My son's first grade teacher called the other day and says that he has problems holding his pencil. I knew that he didn't like writing and pretty much refused to write his name on any of his work in kindergarten, but I thought it was because he was stubborn. He won't tell me anything about his day, and if he does, it's always "I don't know."

I have heard that I can get a gripper for his pencil, but that some kids become dependent on them to write with.

He doesn't have any problems holding small things, like coins or whatnot, he just can't get the pencil thing.

He is left handed so it makes it harder for me to try and show him how to do it because I am right handed. Any suggestions?

UPDATE: Mrs. Menefee called again the other day with results from the occupational therapist. She told me that fine motor skills are not really the issue here as much as Jordan's(my son) ability to WANT to do things. That is what I suspected, but I'm not the professional in this case. Fine motor skills are still somewhat of an issue, but Jordan needs to work on his willingness to do his work. Apparently, when a task becomes a little bit of a challenge, he just gives up. I've noticed this at home too.

He just doesn't want to do anything difficult. So now we get to work on boosting his confidence in himself to let him know that he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to.

  • 1
    Would there be a problem with being dependant on a gripper? Apart from the practicalities of having to take them everywhere?
    – DanBeale
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 7:52
  • I see nothing wrong with it either, but I think teachers do.
    – jlg
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 16:21

4 Answers 4


According to Parenting.com, improving your son's fine motor skills can be a fun activity you do together:

Peel away -- Have him try to peel a clementine or small orange. This will give him practice grasping something small with his fingers while pulling at the same time, a skill he's going to need for writing. (Plus, he's rewarded with a sweet treat when he's finished!)

Easy pieces -- Instead of tossing those broken crayons, let your child color with them. He'll have to hold the smaller pieces the way he would a pencil rather than with the closed-fist grip he uses on whole crayons.

Drop by drop -- For some kitchen fun, give your child a medicine dropper from an empty bottle, a cup of water, and an empty cup. Have him transfer a drop of water from one cup to the other to build finger strength and coordination.

PreschoolMama.com suggests:

  • Place a piece of sponge in her palm, and let her close her ring finger and little finger around it. Now, let her use only the thumb, forefinger and middle finger to hold the pencil. Having to hold the piece of sponge with the last two fingers will make her hold the pencil tightly with the first three.

  • Cut out three holes in a sock, and let her insert her thumb, forefinger and middle finger in each hole before she attempts to practice writing.

As far as grippers go, I can only offer anecdotal evidence. A number of male students I grew up with used grippers through part of elementary school. As their handwriting improved (which happened for most with age) almost all of them were weaned off of the gripper by high school. As far as I can tell, it helped a lot of them a great deal. Some also used carpenter pencils instead; I think the shape helped them a lot. See if having him use a hexagonal pencil instead of a round one helps him; sometimes the surfaces give better guides for holding.

I hope that helps!

  • Those are very good suggestions! Thank you. I will try these and see if there is any improvement. :)
    – jlg
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 16:07
  • Yes, please do! I'd love to hear if your son is doing better with his fine motor skills. :)
    – Aarthi
    Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 5:14
  • Actually, I have been working with him at home and although it seems that writing is still a problem, he seems to do just fine with me. I think he might be so unsure of himself that he needs that one on one time. And I know that teachers hear all the time "My kid is just fine at home" and don't really believe it, but in this case I really think he is just fine at home. I've had to correct him a couple times, but I think as long as he has someone to keep him on track, it makes it easier. So now my next obstacle is....how do I keep him focused when I'm not around to keep him on track?
    – jlg
    Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 13:06

I like the ideas Aarthi gave, a few other things that might help

  • Lego's, some pieces are small and require work to get in. Even the bigger pieces take some dexterity to click right. Other small building toys might help as well such as Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs or other similar products (I know only the US ones.)
  • Grippers are ok, so long as you don't keep on using them, but maybe getting a Maze book would help get used to just holding the pencil - my son at first didn't like pencils but loved Mazes and this helped him get used to them
  • Bigger pencils, my son has camptodactyly on his little finger, so its slightly crooked and he has a hard time with his right hand sometimes. He originally had problems with small writing implements and chopsticks, we got him larger things to use and that helped him out
  • Chopsticks, speaking of them, also good for manual dexterity. They make kids ones to try and use, or you can put a piece of paper between them and wrap it with a rubber band so its in the right position to squeeze. Make a game and see who can move the most small objects around...or eat asian food. You choice!

Is the handedness an issue? Never had to deal with that, but I know teachers sometimes bring up an issue and a couple of times it was something else.

  • I don't think him being left-handed is really an issue, it just makes everything I try to show him backwards I would think. Like I said he doesn't tell me anything so I have no idea what is going on in his head. All I know is that he gets frustrated easily, starts crying or pouting, then gives up. It is very difficult to try to get him to learn once he has given up.
    – jlg
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 19:05
  • 1
    Yeah, my son does the same thing sometimes. Either it's "nothing happened" or he finds it too hard, so I just try a different line of questioning. Good luck with it though.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 19:53

It is likely that your son has not enjoyed writing and is having trouble with gripping the pencil because of under development of skills needed for the process. Not because he is left handed.

Writing requires not only refined fine motor development, but also, good stability of the shoulder; muscular development of the fingers; flexibility/stability of wrist, and appropriate visual perceptual skills. Development of these begin way back with crawling. Children (like my son) who crawl little or none often do not gain the strength and proprioceptive input into the shoulders and flexibility of wrists that is needed for good writing skills. Children with low tone or more "squishy" state of their muscles have even more difficulty with these areas.

Hand development is also a very important component. An occupational therapist can determine if there are any weaknesses and prescribe exercises if needed. Activities might include pulling tiny beads or objects from exercise putty and drills for strengthening the oppositional strength of the thumb and little finger.

The wrist must be able to flex upward and sustain/vary the position as needed for writing. Working on writing or removing/placing magnetic or velcro objects on a vertical surface is one activity to practice this skill.

Movement requires stability. If the shoulder is not stable, movement for writing cannot be refined. Poor shoulder stability can be observed in some children as winged scapula. When the child stands with his back exposed, the scapula visibly protrude in a child with reduced shoulder stability. My son's favorite activity to work on increasing stability included hanging over the side of the bed and "flying" like superman. We also did the wheelbarrow walk on his arms while I held his feet and he "walked" through the house.

I encourage you to have an evaluation by an occupational therapist to get specific activities that will support your sons writing skills if they are needed.

  • 1
    Thank you. My son's teacher sent out paperwork for the occupational therapist so hopefully they will come in soon to check on him. :O)
    – jlg
    Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 15:14

Left handedness does make a difference.


Have the child use a hard lead pencil, such as a Number 3 instead of a Number 2, so that it will not smear easily. Primary or oversized pencils are not necessarily better for the left-handed child. In fact, the larger size may actually impede some children with small hands.

In grasping the pencil, the forearm should rest on the writing surface in a neutral position, with the hand resting on the little finger. This position allows the wrist to move freely. The wrist should be in a slightly extended posture (bent back), because this brings the thumb in a position where it can comfortably oppose the fingers. There should be a rounded, open web space between the thumb and fingers. This position permits freedom of movement through all finger joints and also allows the finger pads to contact the pencil shaft.

Teach left-handed students to hold their pencils about an inch and a half higher than right-handers, so that they can see over or around their hand; show them how to point their pencil toward their left shoulder. Suggest that they keep their wrists nearly flat against the writing surface, and prevent hooking by instructing students to keep their wrists straight and their elbows close to their bodies. It may be helpful to have a left-handed adult model the appropriate handwriting techniques.

Here's a link with some information about left-handed writing, and also about fine motor skills:


  • Thanks, I will read the information over later when I get home. :)
    – jlg
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 13:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .