Pencil Grasps

A primary concern of parents is: is my child holding the pencil correctly? Here are examples of functional & dysfunctional pencil grasps. To look at the actual photographs of these grasps (I could not post them here), go to:
The inforomation presented below is from this website.

Pencil Grasp Patterns
Functional Grasp Patterns

Tripod grasp with open web space: The pencil is held with the tip of the thumb and index finger and rests against the side of the third finger. The thumb and index finger form a circle.

Quadrupod grasp with open web space: The pencil is held with the tip of the thumb, index finger, and third finger and rests against the side of the fourth finger. The thumb and index finger form a circle.

Adaptive tripod or D’Nealian grasp : The pencil is held between the index and third fingers with the tips of the thumb and index finger on the pencil. The pencil rests against the side of the third finger near its end.

Immature Grasp Patterns

Fisted grasp: The pencil is held in a fisted hand with the point of the pencil on the fifth finger side on the hand. This is typical of very young children.
Pronated grasp: The pencil is held diagonally within the hand with the tips of the thumb and index finger on the pencil. This is typical of children ages 2 to 3.
Inefficient Grasp Patterns

Five finger grasp: The pencil is held with the tips of all five fingers. The movement when writing is primarily on the fifth finger side of the hand.

Thumb tuck grasp: The pencil is held in a tripod or quadrupod grasp but with the thumb tucked under the index finger.

Thumb wrap grasp: The pencil is held in a tripod or quadrupod grasp but with the thumb wrapped over the index finger.

Tripod grasp with closed web space: The pencil is held with the tip of the thumb and index finger and rests against the side of the third finger. The thumb is rotated toward the pencil, closing the web space.

Finger wrap or interdigital brace grasp: The index and third fingers wrap around the pencil. The thumb web space is completely closed.

Flexed wrist or hooked wrist: The pencil can be held in a variety of grasps with the wrist flexed or bent. This is more typically seen with left-hand writers but is also present in some right-hand writers.

Big Strokes for Little Folks


Big Strokes for Little Folks is a totally remedial intervention program for children ages six through twelve who exhibit moderate to severe difficulties performing the following basic printing skills:
entry-level letter formation
letter placement
spacing to form words and sentences
writing without reversals

The work contains an extensive pre-writing section to develop the following skills:
left to right and top to bottom visual motor sequencing
visual-motor sequencing
visual closure
geometric shape drawing
basic line conceptualization
application to constructional activities

The work presents a wide variety of tactile and kinesthetic activity suggestions to develop printing skills.

Big Strokes teaches the therapist, and then the teacher, to develop a customized writing approach to meet each student's specific learning style.
Alternate letter formation worksheets for each letter are offered to assist both right-handed and left-handed students. The book is highly visual and can be used with a hearing-impaired or deaf population.

Big Strokes has been used with children whose IQ's fall in the EMR range. Learning disabled students respond very well to this approach.

Big Strokes is always therapist directed and can be used with integrated service delivery models, or with a direct pull-out service delivery model.

Big Strokes contains 133 reproducible worksheets as well as a separate manual with activity suggestions for the therapist and the collaborating educational team. It is the result of sixteen years of my work as an occupational therapist, working within the school system.

My book can be purchased from The Psychological Corporation/Therapy Skill Builders. It is presently used throughout the United States, Canada, Israel, United Kingdom, Japan, India, and other countries around the world.

It offers the only workbook which contains alternate worksheets for left-handed students.

It offers extensive strategies to teach children to write from left to right. This is especially useful for left- handed students.

The book acknowledges that some left-handed students will still follow different letter formation strategies, even after remediation. This is why the alternate left-handed worksheets are offered.
Big Strokes matches the different writing styles of the individual student. Many alternative letter formation choices are available for each letter. So, for each letter, there are several worksheets for the student and therapist to choose from. The book even has worksheets which allow for "bottom up" legible letter formation as a last resort.

This work remediates ENTRY-LEVEL handwriting formation in students who exhibit moderate to severe letter formation delays.

The half-circle is used when found easier than the circle, and always used as the first stroke in commonly reversed letters.

Big Strokes contains an extensive visual-motor prewriting section to develop line, stroke, and basic shape formation and sequencing.

The book contains an extensive prewriting treatment plan for therapists which incorporates visual training, cognitive-perceptual training, and gross motor activities for basic letter formation.

There are a variety of different construction activities used to teach the child to motor plan each letter prior to writing the letter.

The book makes extensive use of kinesthetic and tactile construction materials for training.

The letter worksheets allow for flashlight tracing as well as tracing, imitating, copying, and writing from memory.

Big Strokes provides ample space on its worksheets to practice letter writing many times.

By using this approach, the therapist directs the remedial treatment. There are therapeutic treatment plans as well as educational practice lessons. In this way, team collaboration is encouraged.

The worksheets are composed of thick, wide-ruled paper, without the customary dotted middle line. For added boundaries, the therapist can lay Letraset tape over these thick gray ruled lines.
Big Strokes offers therapeutic activities to improve ideation and diagonal scanning for diagonal line formation.

The book contains a special problems section, which offers ideas about how to develop laterality, letter and word spacing.

Big Strokes contains an extensive appendix listing compatible textbooks in the areas of fine motor, ocular-motor, perceptual-motor, and sensory integration.

The work presents a Skill Timeline which shows the ages at which mainstream children develop specific prewriting and handwriting skills.

The book offers suggestions on how to take handwriting samples from students ranging from kindergarten through third grade.

The worksheets shows stroke direction using icons (or pictures), rather than confusing directional words.

Big Strokes uses two color inks to better illustrate overlapping line segments in specific letters.

Other graphic strategies are used to limit visual figure- ground confusion on the worksheets.

Auditory and picture cues are used (among other methods) to develop the proper sizing of tall and descending lower-case letters.

Extensive constructional and visual activities develop the required visual-spatial and visual-locative skills needed to properly locate the intersection of line segments to form letters.

This book was written primarily for the occupational therapist. Although it can be used collaboratively, it is a clinical intervention approach requiring the interpretation and analysis of an occupational therapist.

Big Strokes was written in consultation with a developmental optometric vision training specialist.

Big Strokes for Little Folks can be used with students whose cognitive level ranges from the average intelligence to the educable mentally retarded.

You can order Big Strokes for Little Folks, direct from The Psychological Corporation under Catalog #0761643672-BTS, by fax (800.232.1223) or by phone (800.228.0752).

First Strokes

The information presented is from:

What is the First Strokes Print Program?
The First Strokes Print Program is a multi-sensory print program designed for pre-K through 3rd grade children. The program is designed to be fun for children, and provides a way for parents, teachers, and others to effectively communicate and measure progress

How does First Strokes compare to Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) by Jan Olsen?
Both are multi-sensory
Both are therapeutic handwriting programs
Both are popular with schools
Both are easy to understand

FS Print immediately generalizes to Zaner -Bloser paper and then other forms of paper
FS Cursive immediately generalizes to cursive ruled notebook paper, then regular notebook paper
First Strokes is based on the "First Stroke" of the letter - therefore it is better for students who do frequent letter reversals
First Strokes Print has a computer tutorial - and once the kids learn the "First Stroke", they can be talked through any letter. They also learn that a "short line down" letter starts on the middle divider, as "tall line down" letter starts on the top line
First Strokes gives cognitive cues in letter groups/categories
First Strokes has a story book, in color, and also the storybook is narrated on the computer
The entire philosophy of First Strokes is multi-sensory handwriting. While HWT has some slates and the "wipe, dry, try " method is an excellent multi-sensory activity, the First Strokes program has a zillion creative multi-sensory methods outlined in the manual - designed to use during therapy, or to be set up in a writing lab where a teacher can use it for students who struggle.
HWT uses an adapted paper - 2 lines, and some teachers are not too fond of having to adapt handwriting to the 2 lines - they want the kids to be able to use regular paper, the lines in the curriculum (worksheets, books, etc..). Experience at The Handwriting Clinic has shown that kids who have moderate to mild handwriting dysfunction can generalize to regular paper - usually very quickly or at least by the end of an 8 or 16 week class. The First Strokes manual give lots of good info about generalizing to regular paper.

How can I order the First Strokes Handwriting Programs?
The First Strokes program can be ordered from the First Strokes website at

I am NOT affliated with First Strokes; however, have experience with the program and have found to be VERY effective in handwriting instruction and remediation! My fellow OTs in my school system also have worked with nearly all the handwriting programs out there and prefer this one the most. :)

The Sensible Pencil

I purchased this program a while back to use with students with handwriting difficulties. Like other handwriting programs, The Sensible Pencil teaches manuscript letters and numbers. I haven't found it to be any more or less effective than other programs. I don't tend to follow the program precisely and tend to pull out what I like and need from the binder.

According to
When the IEP calls for handwriting improvement —The Sensible Pencil hashelped thousands of children in the past 15 years. Order for your school or district today, and experience the success of others.

A Comprehensive handwriting program that teaches manuscript letters and numbers to young children and all students with special needs—especially Down Syndrome and Autism.
Teaches upper and lower case manuscript letters and numbers.
Can be used with individuals and/or small groups.
Contains pre/posttests.

Includes 200 activity sheets that eliminate the need for any other workbook.
It’s self contained, ready-to-use, no additional workbooks required.
The Sensible Pencil is an ungraded, individualized, direct instruction program for teaching upper and lower case manuscript letters and numbers. The 200 exercises provide step-by-step readiness activities that are the foundation of all writing skills. New tasks are gradually introduced while tasks already learned are continually reviewed to ensure success.
Careful consideration is given to visual clues, prompts and letter size. Letters are clustered and presented on the basis of difficulty and similarity in formation. All worksheets move the writer forward at an attainable pace and provide abundant success for the new writer and encourage independence.

The Sensible Pencil is so carefully structured that it can be used with individuals or small groups and can be presented by the teacher, aide or volunteer. For the student, it includes over 200 worksheets, pretests, posttests. Packed in a sturdy 3-Ring binder

The kit runs about $195.