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Teach » Writing implements and grips

Suggesting the ideal pen or pencil that suits everyone is just as impossible as suggesting the perfect shoe that comfortably fits all feet...

Writing implements and grips

There are many different and personal reasons which come into play when choosing a writing instrument rather than another: the instrument’s weight, bulk and comfort to hold; one’s personal grip; one’s left or right-handedness; the hardness of a pencil’s lead; one’s personal writing slope and whether the instrument allows for it; how the ink flows and how quickly it dries, particularly for left-handed writers, etc. 

However, there are a few golden rules worth following, especially if little children or inexperienced writers are involved. Small hands should use small, lightweight writing instruments. Often, at home or at school, parents and teachers give toddlers bulky, heavy markers which they are forced to grasp with many fingers or with their fists in order to manage them. Later, when these compensatory pen holds become a habit, not only do they impact on  handwriting, but the inefficient grips themselves can be very difficult or impossible to correct.  It is very important that youngsters be given a wide variety of implements to scribble, draw, make marks and write with, such as finger colours, wax crayons, chalks and brushes so they can learn different grips, develop a wide range of manual skills and use flexible strategies, depending on the instruments they are using and the task at hand. 

If a person has little experience of handwriting, cannot spell well or has visual-spatial difficulties, it is wise not to impose the use of a pen when learning a new writing format, such as cursive. In terms of motor skills, pens are more difficult to control than pencils and may cause distractions which can lead the learner to make mistakes. In this context, erasable pens complicate the task even further: students with difficulties find themselves increasingly behind their classmates due to all the time spent erasing and re-writing. Such learners become discouraged, often refusing to write and can develop negative attitudes towards writing. 

Ask your stationary store to be informed about what they have in stock, as well as new products and their features. Tell the stationer about specific writing problems you may have, in addition to your needs, so as to be able to find the best solutions. Importantly, ask to try products before buying them, so you can test how they feel and suit your hand.

How we hold a tool when we write depends on many factors: the flexibility of each finger, the sensitivity of our fingertips, our ability to modulate force, our manual dexterity, how flexible we are in choosing and adapting a motor scheme to the task at hand and to the writing instruments we use. 

Typically, the proper way of holding a pen for writing, the one best suited to the physical structure of our hand which seemingly allows us maximum finger movements, is between the thumb and index finger, with the pen shaft resting on the middle finger. However, our hand, a masterpiece of biophysical engineering, allows us ample choice in carrying out manual tasks, and not all the possible alternative grips are necessarily incorrect.  Problems arise when a particular grip does not allow efficient pen control or when handwriting causes tension or pain. In such cases it is wise to consult a specialist in order to understand the causes and seek possible solutions.

To this regard, there is a wide range of rubber grips or writing aids available on the market. Each has different features to help correct specific grasping difficulties. At times, one may be able to find a suitable rubber grip at the stationers. However, in complex cases such as hyper-mobile joints or extremely stiff fingers, as well as sensory, muscular-skeletal and/or neurological disorders, using the wrong grip aid may worsen the situation.  So it is usually advisable to refer to a specialist.

In any case, it is important to stress the role of prevention and early intervention, especially in young children: prevention through appropriate education and teaching methods that encourage the development of manual dexterity and prompt corrective intervention when motor schemes are still flexible and adaptable.