Motor Milestones: From Crayon to Pencil Grasp

By Jane Witmer, M.S., OT/L

As an occupational therapist, I often observe children playing and coloring with crayons. For such a common activity, it’s remarkable how many developmental skills a child has to learn in order to hold a crayon or pencil in an adult-style grasp!

Many children do not use a mature thumb and two-finger tripod grasp until they are five or six years old. However, we want to see children progressing through stages toward a mature pencil grasp throughout their infant and toddler years. Children develop this skill at different ages and rates, but there is a general sequence of milestones that indicates healthy motor development.

 

 

Birth to Five Months: Tummy Time

When infants push up on their hands in tummy time, they stretch tendons in their wrists and forearms, preparing them to support hand muscles. By five months, your baby should be starting to push up onto their hands with the belly still on the ground.

 

 

Six to Twelve Months: Holding Objects

Your baby can prepare and strengthen their hand muscles by holding toys and objects of different shapes and sizes. You will see them moving the thumb opposite the fingers to hold things, gradually increasing control with the grasp and release of toys.

 

 

One Year: Holding a Crayon

Around 12 months, your baby may start holding a crayon using the whole hand or fist. They may also switch hands and even hold crayons in each hand while trying to color. At this stage, many caregivers avoid giving babies crayons because they are likely to put them in their mouths. But it’s important to offer brief opportunities to practice coloring with supervision, so babies and toddlers can build this skill along with figuring out what they can and cannot put in their mouths.

 

One to Three Years: Thumb and Two-Finger Tripod Grasp

Sometime during toddler and preschool years, your child can start adjusting how they hold a crayon to a thumb and two-finger tripod grasp. The sequence may move from the fist with thumb up to the fist with thumb down type of grasp. Next, they might be using all four fingers and the thumb, holding the crayon with the finger pads.

 

Three to Five Years: Two- or Three-Finger Tripod Grasp

As your child nears school age, you should see them consistently using one hand to hold crayons and using thumb and two- or three-finger tripod grasp. Keep in mind that the size and the shape of the crayon will affect how your child holds it. The position of the paper can also affect how the crayon is held. Play around with how you position the paper (taped to the wall, on an easel, or on a table) and what size of crayon they use to stimulate different muscles. This will help your child develop a strong and well-coordinated crayon grasp for school activities.

 

Do you have questions about your child’s motor or other developmental skills? Ask our therapists!

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Jane Witmer finds pleasure in meeting families at Wonderland and combining her interest in science and art into creative occupational therapies for babies and toddlers. Jane is passionate about nurturing strengths and building on positive assets. She has found this particularly challenging recently as she nudges her two sons toward adulthood. Jane and her family peacefully coexist with one dog and two cats in a much-loved and remodeled home. She finds solace in outdoor activities like biking, hiking, camping, and gardening.