Reach-to-grasp movements play a highly important role in overall human development. To ensure that pre-school and first grade children can make effective use of crayons and pencils, all muscles and joints from the shoulders to the fingertips have to be properly developed and trained, just like the precision grip for holding a pen.
Initially, toddlers grip objects and pencils with a fist or palmar grasp. This grip enables them to perform their first simple drawing movements, e.g. by using the thick Jumbo wax crayons or Jumbo GRIP colour pencils.
Thus, their first “pictures” are the result of “random” arm movements which are guiding a pencil.
This stage is followed by an important transition impacting on the entire future repertoire of motor drawing and writing skills. Movements become more purposeful, lines are no longer random, but more controlled when drawn on a two-dimensional sheet of paper.
By performing zigzag and circular movements, children practise sequences of lines which are important for acquiring the skill to write letters at a later stage. From then on children begin to hold the pencil or crayon by performing the pinch grip. Children more consciously use their fingers and start to imitate writing patterns.
The pincer grip, i.e. the ability to hold an object between the slightly bent index finger and the thumb, is practised when children are handling small objects, for instance, when sorting beads or puzzle pieces. With the help of his/her middle finger, a child may now take the next step and proceed to learn the tripod grip.
The latter is essential for getting proper control of the pencil, i.e. to relax while holding it and to purposefully guide it to draw a line. In this context, the index finger takes the most active part as it guides the overall movements. The thumb and the index finger are placed gently on either side of the pencil, while the middle finger goes underneath for support. It should not be placed in any kind of recess, as this would require changing the position of the arms while writing, which would, in turn, result in muscle tension. For properly learning the tripod grip, children need adequate guidance and repeated pencil grip correction.
While performing the above activities, children simultaneously acquire and practise visuo-motor skills (i.e. eye-hand coordination) which become automatic over time. Allowing children to exclusively engage in monotonous, repetitive actions, such as playing games on video game consoles, prevents the development of important eye-hand coordination skills. To succeed at school, children have to repeatedly practise complex grips: throwing and catching a ball, bead stringing, combining pluck-in toy building blocks, cutting out shapes/figures.
Please make sure that you include a sufficient amount of stretching exercises for loosening up the tight muscles of the child’s hands: he/she can shake their hands loose in front of them, crawl along a tabletop or another child’s back with their fingers, shape modelling clay by performing different types of movements (rolling, twisting, pulling, picking, hitting, kneading). A fun way for loosening up and strengthening hand muscles is to take the Faber-Castell super-soft modelling clay and shape small balls. Children can throw and catch them like bouncy balls – this is great fun and simultaneously furthers a large number of skills and abilities.