Tuesday, October 20

Drawing and (Trying) to Achieve a Correct Grasp

I was recently watching one of the Montessori videos by Margaret Humfray. In her lecture she talked about the fact that children should be taught the correct way to use any tool or material and that they should only use it if they can use it the correct way. Among these tools she includes pencils and anything else used for writing or drawing. The reason for only giving the tool to a child who can use it the correct way, she states, is because the child will develop a habit of using/holding the tool the incorrect way, which can cause difficulties later on and will even require the child to relearn how to use it. After a little internet searching, I found Margaret's statements to be relevant. School occupational therapists report incorrect pencil grasps as one of the most common problems they are consulted about. Listed as one reason for incorrect grasp is writing before the hand is developmentally ready for the activity. (Check out this website for a list of activities to promote readiness-many of which are used in the Montessori classroom.)

Right away I started watching my oldest daughter using her favorite writing tool: markers. Although she has beeswax block crayons and Lyra colored pencils, she usually will choose the markers if they are available. I have noticed in the past that sometimes she will use a tripod grasp when drawing and other times she uses a whole hand grasp, but I had not considered it related to the writing utensil she was using, until now.

The picture above and this picture demonstrate the grasp she uses with a fat Crayola marker. Neither of these grasps are correct and uses more fingers than the correct grasp.

This picture shows her grasp using a Melissa and Doug triangular crayon. This grasp is much closer to the correct "dynamic tripod" grasp. Although I have introduced holding a pencil with this grasp I didn't mention any of it for these pictures, I just invited her to draw with all of them so I could see the natural grasps. I was really surprised to see the grasps changed so frequently.

After thinking about all of this information I wondered: What is a parent to do? My children love drawing, I want them to develop this form of creativity but I don't want to be providing something they are not developmentally ready for and something that could in fact be creating a future obstacle. In Montessori education children draw letters and numbers they are learning in the sand. I wondered about using the sand tray for drawing. We tried it but for drawing purposes it didn't provide the creativity and I think we all felt it was limiting. For now will stick with the sand tray for letters and numbers.

For other options I checked online to see what is available. I have seen the crayon rocks before but never tried them. Something small, like the crayon rocks or small pieces of chalk would encourage a tripod grasp.

I am also interested in getting a pencil grip. They look like something that would really help.

In thinking about all this new information, I keep returning to a reader comment made in the post about letter reversal basically saying we sometimes give children " too much, too soon." I thought that was a very accurate statement. Writing this post has made me really look at what I am providing and if it is something I want to provide, how I can provide the most developmentally appropriate version of it.


Amy @ Let's Explore said...

My 5-year-old has a very weird grasp, mostly using her pinky to guide the tip of the pencil/marker. We have been gently trying to correct this and have good success with primary (fat) pencils that my hubby cut in half, crayon rocks, and the short Pipsqueak markers that Crayola makes. Good luck! :)

Annicles said...

Something that can make using the sand tray more condusive to drawing in is to have a bright colourd bottom. We have sand in cat litter trays at school (don't laugh!) and the colour shows through and the children love to "draw" in it. we also have stones similar in size and shape to crayon rocks (which we can't get in the UK - sob)which they use to draw with.

Hannah said...

If you don't want to buy anything new, you could just use regular crayons broken in half. We've been doing that lately, and while I haven't noticed their grasps, they do draw with them frequently.

Jennie said...

Hi Amy,

Have you seen these pencils?


My 3yo has a lot of trouble holding a pencil, and these caught my eye at Staples yesterday. I went ahead and got them, but we haven't tried them yet (I can't decide if they'll be beneficial or somehow harmful). They're intriguing, though. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

thesecretofchildhood said...

What a thoughtful post. I love your blog, and really enjoy the way you evaluate everything that your children learn from, from the Montessori perspective. Thanks!

Smith said...

My son has this problem too (3yo). He is actually receiving Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy right now, which is pretty interesting. I'm hoping to soon share some of the play that he does with his therapists.

(Silly Putty--not playdough--is a favorite of the OT)

Karyn said...

There are lots of good ideas at www.hwtears.com. It's the Handwriting Without Tears program.

Lexi said...

I am a school based OT. I second hwtears.com and the use of small, broken crayons. I prefer to use regular sized crayons, etc. over the fat (including the Tadoodles) ones unless the child has a physical problem with the hands and needs something that is wider.

You can also encourage a pincher grasp by placing a small item in the childs palm and have them hold it in place with their ring and pinkie finger (something like these:


Using things like strawberry hulers, lacing and string activities, putting coins in a bank... any activity that requires the child to pinch something to pick it up...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post ... really interesting to read. I mostly agree, but wanted to point out that many artists change the grip from pencil to pastel to paintbrush and depending on the surface on which they are drawing/painting. Maybe it's not altogether such a bad thing for kids to do when they are painting or drawing? But for writing I would agree that the proper grip seems the way to go.

Anonymous said...

I teach 2-5 year olds with special needs in a self contained preschool classroom. We break crayons in half (or thirds if necessary) in order to help the children get the correct grasp. Handwriting Without Tears also makes tiny crayons to go with their curriculum if you prefer not to go the broken crayon route. Also, I ask my parents to send in the pipsqueak markers by crayola because they are smaller and encourage a more mature grasp.

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