Do you remember when you first started coloring?
You may remember using jumbo crayons and pencils when you first learned how to color or write your name. You may be surprised to learn that handwriting experts and occupational therapists don’t recommend them. Jumbo crayons, pencils, and chalk are actually age-appropriate for toddlers to use!
When learning to write, bigger crayons aren’t better crayons!
Why Should You Chuck Your Jumbo Crayons and Chalk?
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Toddlers use their whole arm to move the pencil or crayon. They hold it in a fist and use all of the muscles in their arm to make the marks on the paper.
As children begin to develop improved fine motor skills, they use their wrists and fingers to move the pencil or crayon. This is the natural development of shoulder stability. Between the age of three and four, they should be resting their arm on the table and using the small muscles of their hand to do the work.
Imagine how much heavier those Jumbo crayons and pencils are for those little hands! These old-fashioned “Jumbo” pencils are only appropriate for babies who are learning how to make a mark on the paper. They are expected to use their whole arm, so it’s okay. Once they start scribbling, it’s time for a regular pencil or a golf pencil.
Using golf pencils instead of jumbo pencils allows a child to manipulate the pencil more easily, which discourages them from using too many fingers, pressing too hard, or scribbling outside the lines. Very often, children who have difficulty holding their pencil correctly have weak muscles in their hands.
To compensate for this weakness, they use more fingers or more pressure! Ouch!
Just say NO to jumbo crayons and chalk!
So what crayons should kids use?
Which ones are the best crayons for kids? I recommend two Magical Crayons that will change your child’s grasp, but good old regular crayons are fine too. If you see that your child is using too many fingers, you may want to go with broken crayons. Broken crayons should be an inch or smaller. Many moms cringe at this (teachers too) because we remember the awesome feeling of getting a brand new pack of crayons. There was nothing better than that! If the broken crayon thing bothers you, there are a lot of cute new crayons that are good for encouraging a proper grip.
How can you help your child develop the proper grip?
There are a lot of things you can do.
- Practice coloring. This sounds too simple, and moms who have children who don’t like to color may say, “he won’t color”. There are tons of sneaky ways to get a kid to color. Go online and google “free coloring pages” and get a picture of their favorite cartoon character. It’s more motivating (and less overwhelming) than opening a whole coloring book. Tell your child that Grandma asked for a new picture for her refrigerator. Or Aunt Susie’s birthday is coming and she wants a picture, etc.
coloring absolutely necessary? Well, no. There are many ways to learn how to write besides coloring. BUT—coloring is a fine motor skill. It’s an exercise for those little muscles in the hand.
If your child refuses to color, it could be because it’s hard for them. They may need some hand strengthening activities to work those little hands so it’s not such a chore.
Play-doh, clay, and cookie making are all good for hand strengthening.
Another great way to help your child develop shoulder stability (the ability to use their hand without using their whole arm) is to have them color while laying on their belly. This will be hard at first because it takes muscle! Keep at it.
I hope this gives some motivation to chuck those jumbo crayons!
Want more great tips to improve your child’s skills? Check out The Handwriting Book, written by a team of ten pediatric OTs and PTs to help parents, therapists, and teachers just like you!
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Excellent blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m totally overwhelmed .. Any recommendations? Appreciate it!
Hi Roxana! Thanks for the compliment! I’ve only been blogging for a year but I’ve learned a lot! I would suggest reading as many articles about how to get started blogging, how to set up for good seo, etc. As far as all the options, start simple and dont be afraid to make mistakes. I chose wordpress because other “computer people” told me to, but I like it so far!
Totally agree with this article. Have you looked or found any research articles on this? I’m just curious. Many teachers aren’t taught this at all and go straight for the jumbo crayons and markers in PK and K.
Hi Laura! I am a huge fan of Handwriting Without Tears, and they are huge supporters of “little tools”. Here is the link to their research page: http://www.hwtears.com/hwt/why-it-works/research/references
We use the Handwriting Without Tears flip crayons and pencils. LOVE them and so does our OT teacher. do, Much Easier To Teach Proper Pencil grip. 🙂
Me too! Handwriting Without Tears Flipz crayons are my absolute favorite!
Hi! I am a 1st grade teacher and mom to a 7 year old girl and 5 year old boy. I enjoyed this post, but now I have some questions. So in my classroom this past year I used the Ticonderoga Laddie Pencils. Do you feel these are appropriate for 1st graders? I really liked them for a couple of reasons the lead is a little thicker so they last longer and the students printing is darker. What about having my 5 year old boy and my first graders writing with thin crayola markers and ball point pens? Thank you so much!
Hi Molly- thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to write. I personally don’t like the ticonderoga pencils. I think that kids need to press harder because they are heavier for little hands. This encourages them to use an inefficient pencil grasp (usually fisted). I like golf pencils the best, because they are lighter and easier to manage with the proper grasp.Regular pencils are fine too. If you have to use Ticonderoga for the whole class, I would use golf pencils for your weaker kids. Even if they are writing beautifully, if they are using the wrong pencil grasp, it can really affect them later. Thin crayola markers are fine, I prefer the Pipsqueak Skinnies. They are short so it’s more difficult to sneak extra fingers on. I think ball point pen is okay, as long as you keep an eye on that pencil grip. If they are sneaking extra fingers on the length of the pencil, they need a short pencil.
Ticonderoga also has golf pencils. Is it the brand itself you have an issue with or are their golf pencils ok?
I am a 4K teacher and enjoyed the article. I knew about the length of writing tools but never thought about weight. Question. What about 4-year-olds that have never held a pencil/crayon, do they need the bigger pencils/crayons first? For a short time- since they haven’t had any experienced? Is this information researched-based proven? Thanks so much for your help.
Thanks so much for reading. According to Handwriting Without Tears research (http://www.hwtears.com/files/HWT%20Research%20Review.pdf), using size appropriate writing tools is an important part of the physical approach to handwriting. For your four-year old who has never held a crayon, the Handwriting Without Tears approach still encourages using small utensils. The very large crayons and pencils are for toddlers.
In light of this, I now wonder if the large Crayola washable markers would be considered unfit for Kinders. What would you recommend based on research and best practice?
Thank you for your insight.
I prefer small “pipsqueak skinnies” markers (http://amzn.to/2bqa0Nj). They are thin and short, which is helpful in preventing extra fingers from sneaking on…. My personal favorite!
What about the child whose thumb rolls over the index finger to try to grip “skinny” crayons. The thicker ones seem to deter this and encourage a tripod or puncher grip.
Do love the shorter versions to aid control!
Every child is different, and if you see that thicker ones are better for a certain child, then go with your gut. If they were three or older, I would try crayon rocks or flipz, or just broken crayon bits first.
Hi! I teach kindergarten,
Where I live (overseas), it is hard to get the smaller crayons and markers, the larger sizes are standard, and the skinny ones cost extra and are usually of poor quality, so parents don’t buy them-and I don’t really want them because they don’t last long or color well.
I do have colored pencils in my classroom and regular pencils and pens and I try to have my kids use these often, at least as often as the other things. They have to be regular sized, because tiny pencils aren’t really available. Do you think this is enough?
We do a lot of playdough work too, especially first semester.
What about kids who still have trouble with correct grip? I have some triangular pencils, they are thicker than regular pencils, but do you think it’s worth using these to help?
Hi Katie! Thanks so much for writing. If skinny or small crayons aren’t available, I would just hang on to my fat ones until they become tiny. You can break them into little pieces to encourage less fingers and a more precise grasp. I don’t find that the triangular crayons really help, although it’s nice that they don’t roll away! But, if that’s all you have access to, they are fine! It sounds like you have the right idea by using playdough and working on other strengthening activities. Here’s another trick that helps with grasp: https://www-fn6uj.skipdns.link/2-magical-crayons-change-your-childs-grasp/
I love using your blog as a resource! Thanks for all of your great tips. I’d love to share information on the “small crayon vs. jumbo crayon” argument with my school. To support the argument, do you by any chance know of any research/tools/resources on the topic? Many thanks!
Thanks for the compliment! I wrote this based on my own experience, but I know that Handwriting Without Tears supports this argument! I would check out their website. http://www.hwtears.com
Hi Jamie. Please help. My principal is not happy and argues about the size and thickness of the lead pencil that we chose for the 4 and 5 year-olds to learn to draw, scribble and write with. My own personal experience is that with more practice and experience using (doesn’t really matter the degree of thickness)crayons and pencils, most of the 4 and 5 year olds are able to develop appropriate, firm grip. I just think it’s a matter of having a personal opinion and preference, if not a matter of a power-struggle. She argues that the much thicker tripod lead pencils and jumbo triangular crayons are the way to go.
Also because it’s a requirement for the 5 year-olds to use their workbooks as supplied by the department, I don’t see anything wrong with the learners learning to use erasers at that age for the purpose of correction and neatness especially when pencils are being used to trace or connect the dots, create and extend patterns etc . On the use of erasers, the principal of our school argued that the children “don’t need” the erasers.
Is there any scientifically based research evidence to support or refute these arguments? What’s the best practice here?
HI Fikile. I know that Handwriting Without Tears firmly supports and recommends the use of small pencils and crayons for kindergarten children. Unfortunately, I haven’t found research to support or argue that point. My personal preference for school-aged children is always smaller unless the child’s grasping skills are severely limited.
My son is 7 and he’s been using the thick triangle Stabilo pencils with the indentations going all the way up it. Are these appropriate for a 7 year old? he struggles with writing a bit and handwriting is quite messy.My 11 year old’s handwriting and pencil grip is even worse while my 10 year old daughter’s handwriting is fine. I think it’s because she loves drawing and colouring wheareas the boys do not. How can i help them improve handwriting? more colouring?
using the rock crayons does not hinder the transition to “normal” crayons. won’t they battle with the grip? since they are different shape from each other. I have a 19 month old boy.
Do you recommend the egg crayons?