Pencil grasps can be confusing. Our children go from holding their pencils like Roman spears as toddlers to somehow moving their pencils around the page like ballet dancers in elementary school. Even during typical development, this process from spear to ballet dancer looks messy. The quadruped grasp is a part of that mess.
What is the Quadrupod Grasp?
The tripod grasp is the most functional grasp, which we ultimately want to achieve. The quadrupod grasp is essentially the same thing as the tripod grasp, but the ring finger is used as well.
So, instead of a “tri” we have a “quad.
Otherwise know as the quadrupod grip, think about what the word “grip” means. Obviously, we all know what it means to grip something. With “quad” meaning 4 and “tri” meaning 3, a quadrupod grip implies that we’re using 4 fingers to grip a pencil, while a tripod grip means we’re using 3.
Very subtle, but if you look closely, you’ll see that my 4th finger is supporting the pen in the quadropod grasp, but not with the tripod grasp.
Why Does the Quadrupod Grasp Seem Concerning?
There’s a tendency to get nervous when the quadruped grasp shows up. It almost looks like a typical grasp, but there’s something off about it. Many people worry that this is where their child’s grasp development will taper off and are not sure if that’s ok.
But, never fear! The quadruped grasp is a completely normal part of the journey from spear to ballet dancer. It’s a natural step before developing a tripod grasp. It also can be better for little hands that need to use 4 fingers instead of 3 to stabilize their pencil.
Is the Quadrupod Grasp Functional and Efficient?
Yes and no.
In order to understand why, let’s talk about what makes a grasp functional and efficient in the first place.
A functional and efficient grasp:
–this lets the child move the pencil with more precision, using the small muscles in the hand and fingers
–when we see toddlers color, they often turn it into a full-body experience. Instead of moving their hands to move their pencils, they keep their wrists firm and then use their arms to direct the movement of the pencil.
–a lot of this has to do with the dynamic nature of them. It’s exhausting to move your entire arm when writing. After only a short time, you’d need to take a break. Handwriting shouldn’t be an extreme sport, so we often aim for less tiring, efficient grasps.
The Static Quadrupod Grasp and the Dynamic Quadrupod Grasp
If we were in the business of ranking grasps, we’d put the dynamic quadrupod grasp above the static quadrupod grasp.
As we discussed above, a dynamic grasp relies more on finger movement than it does wrist or arm movement. This makes it more efficient and overall less exhausting for your child.
While the dynamic grasp is “better,” a static quadruped grasp is no reason to panic. Remember that the quadrupod grasp is a stopping point on the journey towards a functional grasp.
Typically, a dynamic tripod grasp is the goal, which is commonly achieved by kindergarten. It has been found that 92% of children use a functional grasp, which should give you comfort in knowing that less functional grasps typically develop into more functional grasps down the road.
Think About What Your Kiddo is Using Their Pencil Grasp For
Do you remember those jumbo pencils from the 90s? If you were like me, you loved these pencils, but struggled to fill out an entire worksheet with one. The same goes for a golf pencil. While they’re convenient, they aren’t very practical.
If your kiddo is struggling with writing, think about what they’re writing with and writing on. When we have the wrong tools, we have no choice but to change our pencil grips to accommodate.
A study of 23-24 month olds found that these kids used a more mature grasp when using a crayon and an easel than a pencil and a table. Make sure that your child is using the right tools for their age and grasp development stage. If you aren’t sure, check with their teacher or occupational therapist.
Help! My Child’s Grasp is Still Dysfunctional and Inefficient
Even though it may feel like it at times, know that you’re never an island. If you’re worried about your child’s grasp, reach out to your child’s teacher or occupational therapist. Whether there is reason to worry or not, a professional can help you determine what’s most appropriate to helping your child develop their skills in a productive way.
Also keep in mind that some kiddos will have their own unique pencil grasps and still be fully capable of functioning at a necessary level with no noticeable deficit. A study of 120 4th graders found that differing types of pencil grasp didn’t impact handwriting speed or legibility.
While you should always chat with a medical professional if you have any concerns about your child, a quardupod pencil grip may not be concern for panic unless you’re noticing impairment in writing skills.
Diana is a registered occupational therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorders and autism.