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Big Blog Post on Coloring. Understanding How to Improve Preschool Fine Motor Skills. (Different Grasps, Grasp Solutions, Hand Dominance and Body Positioning)

Jesse Smith


Coloring is exercise for the fingers. I consider it to be like running for adults. Some children find it enjoyable but others do not. They find it difficult, so they avoid it.

Coloring is not a frivolous time waster that you only do at the diner before lunch to keep your children occupied. Now, this is a great time to color, but should not be the only time that you color.

Early practice when coloring, can create good habits and it can create bad habits. 

Use Crayons

I only use crayons with preschool students. I like the resistance that they provide compared to pencils or markers. Pencils and markers "slip" across the paper too easily and don't require that much pressure. 

It is essential that you pay attention to how your child is holding their crayon when coloring and drawing.

Five things for Kindergarten Readiness: What I Wish Parents Would Focus On


1. Fisted Grasp.

When a child grabs the crayon with his whole fist and colors this way. See pic. This is a very basic and lowest level of grasp. You cannot produce well crafted drawings or coloring with this grasp. 


2. Palmar Grasp.

This is when a child grasps a crayon and actually colors with his palm down. See pic. This is slightly higher developmentally then the fisted grasp but still allows for very little control over the crayon. 


3. Low tone, low strength grasp.

This grasp can be seen in preschool and kindergarten classes. We have now progressed to using the fingers but we are using all of them and they are spread out along the crayon. What is happening here is, the child is compensating and trying to create stability because their fingers are not yet strong enough to hold the crayon the correct way.


4. Four or Five Finger Pencil Grasp.

This grasp is still using all 5 fingers but they are towards the end of the crayon but we are moving towards what we want to see. 


5. Tripod Pencil Grasp.

This is what we have been working towards. When holding the crayon in this way we are able to use our fingers and keep our wrist on the surface to create a comfortable and dynamic approach when coloring, drawing or writing. 


It is important that preschool aged children begin to develop their finger strength and endurance in order to be able to hold their crayons and pencils over the next several years in which they express their knowledge on paper.

If your child is having difficulty making their way through these stages and developing a proper grasp there are a few modifications that you can make to help the process. 

Mister Smith's Letter Recognition Program

Grasp Solutions

One solution: 

Have your child use broken crayons. Yes. That's what I said. Break your child's crayons in half. (Gasp, cringe) Don't do it right in their faces like you are mad at them. Do try to do it with new crayons (cringe) not totally necessary but I find that children will digest the concept easier if they are new and broken in half. This will make it more difficult to use an improper grasp and make moving towards a tripod grasp easier because their other options are limited. They will be "forced" to use their fingers when coloring. 


Another solution:

For kid (and parents) that are 100% against breaking crayons you can wrap a rubber band around the bottom of the crayon (near the black ring). This will give your child a visual and a tactile reminder of where to have their fingers when coloring. I find this most helpful for students that have a low tone grasp. 

Another potential solution:

Have your child hold a coin against their palm with their ring and pinky fingers. This will occupy those 2 fingers and only allow their thumb, index and middle fingers to hold the crayon. I find that this is very effective but requires that the child find and place a coin in their hand every time that they color. 

Rubber pencil grips are for pencils. I am not a fan of putting them on crayons and if you work on the solutions above hopefully they will not need them by the time they move onto pencils. (And I don't suggest using pencils until halfway through kindergarten)

Hand Dominance

If you are working with your child on a consistent basis I encourage you to pay attention to what hand they use for coloring activities the most. I have heard that picking a hand dominance is established between 4-6. I have found it very, very rare that a child hasn't established a hand dominance by the time they were 4. 

You do not want your child switching hands. There are two major reasons why kids switch hands. First. Their coloring hand gets tired. They switch to the other hand that is not tired, even if it doesn't have nearly the same skill and control. Do not allow them to do this, instead encourage a short rest and a quick "hand shake" and then have them get back to work. 

Mister Smith's Lowercase Letter Recognition Program and Lowercase Book

The second reason they switch hands: When they are writing or coloring, they will get to the center of the page (if writing from left to right) they will then switch to their right hand to finish what they were doing. This is something that should be discouraged also. This is not a demonstration of ambidextrous behavior. In children older than 4 years old, this is more of an indicator of right and left brain hemispheres not communicating as efficiently as we want. We then would set the child up with midline crossing activities to help work on that underlying cause. You want to set your child up in activities where they naturally have to.

Example: child in prone position (on belly on the floor) with Connect 4 game in front of him/her. Ask child to only use right hand. Place all of the checkers that he/she will be placing to the left of his/her body to require them to reach across midline to accomplish this activity. 

Coloring in smaller areas

You can give a child a blank piece of paper and say draw something, but I can almost garuntee that this will only occupy them for

Do set your child up with achievable activities. They will not be able to color for extended periods at first, because their hand will get tired. They will not be able to attend that long because that is the nature of a young child. If you give a 3 year old a large area to color, they will most likely scribble all over the place. Too big of an activity will overwhelm your child. When available use coloring pages that excite your child. If they are into monster trucks, have them color monster trucks. If they are into fish, have them color pictures of fish. What they actually color does not matter, it is the fact that they are coloring and motivated to color that matters. 

I suggest starting with small areas. Either by using coloring pages that have small areas already set up or by segmenting a large area into smaller ones (like setting up a grid) by using a crayon. We often consider coloring a solo activity. I often color with my students. I color a spot, demonstrating proper grasp and coloring skills, and then they color a spot. This lessens the tiredness of the child’s hands and they will be able to attend to what they are doing. In addition, they are doing something directly with an adult and the finished product will look halfway decent with your help. This will help to improve their confidence. They will have something that they can be proud of.



Coloring is a 2 handed activity. One hand holds the crayon and colors while the other hand holds the paper in place. Otherwise, the paper will move around and coloring will


The positioning of your child when coloring is often overlooked but important. My favorite position for children to color in is lying on their bellies on the floor (prone position). They will naturally prop themselves up with their elbows and color. This helps stabilize their upper arms and hands which will require that the wrist and fingers do most of the movements when coloring. Also another benefit is that this position will help improve core strength and endurance. Don't be shocked if they cannot hold this position for longer than a few minutes at first. 


The other position is sitting. You want your child's body to be straight and sitting up. You don't want them to be slouching. If you are noticing consistent slouching or that they keep their head very close to their work, this could potentially indicate that they have poor eyesight or that they have poor core strength. 

To sum things up. Have your child color. Try to take the information into account when your child is coloring and try to guide them in the right direction. Encourage your child to color. For it to be beneficial it needs to be fun for your child. It will help your child develop the skills they need to be successful in kindergarten.