Sugar Aunts: Gift Guide Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp

Gift Guide Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp

We were so excited to prepare this Gift Guide on Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp!  We love coming up with fun play and craft activities designed to work on the development of an efficient grasp.  Being the season of gifting to others, we thought it would be fun to bring you our top recommended toys to work on tripod grasp, intrinsic muscle strength, rotation of the pencil while handwriting, and an open thumb web space. 

Children who have difficulty with handwriting may completely HATE to work on letter formation and pencil grip.  Why not gift them with a fun toy this holiday that will work on the developmental skills necessary to improve their grip on the pencil?  Make the exercise fun as they PLAY their way to a better pencil grasp!

Toys that will help improve pencil grasp

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Guide to Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp

Coming up with this list, we thought about the skills needed for an appropriate pencil grasp and age-appropriate handwriting.  This toy gift guide is broken down into toys that will help with different sets of problem areas when it comes to a poor pencil grasp.

Tripod grasp: The most efficient way to hold the pencil when writing is with a dynamic tripod grasp.  So WHAT is a tripod grasp?  A Tripod grasp starts with a nice round circle made with the thumb and index finger.  The pencil is pinched with the tips of the thumb and index finger and held close to the point of the pencil.  The pencil is resting on and assisted by the middle finger.  The ring finger and pinky fingers are tucked into the palm.  All movement should happen with the fingers and thumb.  The wrist and arm should not move while writing, coloring, or drawing. 

Often times, new pencil and crayon users will hold the writing utensil in a different way.  You might see four fingers opposing the thumb to hold the pencil.  You might see the pencil positioned in the knuckles between the index and middle fingers.  Maybe they hold the pencil away from the tip where the lead is and instead hold it in the middle of the pencil shaft.  There are SO many variations of awkward and inefficient pencil grasps.  If your little hand writer is showing some version that effects their letter formation and pencil control, try a few of these fun toys...

A few toys that help to encourage a tripod grasp:

Light Brite: Picking up and manipulating those little colored pegs encourage a tripod grasp.  Pushing them through the paper and into the holes is a great resistive exercise...disguised as FUN!  We have this Lite Brite Flatscreen - Red from Hasbro and love making pictures with the pegs!  When the child holds the pegs in his hand, it's a great way to encourage the ring finger and pinkie finger in a tucked position.  Show your child how to pick up a handful of pegs and "squirrel them away" in their palm while they push one peg into the board.  What a great fine motor exercise!  Not to mention, the dots of the guide paper is a great visual motor important in handwriting!

Lacing Cards:  Lacing cards are a great way to encourage a tripod grasp.  This set of Lacing Shapes from Patch Products come in simple shapes with bold colors. The child must hold the tip of the string in a dynamic tripod grasp to push through the holes of the card.  If your child has their thumb squashed up against their index finger while threading the cards, be sure to show them how to make a nice round circle for an easier time. 

Peg Boards: Grasping pegs encourage a tripod grasp especially while pushing them into the holes of a peg board.  This Lauri Tall-Stacker Pegs Building Set from Lauri is great for building peg towers while learning colors and shapes.  Older kids might love Fusion Beads like the Perler Beads 6,000 Count Bucket-Multi Mix from Perler. 

Closed web space:  Sometimes you will see a child who is holding their pencil with a closed web space.  The web space is the area between the thumb and the index finger.  If the thumb is squashed up against the side of their index finger, they are not able to manipulate the pencil with small movements.  They might move their whole arm to make letters instead of just the hand.  A closed web space is an inefficient way to grasp the pencil and will lead to poor handwriting.  This type of positioning requires activities that strengthen and stabilize the thumb.

A few toys that help encourage an open web space:

Tweezer Games:  Tweezer activities promote an open web space and stabilization of the thumb.  This Avalanche Fruit Stand from Learning Resources is a colorful way to encourage an open web space.  The vertical surface is perfect for encouraging an extended wrist (see below). 

Bead Sets: Stringing beads is a good way to encourage an open web space.  The child must hold the bead and string between their thumb and index fingers.  Collapsing of the thumb web space will happen when the child demonstrates weakness in the muscles of the thumb.  Beading is a repetitive activity and promotes strength.  This Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Stringing Beads with over 200 beads from Melissa & Doug has over 200 beads in different colors and shapes, and even letters!  You could even form sentences for the child to copy and practice their improved pencil grasp!

Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots:  Often times, a child will wrap their thumb around the index finger when they are writing with a pencil.. This indicates instability in the thumb and the muscles that allow for smooth pencil motions.  Pushing down on the buttons of the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em ROBOTS Game from Mattel really strengthens the muscles of the thumb and allows for more stability leading to an open web space and ultimately more fluid motions of the pencil in letter formation.  Plus, this game is just plain old FUN for kids of all ages!

Hand Strength:  If a child has weakness in their hands, they may complain that their hand is tired when they write or color.  Then, to compensate for muscle fatigue, they resort to an inefficient hand grasp.  They may grip the pencil with four fingers or with their whole palm.  many times, a child will start off with a nice tripod grasp and then switch to a less efficient grasp...or even switch hands!  Do they complain that their hand is tired or that it hurts?  These kiddos need to work on hand strength.  To allow for increased endurance when writing and coloring, this child would benefit from strengthening exercises.

A few toys that help encourage hand strength:

Pop Beads:  Pushing pop beads together is a perfect way to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the hands including the arches of the hands.  Pop beads are such a fun toy that can be used to make patterns, different lengths, bracelets, necklaces, and even shapes. This Pop Beads from ConstructivePlaythings are unique in their shape, color, sizes, and textures. A twist on the classic bead, this set will excite girls and boys of all ages.  Be sure to shop for size-appropriate beads for your child's hands. 

Play-Doh:  Play dough is the ultimate open-ended toy for hand strengthening.  There are unlimited ways to play all the while encouraging hand development.  We love this Play-Doh 24-Pack of Colors for lots of creative play!  Hide coins, beans, or beads in the dough and allow the child to find the items.  Roll small balls of dough using just the thumb, index, and middle fingers.  Roll a "snake" with the dough and have the child pinch the dough between their thumb and index finger.  Just get creative and make some things with your play dough.  Most of all, have fun!

Tissue Paper Art:  There is possible no better art project for hand strengthening than tissue paper art!  Crumbling little bits of tissue paper is perfect for strengthening the small muscles of the hand.  Encourage your child to use just their finger tips to crumble the bits of tissue paper rather than two hands to crumble.  This ALEX® Toys - Early Learning Tissue Paper Art -Little Hands 521W from Alex Toys is bold, colorful and just plain fun art!  Even better for the intrinsic muscles of the hands is tearing bits of paper before crumbling.

Squeeze Toys: a gross grasp is using the whole hand to squeeze and flex into a grip.  What a great way to strengthen the muscles of the hands!  This Melissa & Doug Louie Lobster Claw Catcher from Melissa and Doug is a fun way to encourage hand strength and endurance for coloring and writing.
Extended Wrist:  An Extended wrist is a slightly bent back wrist.  When a child's hand is bent forward toward the palm, they typically exhibit inefficient grasp on the pencil and weakness in the hand. A slight bend in the wrist towards the back of the hand (bent up toward the ceiling when writing) allows for better movement and flow of the fingers when forming letters.  Often times a child with a poor handwriting demonstrates a "hooked wrist" or a flat wrist and it leads back to inefficient control of the pencil and messy handwriting. 

A few toys that help encourage an Extended Wrist:

Easel: An easel can be used in so many ways while encouraging an extended wrist.  Paint, draw, color, or write on the elevated surface.  We love taping contact paper to our easel and sticking all kinds of craft supplies.  This really encourages an extended wrist while using a tripod grasp or tip to tip grasp to manipulate little items (think tissue paper, sequins, foil squares...the possibilities are endless!) This Easel is great for extended wrist activities.  And, it even folds down to reveal a desk surface.  It's the perfect gift to promote improved handwriting!

Ker Plunk: The Ker Plunk Game from Mattel encourages an extended wrist as the child pushes the sticks into the holes of the game.  They are encouraged to use a tripod grasp to hold the sticks as well.  Rotating the sticks encourages two types of in-hand manipulation. Take this game a step further in handwriting exercise for strengthening and play laying down on the floor, propped up on your elbows.  Getting down on the floor to play will activate the large muscles of the back and the shoulder girdle to improve precision in pencil grasp.

Best toys and ideas to help kids improve their pencil grasp

We hope these gift ideas are just the thing that someone special on your list will LOVE and will help them with pencil grasp! 
We're joining 50+ bloggers in the ULTIMATE gift guide for kids.  You can see them all linked up at No Twiddle Twaddle.   Be sure to stop by the Gift Guides for Kids Pinterest Board for loads of gifting inspiration.

Looking for a few activities to improve handwriting skills? Check out our round-up of the best handwriting activities from our blog:


                                    Toys and Games for Reluctant Writers


  1. Great list! Now I can say ok when my husband wants to get my son a rock 'em sock 'em robot! :D

    1. It is actually such a good game for strengthening those thumbs!

  2. What a great idea for a gift guide! Most of these things I never would have thought of!

  3. What an amazing list!! I would have never thought of this topic, but it is SUCH a clever idea! I love that Avalanche Fruit Stand game. Looks like a blast! Lite Brite is the best!! :)

    1. We love lite Brite in our house, especially fun when using it under a couch tent in the living room!

  4. I found your post on The Mommy Club. My youngest son struggles a bit with his pencil grasp. Now I have more activities to share with him to help strengthen his writing hand.

    I pinned this to my Early Elementary Education Board.

  5. What a creative gift list! Who knew Rock 'em Sock 'em was good for pencil grasp? Thanks so much for sharing this at After School!


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