As a teacher and educator, I am very concerned about the push down of handwriting. It is scary to see the wide spread practice of teaching three and four year olds to write before they are physically ready. I wanted to share a few developmental pieces I have regarding the development of the hand grip.
As you look at the physical developmental picture of a child's capacity to hold a writing instrument, think of the practices in your classroom or with your child. While we all know every child's readiness is individually based – for most four year olds, the fine localized movements required to write effectively have not developed. Looking at Stage Four, we see that many children will not develop this until age 6. In countries like Finland, Switzerland and Sweden, children are not formally taught to write until seven years old. This allows for the vast differences in readiness.
Additionally, I think it is vital we remember the child in a holistic picture. Not only is there the development of the hand grasp – there is the development of visual motor perception, cognitive capacity and the ability to attend to the task.
STAGES OF PRE-WRITING SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Fine and Gross Motor Skills, Body Awareness, Physical Health
Stage One Palmar-Supinate Grasp (1 to 1.5 year olds)
Held with fisted hand
Wrist slightly flexed
Wrist slightly supinated away from mid-position
Arm moves as a unit
Stage Two Digital-Pronate Grasp (2 to 3 year olds)
Held with fingers
Wrist slightly ulnar deviated
Forearm moves as a unit
Stage Three Static Triposture (3.5 to 4 year olds)
Held with crude approximation of thumb, index, and middle
Continual adjustments by other hand
Ring and little fingers only slightly flexed
No fine localized movements of digit components, hand moves as
Stage Four Dynamic Tripod Posture (4.5 to 6 year olds)
Held with precise opposition of distal phalanges of thumb, index
and middle fingers
Ring and little fingers flexed to form stable arch
Wrist slightly extended
MCP joints stablized during fine, localized movements of PIP
joints (test by drawing tiny circles)
More photos of what these grips look like.
Comprehensive Book on Grasp Development
Tripod Grasp (efficient)
Quadropod Grasp (efficient)
Palmer-Supinate Grasp (inefficient)
Digital-Pronate Grasp (inefficient)
Photos from www.elmbrookschools.org
Interestingly, many researchers have found that the dynamic tripod grasp is not the only functional pencil grip. In fact, a grip called the lateral/dynamic quadrupod and four finger pencil grasp were nearly equal to the dynamic tripod grasp for functional writing. There are efficient and inefficient grasps.
I have seen in many kindergarten classrooms, the practice of using adaptive pencil grips for a large number of the students. Hello! Is this not a huge wake up call?! Adaptive pencil grips are not the answer. These devices can help a student achieve a tripod pencil grasp but that does not mean the quality or timeliness of the student’s handwriting will improve.
What we know is that handwriting readiness involves not only the hand grasp but such things as visuomotor skills, proprioceptive-kinesthetic awareness & handedness. There is a development moment for teaching handwriting (that includes writing the name, tracing letters, etc). I am concerned about the current trends.
Got your nice message about wanting to link up to your group, Montessori by Hand, with your great link to your blog. Your link went straight to your home page instead of this specific post, so I added the specific link for you to both Montessori by Hand and to MBH Storage, our group storage for extra files and links.
Thank you for sharing.
Here is what I wrote about your link on the pages:
Sally Haughey, member of Montessori by Hand, left a link to her wonderful blog post about The Stages of Hand Grip for Writing. She states that she is passionate about this, so if you have any questions for Sakky, she is your go-to gal. BTW, her blog is great, so please check it out when you check out her wonderful link.
Thanks and have a great day,
Group moderator for both Montessori by Hand and MBH Storage
This is a great list. Thank you for writing it. Although I agree that writing shouldn’t be formally taught to a very young child, my 3 year old just started writing on her own despite my discouraging it. She writes as well as a 5 or 6 year old. She has phenomenal fine motor skills for her age though and I now know that this isn’t typical.
Thank you, shared this on my blog.
Thank you for this. Work in writing comes way before trying to print, but it’s hard to put a number on the ages when these things happen as all children develop at their own pace. I agree with you about pressure to print too soon. As far as grasps, I allow my students at school and my children at home to write/color however they are comfortable. Have you heard of the Handwriting Without Tears program? I did not care for many of their items, but I did love the OT’s version of handwriting grasps.
I’m not seeing the photos – is that something I’m not doing right? My daughter goes to OT for handwriting (among other things) and I’d love to see what the goal is–.
Melissa! Thank you for letting me know! I will investigate the issue. I had linked to another site so I am thinking that site no longer has these photos. I have intended to post my own so it must be time! Thank you again!
Sally, Thank you so much for puting out the word that “functional” is a relative term! As I work with children who struggle with handwriting, I find that “whatever works” for them is better than wasting a lot of valuble time (and their parents’ money) attempting to find a new normal for them! As you so correctly pointed out, handwriting involves a complex set of skills and most likely, a child’s struggles with handwriting are based mostly on the “hidden” skills versus simply their pencil grip. If the grip is all that needs changing, you find that out quickly. Thanks for this awesome blog. I just “found” you via Google search! Will continue to follow. Take a look at my website, if you have time. I’d love to hear your feedback!
Thank you so much
Thank you for this timely reminder as we all prepare to go back to school here in Australia. The push down movement not only in handwriting but across the curriculum is indeed very concerning.