chore.

Hope that helps!

--J.C.

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W.S.

answers from Washington DC on

Try the Zaner-Bloser website. They are handwriting experts and have pencils and pens and paper to help you.

About me: SAHM of five, four of which are still home, ages 14-21. Homeschooler for 15+ years.

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A.G.

answers from Washington DC on

It sounds like his fine motor skills are his only problem. Boys often develop precision with their hands a little later, so you SIL should know that her son will get it with time and practice. The trick is to make the practice fun. I would recommend fist that your SIL work on tracing shapes, lines, and pictures for a week or two. Since these items are a little less precise it might reduce the stress and dread. Also as someone else suggested teacher supply stores have larger pencils available to help with this problem as well as special grip trainers that slip over the pencil.

I also have two suggestions of some really kid friendly activity books that might make writing a little more fun.

http://www.ubah.com/ecommerce/details.asp?sid=X2492&g...

http://www.ubah.com/ecommerce/details.asp?sid=X2492&g...

I hope you find a solution that works for your nephew,
A. Guethler
www.snuggleandread.com
ps. We have tons of books and activities for homeschooling parents at every level.

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K.P.

answers from Norfolk on

Hi C.,
I know that they sell triangular shaped pencil grippers to help with hold a writing utencil correctly. They are very cheap. Also try the larger crayons for more practice.

K.

Working Mother of 2

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N.P.

answers from Charlottesville on

Hi there,

I think that as long as the child is learning and writing his letters correctly then it really shouldn't matter. My husband still writes with his pen/pencil between his middle finger and ring finger and he writes just fine.

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C.I.

answers from Washington DC on

Teachers fought me until 5th grade to no avail. My handwriting is fine, people are different ... unless it's REALLY atrocious I say let him do it how he wants. He'll be typing most of his life anyway! That was a battle for me for so long, and in my opinion a completely unnecessary one.... there's nothing worse than being forced to do it with a "special" pencil in the most uncomfortable way!

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K.L.

answers from Washington DC on

Hi C.! My daughter is a second grader and she still holds her pencil between her middle finger and ring finger. I tried to get her to change it, but it upset her soooooo much that I decided it wasn't worth it. I agree with a couple of the other mom's advice - pick your battles, and he's going to end up typing more than printing anyway! (By the way, my daughter's handwriting is beautiful!) Take care.

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S.S.

answers from Washington DC on

Try pencil grips. The Leaps and Bounds catalog and web site sells them (search on Google for "pencil grippers"). Also, some places make pencils and markers that are triangular instead of round. This helps a lot. Unfortunately I don't know of a U.S. distributor. There's one site in the UK, it specializes in products for left-handed people, but righties can use some of their stuff too ... www.anythingleft-handed.co.uk.

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D.R.

answers from Washington DC on

There are adaptive devices that can be used to help children learn to hold a pencil correctly. They usually slip over the pencil and kind of force the child to hold it the right way. She should be able to find them at her local home school store and there are several different types so she can keep trying until she finds one that works. My youngest daughter is also 5 and in kindergarten and I have seen them in the school. At our kindergarten orientation a parent brought up this question to the teachers and they said that kids will learn in their own time to hold a pencil correctly and not to put too much pressure on them. They should be having fun with their learning activities and not to stress out (parent or child) about it. Suggest that she enjoy their time together and not worry about it. It is not worth the battle at this age. As he gets a little older if he doesn't adapt and his penmanship suffers then you can address it with an occupational therapist.

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S.L.

answers from Norfolk on

I teach preschool and we use the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. Use golf pencils or crayons that are only about 3 inches long. The only way to hold them is the correct way and most kids figure this out without having to be told. I have 3 year olds, and while I do not teach them to write, we do use the short crayons when we color and most of them figured out how to hold them right away. (Breaking crayons goes against everything I like for me, but you will be amazed!!) S.

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A.K.

answers from Washington DC on

They make special pencil grips especially for this reason. There are also crayons and pencils that are triangular shaped instead of round which kind of forces the child to hold the pencil/crayon the right way. You can find these at Walmart or Target.

Being a former Kindergarten teacher this is very important. Building fine motor skills is crucial and learning how to grip a pencil will help with the whole writing process.

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Z.B.

answers from Richmond on

Hi C. - My son struggled with this, too. I tried to force him to hold the pencil the "right" way and he was miserable. I do think it is important to hold the pencil the right way but it doesn't really matter when he does it. Pencil grips help, chalk and a chalkboard help. Some boys are slower to develop the fine motor skills so it will take a lot of patience. My doctor suggested playing with clay A LOT. Make letters with clay, the basic shapes, etc. The exercise will strengthen the muscles and help with grip, etc. Good luck.

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E.M.

answers from Washington DC on

I saw Annikki wrote about the "Handwriting without Tears" website. I haven't seen the site but I know my daughter who is 5 and in K is using it at school. They use clay to form the letters and they say the act of manipulating the clay and forming the letters develops the fine motor skills as well as developing the muscles in their fingers to make it easier to hold the pencil correctly. The teacher said often the pencil holding issue is a lack of muscle in the fingers and the kids get tired of holding it. Encouraging them to explore the alphabet with clay allows them to still learn while giving them the skills they need to develop good hand writing. Mind you, it is clay, not play doh. I don't care for the clay because it gets under their nails, but it is the firmness of the clay that develops the muscles. That is the extent of my knowlege (5 min at back-to-school night, sorry I'm not an authority). Check out the website and maybe they can offer more cool ideas.

Good luck to your sister.
Liz

p.s. By the way, I was a little skeptical about the things they are doing in school because I feel my daughter is educationally past a lot of it... but she is enjoying it and they are able to give some reasons that these activities are important... like the clay. So, good luck.

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C.G.

answers from Washington DC on

Try the "Fatter" Round thick "Fun" pencils.......let him choose what color he wants to work in..Or give him a lesson that he can do in Crayon or Paint with the brush to make help putting things on paper "Fun" again. Learning is Fun works better than any other method....
I don't know a ryhme but I'm sure together you could make one up. ie:
2 little fingers and 1 mama Thumb,
All "hug" they pencil so they have "Fun".
Q. What do they have Fun doing ???
A. Drawing or Writing...........
Mom "Yeahhhh that's Right you are Smart now let's have some "Fun"......

As one mum to another I don't know if it will work but hey it's worth a try. Good Luck

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B.S.

answers from Washington DC on

I wnder what difference it makes at all how he holds his pencil? Is he getting the results he wants when he writes something? (I mean for the most part I realize he's 5) I would just let him learn to hold the pencil how he's comfortable and he'll either adjust it himself or adapt his writing style. It's hard enough to get boys to enjoy schoolwork, I'd pick my battles.
This reminds me of a boy I went to school with, he held his pencil in his palm surrounded by all his fingers, all the teachers tried to change him, it was so upsetting to him his mom came in and straightened everyine out! He turned out to have the most beautiful hadwriting and is an amazing artist.

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P.W.

answers from Norfolk on

I am a K asssitant and I suggest you encourage him to hold the pencil the way a "crab" would by pinching the pencil! :-)

His small muscles are not developed yet so his hand probably feels uncomfortable and awkward. It is definitely a skill that will take time and practice.

P. S. Some of the most well adjusted and intelligent students I have met at our local community college were home schooled! A great mom/teacher deserves a lot of kudos for taking on the challenge of home schooling!

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S.E.

answers from Washington DC on

My son had a very similar issue and it sounds to me like he may need to be checked for fine motor delays. Many kids especially boys are slightly behind. I would suggest taking him to have him evaluated by an occupational therapist before trying to correct the issue. Playing with clay will strengthen the hand and fingers along with using scissors will help a lot. But until the muscles are working the right way he will want to hold the pencil the way it is most comfortable, if at all. I believe every county has a "child find center" or Parent Resource Center and I am pretty sure he can be tested at the public school.

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K.H.

answers from Dover on

I don't see what all the fuss is about, trying to make kids hold a pencil "appropriately". I don't think it matters how he holds the pencil, as long as it isn't awkward for him. Everyone is different, and there is more than one way to do something. I am also going to guess that he is quite young, when he decides, if he decides, that it is easier for him to hold his pencil a specific way, he will change. If he can write well, isn't that the point of holding a pencil? Offer help every now and then to show him the "correct" way to hold the pencil, but other than that, I would let him be.
K.

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B.D.

answers from Washington DC on

Do they still make the big fat pencils? Way back when they used to make big pencils that little ones were taught to write with because they were easier for them to hold. She may want to look around for those.

Also, I wanted to let you know that I am an Educational Consultant for Usborne Children's Books. We sell a lot of learning materials to homeschooling mothers. My online bookstore is www.ubah.com/X2733. Make sure to look for holiday sales from now to Christmas!! You can also enter your name for a $50 Book Drawing for just visiting the site!!!

B. Deck
[email protected]____.com
www.ubah.com/X2733

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A.G.

answers from Washington DC on

Coleen, Our son did not hold the pencil "correctly" for a long time. Teachers told us to make him do it right, and Dr.s told us to offer the pencil in the middle, and let him write however he is comfortable writing. When he did it his way work was successful, when he was pushed to do it their way he was very uncomfortable, and slow. He was in second grade before he mastered it. If it is not in a medical situation, let him figure it out. After all he is at home, and shouldn't be criticized by other children. He'll figure it out. We found that the less emphisis we put on it, the easier it was for him to figure it out. Have fun with it. No stress is best.

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A.H.

answers from Washington DC on

To practice pencil holding skills, you can have your child draw on a chalk board w/ chalk. An occupational therapist told me about this. The angle that the child uses to hold the chalk upright helps strengthen those muscles. The child also has a diversion from letters and can draw or color on the chalkboard. Also, think about getting a gripper for the pencil. There are lots of adapted pencils that are wider for little hands to hold.

A.

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A.A.

answers from Washington DC on

They sell these little gripper things that slide on to the pencil that help train kids to hold the pencil correctly. I know you can get them in the school supply aisle at Staples and I'm sure wherever they sell school supplies.

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J.C.

answers from Washington DC on

Pinch it like a crab then let it rest

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C.D.

answers from Washington DC on

Triangular pencil grips found at any teacher store. They help kids naturally hold the pencil correctly.

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T.M.

answers from Washington DC on

Don't be alarmed at how he's holding the pencil just yet. What he's doing is pretty normal for a beginner. Just keep encouraging him to write and draw after a while he will have a natural feel for holding his writing instrument.

Good luck,

Mother of 2 5yr old and 15yr old boys

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M.A.

answers from Washington DC on

Hi C.!
Just a thought... Did your sister try putting the pencil in the other hand? One of the guys I used to work with held pencils & pens between his index finger & his middle finger, squeezing it with his thumb. I tried that for the heck of it & it didn't work for me.

Good luck with little man!

Mary-Ann

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M.C.

answers from Washington DC on

does it matter how the pencil is held? as long as he can write with it, what does it matter? One thing to try would be to have him trace the letters/numbers with the finertip of his pointer finger.

M.

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A.D.

answers from Washington DC on

Check out Handwriting without Tears website. They have a cool flip trick with the pencil that gets the grip just right.
Good luck...it takes patience. :)

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B.D.

answers from Washington DC on

Hi C.,
An occupational therapist/ friend told me to break all of my childrens' crayons and pencils so they are just nubs... Then the only way they can hold the pencil is the "proper" way, because there isn't space for them to wrap their little fists around them.
Though, if it helps make your sister in-law feel better, I have an incredibly strange way of gripping my pencil (that the nuns couldn't break me of in elementary school :) I also have very neat handwriting and was a third grade teacher myself, so regardless, her son will turn out fine!
Good luck.

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M.W.

answers from Washington DC on

Try a very thick pencil ( I hope they still sell them) or get a wedge/round attachment to slide over the pencil. A thicker pencil makes it easier to grasp, and maybe he will hold it better. Actually, I try to find thick pens because I have a hand tremor, it makes it easier to use. So try thick. If you can't find it in a regular store, try one that sells educational materials.

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L.T.

answers from Lynchburg on

I would suggest contacting one of your public school's occupational therapists. This is the kind of thing they deal with every day, and if they're like the wonderful women I work with, they won't mind giving some advice to your sister-in-law.

Also, when I was pregnant and dealing with carpal tunnel issues, one of my special education teacher friends showed me a different way to hold my pen so that it created less stress on my hand. This is a method she had used with older folks in a nursing home. Instead of holding it between pointer finger and thumb, resting on the middle finger, you hold it between the pointer finger and middle finger, with the thumb underneath to guide. It's incredibly easy to write this way.

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A.T.

answers from Norfolk on

I recommend one of those husky pencils or one of the pencil grips. The pencil grips may be best b/c there are notches for them to rest their fingers. It may help him if he has a guide as to where to put each finger.

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S.K.

answers from Washington DC on

I know they make special pen/pencil grips that encourage proper grips. There are two kinds that I know of -- one is kind of triangular in shape and the other is more molded and has indentations for the thumb and first two fingers. They come in all sorts of fun colors that help the kids enjoy using them. I have seen them sold in school supplies stores and you can also special order them online. Good luck!

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C.G.

answers from Washington DC on

It might be a good idea to check out teaching supply stores. They make a variety of pencil grips to help teach children how to hold pencils correctly.
Also he might just hold it differently,(As a former teacher I have seen many children who hold pencils differently) Some children develop their own style that works for them, and as long as they can form their letters properly, I wouldn't worry too much. He is still young.
If your really concerned an nothing helps, you might consider consulting an Occupational Therapist.

Good Luck
C. G

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M.D.

answers from Washington DC on

Our school uses a program called Handwriting without Tears. It was recommended by our Occupational Therapist. Most kids are successful with it. We teach the kids to hold the pencil by making the "ok" sign with their fingers and "pinching" the pencil. The hand muscles should relax a bit and make it less of a chore.

Squeezing balls (the Nerf style or any soft ball) and playing hand movement games will help develop the muscles needed for writing. We also work on develop the muscles by using small pieces of chalk on chalkboards. The 2 or 3 inch pieces of chalk require proper placement of the fingers. Likewise using small pieces of sponge and writing with water on the chalkboard or other surface also help.

Pencil grips help as well. They can be found with office supplies. If a grip is working for the child and he can write, we don't force them to change. The child has to be comfortable and not forced into a grip. If the hand is in an awkward position, it becomes too much of a chore. Make it fun!

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S.W.

answers from Washington DC on

My daughter's kindergarten class solved this for me. They had a great tool that you put over the pencil and it really helped. It is a bit awkward at first for the child but they get used to it and eventually no longer need it. They were called STETRO PENCIL GRIPS and they work for both left and right writers. I don't know if she can find them locally, but she can find them on the internet. Good Luck.

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J.C.

answers from Washington DC on

C. R,

Have your tried pencil grippers? Sometimes kids need to the support provided by these and you can find ones that also have "silly faces", etc so that the fun can be put back into learning. Give it a try!

Mama Cooke

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C.D.

answers from Norfolk on

There are pencil grips that you can slide onto the pencil that will help position his fingers properly. A school supply store will have them, maybe even a walmart or office max would too. They are usually triagular in shape. They will help, my son had the same problem as he is left-handed but they will work regardless.

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R.S.

answers from Washington DC on

My suggestion (and I hope this doesn't sound snarky, I don't mean it to) is to let him hold the pencil however he wants. I hold a pencil the way most people do and my handwriting is atrocious. My sister holds her pencil between her fingers (not finger and thumb) and her penmanship is the best I've ever seen. He's also young enough that he's probably holding it in a clenched fist, which is normal because his fine motor skills are still evolving.
If she continues to insist that he hold his pencil a certain way, she'll just erode his confidence and make him not want to learn to write.

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S.C.

answers from Norfolk on

Have your sister-in-law go to the parent teacher store; they have finger guides that slide on pencils to show kids how to hold them. They worked for my kids.

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W.S.

answers from Norfolk on

If he is right handed, lay the pencil down horizontally with the point facing right. Then have him pick up the pencil where the paint meets the sharpened wood part using his thumb and first finger, then simply flip the eraser end across until it lays on the web between thumb and first finger. If the pencil is too big to hold with just 2 fingers, the middle finger can be added, with the bottom side of the pencil resting on the end of the 4th finger where the skin meets the side of the fingernail. Reverse the moves if he is a lefty. Make it into a game, call it the "flipping game" or something to make it appealing.

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S.S.

answers from Washington DC on

i have used a pencil grip with indentations on it for where the fingers go. they are sold at school supply stores.

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L.S.

answers from Washington DC on

Engage him in activities that encourage fine motor development like, building with playdough, picking up rice, lacing cards, etc....and the pencil grips work too...I've seen some in a jar at staples that are squishy and fun to use.

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A.C.

answers from Washington DC on

If his hand isn't hurting, then there should be no reason to correct him. People hold their pencils differently. There really is no "correct" way to hold a pencil. I found this out when a student of mine seemed to be holding his pencil 'differently'.

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K.M.

answers from Norfolk on

Go to the teacher store. They have grippers for pencils to help place fingers in the right place. I teach kindergarten and use them all the time. They are soft so the kids like them.

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