Homeschooling parents are in a great position to direct their teaching to be best suited to their child's developmental needs. By knowing how their little hands develop and become ready for using all sorts of tools, not just pencils, you can target your teaching correctly and give your child the very best foundations for learning.
You probably wonder why that can even be important. Well, an inefficient pencil grip uses extra energy and causes children to tire during written work. This reduces the cognitive (thinking) energy left for learning the actual subject matter. Also, a child whose hand gets tired quickly in pencil tasks, will spend more energy thinking of how to reduce the amount of writing than on the information being written. This has a big “knock-on effect” on his
learning and thinking development. So often we see a child who writes only two lines in an essay of “My News”; yet when we ask him to tell us about his news, he has so much to say and share! Think of those 3 hour long examinations where time is precious and you have so much information to get onto your paper! We want our children to be well prepared so that sore hands and slow writing do not reduce their grades in examinations which can affect their life-opportunities.
Some people think that in this modern world of computers, children don't need to learn to write. Well, research tells us a different story. Learning to write helps the brain integrate movement, sensation, vision and auditory processing (because letters and words represent sounds). It is therefore more of a "whole brain" activity than typing on a keyboard. Information written by hand is processed more efficiently and remembered better. So writing is in itself a learning and thinking tool!
In the pictures above, you see how a young child’s hand develops the ability to hold the pencil in an increasingly efficient grip. If the child begins to spend too much time on pencil tasks in the earlier stages, that earlier, less efficient pencil grip can become established and
very difficult for him to change even when he has developed his hand muscles and control to cope with the better grip. I have had children come to me in their later grades, desperately wanting to change their pencil grip because their hand becomes tired in long tests and exams. Once the habit is established, it is really very difficult to change and usually they find that their old inefficient pencil grip reverts as soon as they are under pressure. So, in exams, when they most need a comfortable efficient pencil grip, it eludes
You will notice in the pictures above, that the thumb does not come around to form a good pinch for the pencil grip until 3-4 years old. In some children, this happens even later. The reason is that the small muscle at the base of the thumb that pull the thumb into abduction (away from the side of the hand) and opposition (around and in front of the palm) develop last. If your child spends his time reinforcing his pencil grip before his thumb abduction and opposition are developed, he may develop one of the inefficient pencil grips shown above.
You can see from the drawings that the flow and control of your pencil is compromised and you use more muscles and energy than when you use the correct pencil grip.
What should you rather do to prepare a young child for writing and prevent a poor pencil grip from developing?
Climbing jungle-gyms and ladders strengthens the hand and wrist and helps develop the correct thumb position (opposition) to allow the pencil to be held in a pincer (pinch)grip.
Games which use a hammer bring this into more planned and directed movement.
Modelling clay and “pinch pottery” strengthen the fingers and further develop the control and planning needed for efficient pencil control.
Cutting with scissors develops the two-handed (bilateral) coordination as well as further developing the muscles which control the thumb (first cut dough, then progress to light card and then to paper).
Once you see that your child has begun to develop the grip seen in the middle picture above, he can begin to paint with a small sponge. To hold the sponge, he has to use the 2 “pencil fingers” and thumb in a grip that begins to resemble an efficient pencil grip.
Threading beads develops the pincer grip and bilateral coordination further; as does cutting and weaving pieces of card, tearing and crumpling small pieces of paper.
In a previous article on this web-site, I gave other ideas and a recipe for making your own play-dough. Play dough is a great resource for building fine motor development. I have given you a background to pencil grip development and a few ideas of games and activities that help. You have probably already though of so many more!
It’s time to have fun! Prepare your child for learning by building his early foundations through fun and games!