Pencil Grip 101

Pencil Grip 101

{If you aren’t familiar with pencil grasps or the anatomy of the hand, you might want to check out my post, “When to Fix a Pencil Grasp” as an introduction.}

Suppose you have a child that can’t hold a pencil correctly… what do you do? I see way too many people slap a grip on a pencil and declare, “Job done!”. Yikes. There is actually much more to correcting a grasp than using a grip, but I’ll get to that later.

As I was preparing this post, I had my husband help me take the pictures of each pencil grip. Of course he had to test each one out, finally coming to the conclusion: “These are all essentially the same.” Ha!

I have to give him some credit, because he is right in a big way. All of these grips are designed for the same thing: to put a child in a “correct” tripod grasp. A few can be modified for a quadrupod grasp, but essentially, they all aim for the same goal.

The biggest difference between each grip is the way it gets you there. For example, if a child has a thumb wrap, they might do better in a Grotto than a Stetro because there is a bigger guard. Have I lost you yet? Alright then, let’s just start by identifying a few common grips on the market and the ways they are designed to work.

(I should probably put a disclaimer here that this is by no means an all-encompassing list of grips. These just happen to be the ones that have been accumulated over the years.)

Foam Grip

Foam Grip on pencilFoam Grip: Let’s start with an oldie. Have you ever considered the foam sleeve a pencil grip? This grip comes in many variations: ridges or bumps, plastic or foam. It gives the child a target area to grasp, and the grip is supposed to provide a cushion which can reduce pressure on the joints. However, it doesn’t do much in terms of actively positioning a child’s fingers.

Triangle Grip on pencil

Triangle Grip on pencilTriangle Grip: Here is another classic pencil grip. It can be a stand alone grip, or you might see a lot of pencils, crayons, or markers designed in this triangle shape as well. The three-sided design is supposed to provide a physical cue to promote a tripod grasp by giving each finger a designated spot. Again, it doesn’t do too much to actively change a child’s finger positioning.

Stetro Pencil Grip

The Stetro GripStetro Grip: This grip is small, so it works well for smaller hands. The indents provide cues for finger placement on the pencil in a tripod position. The “Solo” grip is also similar to the Stetro in the level of positioning support, just a larger overall size.

Writing Claw

The Writing ClawThe Writing C.L.A.W.: Hmm, when I think of a correct pencil grasp, the word “claw” definitely doesn’t come to mind. However, C.L.A.W. actually stands for Controlling Letters of Adolescent/Adult Writers. Bet you didn’t know that, huh? (I didn’t either until I just looked it up….)

This pencil grip provides a cup for each of the three fingers. In terms of the amount of positioning support, nobody really slides out of this one… a little tripod straight jacket. However, I do find that it has slightly more wiggle room in terms of actual finger movement than some of the other grips.

Grotto Grip

Grotto grip on pencilThe Grotto Pencil Grip: The idea behind this grip is to limit any odd positioning or movement of the fingers in order to support a tripod grasp. The “Crossover” grip also looks very similar to the Grotto, but I haven’t used that one before. You’ll see the guard in the front is supposed to prevent the fingers or thumb from wrapping over.

Start Right Grip

Start right grip on pencilStart Right Pencil Grip: This grip is designed to keep the web space open, as well as provide barriers to prevent the thumb and fingers from going anywhere they aren’t supposed to. You’ll see that there aren’t any indents on this grip for the fingers to slide into. It’s main job is to prevent any wandering fingers.

The Pencil Grip

The Pencil Grip

The Pencil Grip: Whoever came up with the name for this was genius. Need a pencil grip? Why not get THE pencil grip? I mean, have you read some of the names of these things?

The Pencil Grip is supposed to provide an ergonomic support in a tripod position. It comes in regular size as well as a jumbo size for smaller hands. I also have another use for The Pencil Grip, which I will demonstrate next…

TIP Grip ProtocolTIP Grip 2

The TIP Grip Protocol: I believe the TIP Grip protocol was created by Jan McClesky, an occupational therapist from The Handwriting Clinic/First Strokes program.

It is a way to adapt the pencil using a The Pencil Grip that has been cut in half to promote a proper grasp with appropriate joint positioning. You can look it up online for a tutorial.

I sometimes think of this protocol as the “un-grip” because the child actively grasps around the grip to the rubber band, instead of using the grip to support their fingers.

Pencil Grip Precautions

As I mentioned before, there is much more to correcting a pencil grasp than slapping a pencil grip on a pencil. That’s kind of the equivalent of duct taping a hole in your roof. It might work for a minute, but the underlying issues still remain.

Let’s say you put a grip on a pencil and the child holds it beautifully. Fantastic. However, what happens when you take that pencil grip away? If they were just using the grip as a crutch to melt their fingers into, they probably haven’t developed the proper strength to maintain the position alone.

Another issue to think about is when children have difficulties with motor planning. If you teach them to grasp a pencil only with a pencil grip, it might be very challenging to wean them off. Some children look at a pencil as if it is a foreign object once the grip has been removed.

How about the children that are rigid in their routines? They might not want to give up that grip. With these children I might avoid a grip all together and focus on hand strength/dexterity and provide a visual cue such as a sticker on the pencil to demonstrate where they should place their fingers.

If the child has structural issues that caused an inefficient grasp in the first place, they might not even be able to maintain the position that the grip forces them into. That pencil grip isn’t glued to their fingers in the correct position, you know. That means some children start to compensate around the pencil grip, creating more issues.

For example, this position below is technically a “tripod”, but the thumb has locked itself into hyperextension to keep from collapsing. Think of locking your knees to keep from falling over when you are tired. You don’t have a lot of flexibility or dexterity in this position.


If the child really has an issue with stability, they might start to fold their fingers or their thumbs over the grip in a fight for control. If someone has simply put the pencil grip on and walked away, a child might find themselves writing in these positions; often steam rolling right over all of the features of the grip that were supposed to keep them in place.

Compensation with pencil grips
Or how about this compensation, can you even tell which pencil grip I am using?

Guess the pencil grip

Alright, a bit of an exaggeration, but my point is that putting a grip on a pencil is not going to magically change a child’s grasp. They can still find ways to compensate or do strange and funky things with their hands.

Another point to think about – is the child going to actually use the grip? A lot of children I know have hidden their pencil at school or refuse to use it because it makes them look “different.” Some children start to cry or avoid homework and writing tasks because they are incredibly embarrassed by the grip. I had one child look at me with puppy dog eyes and say, “You aren’t going to make me use this at school, are you?” I mean, come on, it’s not like these things are discreet.

Making the Pencil Grip Choice

There are two different ways to look at choosing a pencil grip: are you looking to adapt or rehabilitate? That’s right, I’m busting out those occupational therapy frames of reference.

If I am looking at a child with an adaptive frame of reference, I am assuming that they will not hold a pencil in a functional way without adaptive positioning. At that point, I might need to select a pencil grip that works for them depending on the level of support they need.

If I am working with a rehabilitative frame of reference in mind, then a pencil grip might just be a step in the grasp training process. The child first needs to develop strength all in the right places. That means building a stable support by working on proximal stability, (core strength, shoulder, elbow, and wrist stability) as well as assuming a proper seated position. I also work on separating the sides of the hand and developing the palmar arches. All important components of a proper grasp.

With that underlying support, I may alternate writing tasks with a grip on and off the pencil, just so the child understands and feels the correct grasp. Other times I simply use the pencil grip for fine motor strengthening tasks by placing it on tweezers or chopsticks, or by having the children grasp the pencil grip while completing a gross motor task or obstacle course.

Sometimes I have to let parents know that there are situations when no grip is the best grip for their child. I think some parents feel cheated when they come to OT and don’t get a pencil grip. I need them to know that there are so many factors that contribute to a correct grasp that there isn’t always a quick fix. You want your OT to look at all the underlying issues before making a decision.

I do realize that OT’s all seem to have different philosophies on pencil grips, and we can get really judgmental of each other based on our choices. “Ugh, she totally recommended a Grotto. I always go with the Start Right…” I mean, we really argue about these things. However, as long as we all know the reasoning behind our recommendations, go for it. To each his own grip, I suppose.

Related Posts:

The Handwriting Debate: Which Program is Best?

The Handwriting Debate: Which Program is Best?

Evaluating a Child's Handwriting: An Inside Look

Evaluating a Child’s Handwriting: An Inside Look

When to "Fix" a Pencil Grasp

When to “Fix” a Pencil Grasp

About TheAnonymousOT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist
This entry was posted in Insider Information, Occupational Therapy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Pencil Grip 101

  1. Reblogged this on okupasi terapi mandiri and commented:
    good to understand

  2. Thank you so much for this very informative article! I will pin and share with my readers and clients’ families, as I feel it provides a great deal of insight and strategies.

  3. A GREAT contribution to pencil hold information (I prefer the word “hold.”) First of all, there is a lot of work to do with children who come to school at such early ages, and before hands are strong enough to hold a pencil in a relaxed manner. (Did you say the about the same thing somewhere?)
    When I am trying to help a child, I ask them to check the color of their fingernails. It should be all pink, with no white areas if the hand is relaxed. Not a plan with little girls with purple polish! Horrors! I noted some white in the nails in your photos!

  4. Laurette Olson says:

    Well done! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Em Walker says:

    I am just a mom, but my son is Dyspraxic (aka Developmental Coordination Disorder). Our kiddos often struggle with pencil grasp, which pencil grips to choose, etc. I found your pins on Pinterest, though I have no idea how or way, but I was so impressed with your articles, I not only pinned them to my Dyspraxia board, I passed them onto our Dyspraxia group. Thanks for such wonderful information!

  6. Bracha Finman says:

    Thank you so much for this informative article! As a pediatric OT myself, I was wondering if you could share some examples of how you have “the children grasp the pencil grip while completing a gross motor task or obstacle course.” It sounds so fun and functional, but I would love some ideas!
    Thanks so much!

  7. I was wondering which grip you would choose for a child who is dominant with her left hand.

  8. Another thought: Put something soft in the palm of the hand, hold it there with little finger and ring finger and write. It’s best with a short writing tool. An adult friend uses a small ball of yarn to maintain a relaxed hand. If you have a chalkboard it can add some fun. For an illustration, please see my blog, and the entry of 06/07/2013, Pre-Writing Activities.

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  10. hwangjisoo says:

    I want to buy CLAW.
    How can i buy CLAW?

  11. Lily says:

    Can you please expand on how you have “the children grasp the pencil grip while completing a gross motor task or obstacle course.” Some examples please! ;D

  12. Alyssa says:

    Excellent. I am an SLP and a homeschooling mom. I am working with my 7 yo daughter on correcting her wrap around grip. This is a big help. I should send you pics of her grip to post as an example of what NOT to do.

  13. Gundula Stevens says:

    I came across your website by chance and I was very pleased about it. I am a Paediatric OT myself and work with disabled children and with children who have hand writing difficulties. I like your presentation, which is very clear and will be of great help for people who would like to get ideas and answers to their questions.

  14. Kylie says:

    As a Pre-OT student finding your blog has been incredibly helpful to help me start understanding what I need to know. Thanks a bunch!

  15. Christina G. says:

    What would be best for fatigue? My son holds his pencil with out any problems but now that he is writing in cursive he complains of hand fatigue and cramping. His doctor suggested a larger pencil or pencil grip but when I went on Amazon to buy a grip, I was amazed at how many different types are out there. Please advise, Thanks!

    • Michele says:

      Having worked as a school based COTA for five years, I had the opportunity to actually teach cursive to just a few students. However, I do recall two who successfully went through the complete handwriting program did use The Pencil Grip with good results. Surely the Start Right Grip has its merits but I sometimes found its large size in their little hands to obstruct the student’s view. If you have a TAPS store nearby, check out their wide selection of grips. This way you can purchase one of each style without breaking the bank. Let your son use them for drawing and coloring with crayons and colored pencils, too. Remember, no two students are alike and neither are pencil grips. Does he exert a lot of pressure when writing? As with printing, some students complained of fatigue and cramping and it was typically due to excessive pressure onto the paper or squeezing the grip real hard. Then when they press hard the lead writes dark and that makes it harder to erase cleanly, and so on. I had a fourth grade student with mild tremors who would press down so hard while printing that his hand would fatigue very easily. Switching to a mechanical pencil 0.7mm and 0.5mm really helped him regulate his pressure and resolved his fatiguing issues. As a warm up activity, he’d trace pictures using these pencils onto tissue wrap with the goal of no tears or lead breakage. It worked well as a reward activity as well. Mechanical pencils come in all shapes and sizes and many can also accommodate pencil grips. Good luck and by the way, it’s awesome that your son is actually being taught cursive writing!

      • Few will ‘hear’ me as I say it is not awesome to be taught the version of cursive that is commonly known in the US and some, not all countries. The hand and fingers often become tense as children try to remember the shapes and directions of strokes. They are different from those learned for print-script. In addition, every letter in a word must join. It is a spacing struggle to move from a ‘g’ to an ‘h’ in the word ‘might.’

        Even homeschooling does not allow enough time to learn conventional cursive well. If they do learn it, who can read what they write. More and more and more people can’t read cursive.

        How many readers will consider teaching a different cursive, italic?

      • Christina G. says:

        I meant to thank you for your reply, sorry its so late. I really appreciate your input and have implemented your suggestions. My son now writes without any problems. His cursive is much neater than his printing, everyone should continue to learn cursive.

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  20. grtlyblesd says:

    Would you be willing to make recommendation for a child missing fingers due to amniotic banding? I’m just starting to teach my daughter to write, and it’s been frustrating for both of us.

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  22. Edna Roches says:

    A spring wooden clothes pin attached to a gel pen perpendicularly makes a tripod grip where you can even write without a thumb. The clothes pin is light, cheap, adjustable, and works with any pen or pencil. Great for people with dysgraphia or arthritis.

  23. shoshana says:

    I came across to your site and sincerely you shared lots of useful thing. btw , im representing my school in a science project , so i wanna ask ur permission to take a bit of ur info to improve my project. is it fine for you ?


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