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Hand therapy

How hand therapy can help handwriting skills

Handwriting skills are developed in children from a young age. With increased use of technology, more children and teenagers are having difficulty with their handwriting skills and pain during writing. There are tips on how to improve messy handwriting and how hand physiotherapy can help. Firstly, let’s take a look at the five stages of pen grip development in children.

Grip Varieties & Age:

1. Palmar supinate grasp: During this stage, children hold a crayon with a fist, like a dagger. They will use their shoulders and arms to scribble on paper. Children usually develop this gasp by 12-15 months old.

2. Palmar or digital pronate grasp: By 2-3 years old, children move to palmar or digital pronate grasp. As children grasp onto the pencil, the fingers are pointed down towards the paper.

3. Four finger and thumb grip: During this stage, children hold a pencil between the thumb and four fingers. The pencil is in a vertically upright position. Movement is initiated from the elbow and wrist.

a little girl learning to write with good posture.

4. Static Tripod Grip: The tripod grip is the most commonly recommended and efficient grip for handwriting. It is formed by the ages of 3-4 years old. It involves holding the pen between the thumb and index finger while resting it on the middle finger. This grip forms a tripod shape, which provides stability and control during writing.

5. Dynamic Tripod Grip: This is the most mature grasp, formed when your child is 5-6 years old. This grip is a variation of the traditional tripod grip but involves a slightly more dynamic movement. The pen is held using the thumb and index finger, but the middle finger is positioned slightly away from the pen, allowing for more fluid movement during writing.

Reasons For Messy Handwriting

With increased use of laptops, iPads and mobile phones, children aren’t used to writing for long periods of time. This can lead to messy handwriting as they lack the endurance. However, messy handwriting can also be affected by other factors. These include:

  1. Language problems
  2. Visual, spatial and or fine motor issues that affect coordination
  3. Environmental factors such as sitting posture, size of pencils or pens and desk set up
How hand therapy can help handwriting skills

What your child can do to improve their handwriting

  • Good handwriting starts with good posture. Check that your child is sitting upright with hips, knees and elbows bent at 90 degrees. Their feet should be touching the floor or footstool
  • Use a thicker pencil or pen. Thicker pencils or pens doesn’t allow heavy pinching of the thumb which causes thumb pain.
  • Try inserting a pen grip. They can be purchased at Officeworks or at some news agencies.
  • Practice writing 20 minutes straight for 3 months to improve endurance

Does my child need a formal handwriting assessment by a Hands Physio?

If your child has learning difficulties or a medical condition that affects their language, visual perception and fine motor coordination, they may benefit from a hand writing assessment. A formal handwriting assessment, known as the Detailed Assessment of Speed of Handwriting, looks at:

  • Handwriting speed
  • Organisation of the writing, eg, size of writing, spaces between letters and lines
  • Other factors eg pen grip, posture, type of pen/pencil used
Little girl drawing in her notebook

How a Hands Physio can help
A Hands Physio can assess children’s handwriting to provide them with strategies on improving their writing endurance, pen grip and legibility. If appropriate, they can also write a letter for the school to allow them extra time during exams.

If you think your child would benefit from a handwriting assessment, get in touch with one of our Sydney hand clinics for an appointment. 

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Boy lying on stomach on floor drawing with pencil