Pen hold

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Does it matter how you hold a pen? If you’re comfortable, and your writing is all right, hold it any way you want. But if your middle finger is callused and your hand aches, you may be ready for a change.

Gripping your pen hard invites trouble. Don’t hold it in a vise-like grip between your thumb and index finger. That’s how writing cramp starts. Put your thumb and middle finger together instead.

The first penhold
Children don’t know by instinct how to hold a pen. We have to teach them. The primary grip is a good start.

First, join the tips of the thumb and middle finger.

Then put the pen in the cleft between them.

Finally, lay the index finger on top of the pen.

To your adult hand, the primary grip may feel inflexible. It is meant only for children who don’t yet have highly-developed motor skills.

How to form the primary grip
Relax your hand. Join the tips of your thumb and middle finger comfortably. Put the pen in the cleft between them so that the barrel is close to the knuckle of the index finger. Then lay the index finger on the pen. This way, the index finger pushes against the thumb and middle finger. It’s much better than the thumb and index finger pushing on either side of the pen.

Writing cramp is probably the most serious consequence of a bad grip. In our approach to pen hold, it comes first.

Your hand should lie on its side and on your half-curled little finger. Keep your wrist more or less straight. Your hand should never be above the writing line and write downwards, as left-handers often do. We come to that problem on the page about left-handedness.

A grip for grown-ups
As children grow, the proportions of their hands change. The children also write faster and should hold the pen differently.

In the grown-up grip, the thumb pushes the pen against the first and second fingers.

The grown-up grip is different from the primary grip. The thumb goes higher on the barrel and pushes the pen against the first and second fingers. This does increase the danger of writing cramp. If it sets in, the easiest remedy is to return to the primary grip. Move your thumb down to meet the middle finger and keep it there until the cramp has faded away. More about that on the page about writing cramp.

The grown-up grip is excellent for quick writing. It is not as useful for beginners. It is only an advantage, when the hand has developed some discipline.

The way we hold a pen today is a novelty. Fifty years ago, most handwriting books taught the copperplate grip: palm down and all four knuckles up.

What kind of pen?
Some people recommend thick pencils for small children. I don’t think this is a good idea. Test it for yourself: give the children a few choices. When I have tried, they take thin barrels, such as ball point refills.

How to do it
Make sure that the children have the right penhold at the beginning of every class. Of course, some of them will not keep it for long. This need not worry you. They are all right as long as they know how to form a proper grip. When they need it, they can use it.

Keep handy a few triangular vinyl pen grips that slide onto pen barrels. They are remarkably useful for teaching a good grip. Triangular pencils have their advantages, too. Children don’t need these things all the time. In each class, there are usually a few who do, and they won’t all need them on the same day.

One bad habit you must stop before it takes hold: the pen barrel must never lie parallel to the thumb. It is not suited to the demanding control of pen movements.