What is the Tripod Grasp? (And Why is it important?)

A tripod grasp is a functional pencil grasp that uses the thumb, and first two fingers to manipulate a writing utensil. This allows the 4th and 5th fingers to rest and stabilize the hand while printing. This is not to say that other grasps are not functional: because many are! Some kids will use their 4th and 5th fingers to help stabilize the writing utensil and have beautiful, legible writing. Some kids will grip the pencil more tightly decreasing the webspace (the space between the thumb and first finger), which often results in the thumb wrapping around the pencil to gain more stability. As an OT, when looking at a pencil grasp I am checking to see:

  • Is the grasp functional?
  • Is it allowing for appropriate amount of force to be used when printing (the printing is not too light or not dark)
  • Is the printing legible?
  • Are the joints of the hand in a position that will decrease stress/strain as the demands of printing get harder (in higher grades?)

With a less functional grasp, kids will often fatigue more quickly, have hand muscle cramping, or can develop joint pain. Their printing may be less legible, or they may take more time to complete their work. If they use too much force, it is difficult to erase mistakes, and if they use too little force, it is difficult to read their work! The goal of a good grasp is for the child to use good mechanics, and appropriate force to achieve legible, efficient written output. There are many products available to help a child achieve a tripod grasp, however a pencil grip is not always the right tool. If you have a concern about a child’s grasp, a referral to an Occupational Therapist (OT) is a great idea. OT’s are trained to look at the mechanics of the joints involved in printing. Printing does not just involve the fingers, but the wrist, elbow, shoulder and trunk too! An OT will assess where the challenge is originating and activities/exercises or adaptations to address the concern. If you know a pencil grip is the right choice for your child or student, check out some options here: