Monday, March 07, 2011

Where Would I Be Today?

Every teacher I had from kindergarten through about third grade tried to change the way I held my pencil. I'd try their way for a couple of days, but the moment I shifted my concentration from my fingers to what I was doing with the pencil, I'd revert to my old ways. To this day I use my middle finger and thumb to pinch the pencil, rather than my index finger and thumb. 

It was clearly a point of emphasis either at my elementary school or perhaps in the broader teaching world because they all did it to the point that I think about it, briefly, almost every time I pick up something with which to write. Maybe someone knows what that was all about, but I've survived to tell you that my improper pencil grip hasn't hurt my prospects in any discernible way.

I remember a similar thing going on with scissors. 

We give the kids lots of practice with scissors. There are nearly always freely accessible collections of them available around the room, but we only "instruct" them if they seem to be getting frustrated with their lack of success.

Lately, our Pre-3 class has been giving the play dough scissors a work out, for instance, snipping away with their various techniques. They've been available all year, but have only recently become a trend. I wonder who was the lone nut who first tried them out, and I'm even more curious which of them was the first follower, but whatever the case, it's been a certifiable movement. (You know, ever since coming across that Derek Sivers video, I been seeing the lone nut/first follower phenomenon everywhere.)

Still, I sometimes wonder as I watch a child fiddling around with her scissors, if I'm doing a disservice by not manipulating her hands into the proper position. At some point, I know they're all going to switch to a one-handed method if only because it's really hard to cut a piece of paper on your own without using one hand to hold it in place, but I've sent more than one kid off to kindergarten with a serviceable, but oddball one-handed technique where I'm pretty sure they get corrected. Should I be "intervening" earlier?

What would my first grade teacher Miss McCutcheon say?

After all, you know, it is possible that I've come as far as I have in life despite my improper pencil grip. Who knows where I'd be today if I could have only managed that?

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Elizabeth said...

Wait, pinching a pencil with your thumb and middle finger isn't the "right" way? I do that too! And no one ever told me it was wrong. I guess I should count myself lucky. :) My almost 2 year old daughter is insisting upon using scissors, I've just been letting her play with them after some initial hesitation, even though she is nowhere near being able to use them correctly.

Jenny said...

I typically don't correct these things. I hear a lot about how students need to learn to type 'correctly'. I figure students will find what works for them. I can't see why we think there is a 'correct' way for physical things but we want students to learn to do math problems and such their own way.

TLC blogs said...

Actually, preschool/kindergarten teacher who stood where you guys stood, wondering why did we really have to teach the correct ways, I now understand as a high school child development teacher who now has to repeat myself five or six times to the brightest of brightests high school students with notes because the way they hold their pencil impedes how fast they can write (either their hands cramp up fast or their forefinger stifles their thumb from moving much) so that the habits you (and me in my lab preschool)start are really important as by first grade they are well established in the pencil grip department. Thus many of the habits preschoolers begin do actually affect them later in life.

Plants seeds of knowledge...for our future! said...

:D I know what you mean! I still grasp mine that way too. I also am left handed and can't tell you how many times people tried to CHANGE that too! I don't mind being left handed (other than writing on the board) and I don't think holding my pencil improperly has really affected me int he grand scheme of things! Certainly doesn't effect my typing which is what we use 95% of the time in the real world!

Sharelle Taylor said...

to paraphrase my violin teacher: "its not that I want you to do it this way, I want you to BE ABLE to do it this way. Then you have a choice". Tom, since your kids get lots of opportunities to get those hands working, they're getting the best chance to BE ABLE to do it any way they want. Experiences first, instructions as required.


I here you Tom! One of my biggest frustrations is the concept of left handed scissors. WT...? The number of staff members over the years that I have seen stress over this! 'Oh he is left handed... shouldn't he be using the left handed scissors?!' Nooooo! I am left handed myself and can't use the darn things! I have coped over the years without any issues using right handed scissors! Lucky, 'cause beyond preschool, they are hard to find in the 'real' world! I have now eliminated left handed scissors from my preschool environment and guess what... no problems! I understand that there are different degrees of 'handedness' and if I find a left handed child is really struggling, I may give them a try, but otherwise, nah! Who ever came up with this concept? Good grief!

Monsenya Chatman said...

Hi Tom,
You make some valid points, I work with early child hood students, and we are now teaching them how to hold pencils and they do just what you did holding their pencil. I agree I don't think it will affect their future if they don't learn how to manipulate a pencil the proper way, anyway who can say there is a wrong or right way to hold a pencil? As long as you can write legible who cares, that's not a life long dilemma. I fully agree with you writing is writing!

Unknown said...

The type of pencil grip you are talking about seems to be perfectly "correct" according to most occupational therapists! (I use this, and teachers continually attempted to "correct" this also- but there really is no reason to). If you want to make it more likely the children will use a tripod or quad grip offer them broken crayons! (there is less space to hold) Also- it is actually MUCH easier for children to use scissors with the thumb in the LARGE space and the index finger ABOVE the smaller space (provides them with more control and strength to squeeze the scissors shut). So, basically, teaching them the "right" way of doing it seems to have very little to do with what is most effective! (at least in my view :)

Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree said...

I hold my pencil with my thumb wrapped around my pencil tucked into my index finger! I always thought I was crazy! At least no one tried to change it!

My daughter is 4 year old and writes with her left hand (most likely a lefty) and cuts beautifully with her right hand! Is this strange???? Or maybe since I am right handed she learned to cut by watching me? Will her teachers try to tell her to cut with her left and she will fail !? said...

Melissa: I am left handed and I cut with my right hand. I bowl with my right hand and I throw a ball with my right hand. I don't know why but it is just what has always been comfortable to me.

Karen said...

my daughter holds her pencil the way you describe too and I have agonized over trying to correct it as she does tire easily when writing by hand. She is 10 now and having remedial classes for reading and spelling and they are attempting to change it one last time. However, I feel that once she gets to use a computer for schoolwork, it will be much more important that she can type fast and accurately so I intend to teach her to be able to type well instead! after all, in the future she is more likely to be typing her 100 page thesis than writing t by hand!

Anonymous said...

That's funny,
I hold my pencil in a similar way except I let it rest on my ring finger and apply pressure mostly with my middle finger and less with the index. Over the years in elementary school I remember various teachers stressing over my "incorrect" pencil grip, particularly my grade 5 teacher, Mr. Nueman. I would change it to the correct way when they were looking and then go back to my usual way when they weren't. I did not find it slowed my down writing notes - but then I created my own shorthand. Oh, and by the way I was an artist (I say was, because I have not dabbled with it for a long keep me busy) and I found it gave me much better control for shading and such. So there Mr. Nueman take that!

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