Hold-Right pencil helps kids get a grip on writing

Perhaps the toughest thing about entering kindergarten is learning how to hold that darned pencil.

On Thursday, Dixon Ticonderoga, the nation's biggest pencil maker, will unveil a pencil that it says can help solve the problem for many kids: My Hold Right Pencil.

With an eye on back-to-school, the color-coded, triangular-shaped pencil system — developed by a woman who taught elementary school for 35 years — has been tested on school kids and reviewed by teachers. The pencil could have a big market, since about 35% of kindergartners hold pencils wrong, says Don Currie, marketing chief at Ticonderoga.

"We know pencils better than anyone," Currie says. "How legibly you write bears on future success."

The pencil hits at a time when other familiar names are trying to cash in on the $18.4 billion back-to-school market that has shown some signs of softness. Crayola is rolling out a kid-friendly, staple-free stapler and a ruler that measures out loud.

But Ticonderoga's pencil is raising eyebrows among educators and parents.

How it works: The three sides of the thick pencil are red, yellow and green. These colors also appear on tiny stickers that students wear on three fingernails of their writing hand. Match the colors and you've got to be holding the pencil right. (Left-handers sharpen the eraser-less pencil from the other end.)

The pencil was developed by retired New Jersey teacher Debbie Kaufman, who licensed the concept to Ticonderoga and will receive an undisclosed fee for every box sold. Currie expects it to be one of the company's best sellers in years.

The pencils aren't cheap. A box of three — with stickers, poster and sharpener — costs $4.99. A teacher's box of 24 fetches $25.95 — about a buck a pencil.

Office Depot is carrying it because of its "twist of innovation," spokeswoman Mindy Kramer says.

But teachers with tiny budgets may hesitate, says Janet Petty, manager of Teaching World & Toys, a supply store in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Still, she will carry the pencils because she expects that "teachers may tell parents to buy them."

One executive at the National Association for the Education of Young Children worries that the pencil won't help kids who aren't ready to hold a pencil.

"The real goal should be to help kids develop their fine motor skills," says Barbara Willer, deputy executive director of the group. A broader approach that encourages kids to do everything from stringing beads to playing with Play-Doh is more effective, she says.

But Hayley Ling, who has taught kindergarten and preschool in Irvine, Calif., and who is a mother of a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, likes the concept a lot. "Tell me," she asks, "where do I get one?"