“Two hands on the hurley!” You hear trainers up and down the county roar this at underage matches and training sessions. As every hurler on the ditch will tell you, having the right grip on the hurley is vital!
A while back, I was talking with my cousin (a Montessori teacher) about the decline in handwriting skills and the assumption that keyboard skills will replace handwriting. We have both noticed that many young children dislike writing and that there seems to be a correlation in the decline in handwriting skills and the increase in poor pencil grips!
The ability to use our thumbs is credited with giving human beings an evolutionary advantage over other species. And yet, humans are not born with the natural inclination to hold writing tools with a proper grip. The proper pencil grasp has a name: the tripod grip. Though the tripod grip is preferred, the quadropod grip is also a common and accepted grip.
The tripod grip utilizes three fingers to secure a writing utensil: the thumb and forefinger directing, with the utensil resting on the middle finger. The quadropod grip uses four fingers working together to stabilize the writing tool.
The tripod grip is the ideal grip for proper letter and number formation and writing. But this grip is a skill that must be modelled, taught, and corrected. When there are too many fingers involved, or if the stance is improper, writing will not be as easy as it can be.
Handwriting requires fine motor skills (dexterity, precision, coordination, grasping), visual motor/oculomotor skills (eye teaming, convergence, scanning) and behavioural skills (attention, focus, creativity). These motor skills are not just used for writing. A proper grasp is needed to button a shirt, tie shoes, or open containers in a lunch box.
Writing can be both a representation of necessary skill mastery or a window into underlying delays in skill development. Poor handwriting can reveal visual motor integration issues, vision issues, behavioural/emotional issues, etc.
But how do you teach the correct way to hold a writing utensil?
Before you even place the tool in the child’s hand, determine whether the child is right-handed or left-handed (or a ciotóg as we say in Irish).
Place a writing tool in your child’s hand. Move the fingers to the proper position, encouraging the child to keep their little finger and ring finger on the palm so that the fingers can do their jobs. A little pom-pom is great to use here. Show the child how to manipulate the tool by moving their fingers more than their wrist. The pencil or pen should be doing most of the work.
After your child does a little bit of doodling, colouring, and painting, the tripod grip will become as easy as breathing. It is important for parents to play an integral role in instructing by demonstrating, correcting, and modelling. I cannot stress this enough, children seem to be arriving at Montessori, playschool and big school with poor tripod grips. If not corrected early it can become a real problem.
Ideally, we want children to be comfortable writing and to teach them proper grip as a starting point. As they get older this will mean that they are more relaxed when writing with a lot less neck, shoulder and wrist discomfort when writing essays or in exams. They won’t be digging into the paper because the grip will be secure, and they will write with better flow.
Cursive writing will also become easier and as cursive writing aids the flow of thoughts, making having the correct handwriting grip can be an advantage.
Elaine Sparling is the CEO of the award-winning Hummingbird Learning Centre®. Based in Adare, Co Limerick and Tralee, Co Kerry, she works with clients on a one to one basis and can be contacted on 087-2996054 or through their website www.hummingbirdlearning.com.
In addition to their core 10 session programs, they also have a 4 session one to one Study Skills Program called Study Success for second and third level students. Call now for more information