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Think about how we develop our bigger (gross) skills before we can hone in on our smaller (finer) ones. As children become more coordinated with gross motor skills and bigger movements, such as crawling, walking, and climbing, the next step involves fine-tuning smaller movements. These smaller, finer movements can include holding a pencil, grasping small objects/foods, buttoning or zipping clothes, feeding with spoons and forks, etc. 

Progression Of Grasp/Common Milestones 

  • Palmar Grasp 
  • This can sometimes be seen around the 6-month mark. Involves grasping items with your whole palm or your entire hand; beginning stages of problem-solving and working out how to grab onto items that we want. 
  • Raking Grasp 
  • At this point, kiddos will start to use their fingers to bring objects closer to them; we’ll start to see more bending of the fingers in order to rake those objects in. 
  • Three Chuck Jaw Grasp 
  • This is when we start to become more coordinated when grasping smaller items; involves holding onto items (ex: a small box/cube) with the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. At this point, kiddos are starting to tuck the ring finger and pinky finger and become more coordinated with grasping items with fewer fingers. 
  • Pincer Grasp 
  • Around 10-12 months, kiddos will start using the tips of their thumb and index finger to secure items; think picking up a Cheerio or pinching a small item (ex: bead) with just your thumb and index finger. 

Bringing Writing/Drawing/Scribbling Utensils Into Play 

As your child’s grasp starts to progress and strengthen during play time and they start to engage in drawing activities, you’re ready to bring writing utensils into play. At first, their pencil grasp will probably look a little wonky. Those early days of scribbling might look messy and chaotic, but all of that practice will be providing your kiddo with opportunities to strengthen their hand muscles. As they strengthen their hand muscles, they will figure out how to better coordinate their grasp on writing utensils. 

Here are some grasps you might see your kiddo using while scribbling, drawing, or writing:   

  • Fisted Grasp or Palmar Supinate 
  • Grasping the pencil with the whole fist and the thumb wrapped up on top; typically the first grasp you’ll see, normally accompanied by wild scribbling – haven’t figured out what we’re doing, they just know scribbling aggressively can be fun. 
  • Digital Pronate Grasp 
  • By this point, kiddos will start to flip their fingers to point downward on the pencil; we’ll normally see kiddos using large movements with their arm. 
  • Tripod/Quadrupod Grasp 
  • This is where we aim to get kiddos; it’s technically a “mature” grasp that involves using fewer fingers on the writing utensil. Ideally, with the tripod grasp, the kiddos will hold writing utensils with THREE fingers (thumb, index, and middle fingers); when it’s a quadrupod grasp they’ll have the additional ring finger resting on the pencil for support!  

Ways To Encourage Grasp 

Grasp is one of the most important areas to focus on when developing children’s skills. So, how do we encourage it? 

  • One way is to first encourage your child’s gross motor play. Involve crawling, walking, climbing onto or over various objects to gain strength and overall coordination, etc. 
  • Then, you can focus on finer/smaller activities to carry out at home that would benefit your kiddo’s grasp development. Encourage your kiddo to grasp objects of various sizes (blocks, marbles, beads, spiky hedge balls, buttons, etc.) 
  • *Depending on your child’s age, make sure to keep a watchful eye to ensure no small objects are going into their mouths! 
  • When your kiddos are at the appropriate age for eating finger foods, bring on the fun textures! You can whip out mushed bananas, cheerios, scrambled eggs, fresh berries, or anything that they can squish and get a grasp on. 

I hope this information has been helpful in learning about the importance of working on your child’s grasp! 

Makenzie Holtermann, Occupational Therapist, Cool Springs TN.