What are the different grip and grasp patterns of preschoolers?
Around the toddler stage, we see the emergence of the pincer grasp, where the index finger and thumb come together to pinch or grasp objects precisely. A lateral pinch uses the thumb and side of the index finger, like holding a key. A hook grasp involves curling just the fingertips without the thumb to grasp things like buckets. A spherical grasp uses the whole hand to surround and palm a rounded object.
Around ages 3-4, more mature grasp patterns start forming for holding writing tools. The cylindrical/gross/palmar grasp involves fisting the whole hand and thumb around a crayon or marker. This progresses to the more refined tripod, adapted tripod, and quadrupod grasp. The tripod grasp uses the thumb, index, and middle fingers in the classic pencil grip. The adapted tripod positions the tool between the index and middle fingers with the thumb stabilizing - an efficient pattern that reduces finger strain. The quadrupod adds the ring finger for extra stability. All three are developmentally appropriate grasps we look for when assessing preschoolers' advancing fine motor skills. Knowing the sequence helps us support their progression.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, The Benefits of Fine Motor Skills in Early Education, presented by Jamie Cruz, MOT, OTR/L and Emily Dassow, BS, OTR/L.