Rachel McCann | October 25, 2021
Pencil grip and teaching lowercase letters and sounds
One of the most important elements of fine motor skills is the ability to write neatly and legibly. Yet it is just as important that children are comfortable when writing. A way to achieve these 3 things in unison is to ensure children develop a good pencil grip.
This is the second article in this series focussing on fine motor skills and it is all about pencil grip and teaching lowercase letters and sounds. If you missed it, the first article, explaining the need to teach fine motor skills and how to strengthen young hands, can be read here.
While most children will naturally develop a pencil grip that is comfortable for them the image below shows, what occupational therapists deem to be, the most ergonomic and user-friendly grip.
Children learning to write may exhibit a variety of weird and wonderful grips which are all capable of producing legible writing. At an early, beginning to write, stage this can be fine but by Year 2 an incorrect grip can have detrimental effects on a child’s writing speed and hand fatigue. It is much easier to fix the problem before it starts than to try to rectify it when it is ingrained.
Using the directions for where and how to hold a pencil, children can be encouraged to develop a grip which allows their hand and fingers to move freely and easily when writing or drawing. If instruction alone is not sufficient there are a myriad of pencil grips available which can assist students to place their fingers in the correct position. A long cry from the triangle rubber grips of yesteryear modern pencil grips come in all shapes and sizes and are designed to not only assist children place their fingers correctly but prevent them from placing them incorrectly.
Once children develop a good pencil grip they can start to practice forming letters. From as young as 2 years of age children can practice writing o’s or l’s with an anticlockwise circle starting near the top and a line from the top to the bottom. They do not even need to be told they are practicing writing but this most basic of practices will develop good habits from an early age and make handwriting much easier when taught later on.
In any of our fine motor skills art and craft boxes we include a fun, coloured dolphin shaped pencil grip which allows both left and right-handed writers to develop a good pencil grip. We also provide letter formation sheets to assist in writing the lower-case letters correctly. These can be completed using lead pencils, coloured pencils, coloured marker pens, crayons or chalk.
For our hand-writing sheets we concentrate on the lower-case letters and provide up to 6 of these with magnets to make learning letters and their sounds fun. Images are provided at the top of each sheet to assist with pencil grip and at the bottom of the sheet to assist in learning the sound of the letter and to practice phonological awareness. For example, the sheet for ‘r’ has an outlined picture of a rabbit, a ring and rose while the k has a kite, king and key. Children can trace these for added fine motor skills development and can colour them in if desired.
We deliberately chose lower case letters (a, b, c) rather than upper case letters (A, B, C) as these are more common in print and more easily identifiable for young children.
By using lower case letters we are encouraging readers to use the letter’s sound ie. ‘r’ rather than its name ‘are’ and c/k rather than ‘kay’. Lower case letters are also easier for little hands to form as they require fewer strokes. They are less of a challenge as only the letters f, i, j, t and x require the pencil to be lifted off the page when forming the letter.
It is also a good idea to teach letters in a series where they are graphologically unique so as to avoid confusion. For example, the letters a, o and c are similar in shape while the letters e and l are completely different in their construction. For our boxes we have tried, as much as possible, to provide letters which are in line with the boxes’ theme but are easily distinguishable such as d I n o s for our Dinosaurs box. We have also made sure to identify digraphs or blends such as ‘ck’ in ‘r o ck e t’ or the ‘er’ in f a r m er for our Space and On The Farm boxes.
Most importantly though when teaching young children make sure the learning is fun, it is geared towards their interests and offers lots of opportunities to practice new skills such as pencil grips, letter sounds and handwriting.