Children are lacking the muscle strength to hold and write with a pencil – but what does this mean for their handwriting?

poor pen grippoor pen grip

Last month, I came across this article on the Guardian website, titled ‘British study reveals fall in muscle strength of 10-year-olds’ and I was immediately drawn to delve in and find out more.

I have been highlighting the epidemic of weaker hand muscles for a number of years and this latest article confirms what I have been warning all along. This lack of muscle strength is causing real issues for many children when it comes to mastering legible handwriting.

Muscle strength is something that is required for a child to be able to master their fine and gross motor skills, and these skills are what form the foundations of good legible handwriting. This lack of muscle strength has also created an epidemic of poor pen/pencil grips. If not rectified, weaker hand muscles will lead to a tighter painful pen/pencil grip.

I regularly host handwriting workshops, visit schools and run one-to-one handwriting sessions with children of all ages and I am seeing more and more children with weaker hand muscles and a shocking, painful pen/pencil grip.

However, poor pen/pencil manipulation and weaker hand muscles does not just affect primary school children.

On a recent visit to a secondary school, I found that only 2% of the students held their pens correctly. Many of these students complained of pain in their fingers and wrists and extreme fatigue when writing at length, especially during exams. Worryingly, the left-handed writers had received no correction for their poor pen grip during their time at primary school.

As this study shows, children simply do not have a strong enough grip to hold and steer the pen across the paper and this is why we should not be rushing our children to join nor teaching them a pre-cursive style from reception; their muscles are just not strong enough to pinch in and push out the pen in order to join. A pen/pencil cannot flow easilyacross the paper and through the joinswith an incorrect grip.

A poor pen grip creates a whole host of problems for the child when it comes to writing, which in turn can cause the child to refuse to write by hand at all, and who could blame them? I wouldn’t want to write either if it caused my hand and wrist to hurt every time I used a pen.

It is vital that the correct method for teaching handwriting always starts with ensuring a child has developed their fine motor skills and muscle strength needed to hold a pen/pencil correctly and without pain before they are expected to write at speed and join up their handwriting. Only once this foundation skill has been mastered should they be moved onto the next stage.


So what can be done to combat this epidemic?

As Gavin Sandercock, co-author of the study states “In order to develop strength you have got to use your muscles – you have got to use them repeatedly and you have got to use them regularly, children are not doing the type of activity which will promote strength.”

It is important you are regularly encouraging your child to take breaks away from technology, to do activities that require them to use the muscles needed for handwriting. For example, cutting with scissors, baking, painting, playing with Playdough or sports such as badminton, Frisbee, swimming. Simply carrying a bag in their hand, doing chores around the home or in the garden are also perfect for increasing hand muscle strength.Think of it as a finger gym, ensuring your child exercises the pincer grip every day.

The older generation had beautiful handwriting because they were active with their hands: washing dishes, cleaning the house, setting the dining table, eating with a knife and fork, carrying shopping bags and playing outdoors. All of these have either been abandoned or replaced with modern technology including dishwashers, takeaways, click and deliver shopping and backpacks.

Remember, it is never too late to correct a poor pen/pencil grip, especially at primary school or if it is causing pain and slowing down the writer.

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