Looking for the right mechanical pencil to get your grade-schooler through a winter of math classes and standardized testing?
For younger children, your best bet is a pencil that is simple to load and operate, big enough to be easy to control and with lead strong enough to resist breaking when pressed too hard. Older kids might appreciate slightly more sophisticated pencils designed to help them express their personalities.
Consider some of these, created for the small hands and active imaginations of children.
One of Stabilo's line of writing instruments designed to encourage proper finger placement with indentations for fingers and thumb on the grip. The barrel is wide to make the pencil easier to control, and it comes in a simple, colorful design that should appeal to kids. The 1.4 mm lead is twice as thick as the standard to help avoid breakage. For younger children, Stabilo also makes a 3.5 mm model.
Like the Stabilo, this simple pencil also has a formed grip for finger placement. The barrel is plain maple wood and plastic and also has a wider body for control. Also uses 1.4 mm lead to prevent breaking and help with smooth writing. One nice little touch is the sticker for the child's name so the pencil doesn't get lost. Unfortunately, it tends to be pricey, running around £10 or more.
A slightly more adult-looking pencil with a wide body for small hands and triangular non-slip grip. Has a nice solid clip to keep it secure in backpacks, and a retractable metal sleeve on the lead so it's safe to carry in a pocket. The lead is 1.3 mm 'break-resistant.' Eraser extends with a twist.
Although better suited for older kids, the SumoGrip still has the wide, comfy body and cushioned, triangle-shaped grip to shape the correct writing hold. The leads are smaller, with choices of 0.5, 0.7 or 0.9 mm, so you may want to try them to see which is best for the way your child writes. The name is cute, but the barrel colors are plain.
Probably best for children ages 10 and up, these mechanical pencils are recommended mostly for their bright colors and a fun design that resembles regular wood-case pencils. Lead is standard 0.7 mm size, so it's more susceptible to breaking if too much pressure is applied while writing. Available in a variety of colors and barrel graphics.
Another pencil recommended just for its appeal to kids. The slim barrel and thin lead make it more suitable for children who have already established good writing habits, but who also want a fun pencil to show off to friends. However, there seems to be another version of the Rilakkuma pencil (in limited supply) that automatically rotates the lead to keep it sharp, using the Uni Kuru Toga design. Those would be the better choice if your child wants a Rilakkuma pencil, and you can find them.
Those are some suggestions to get you started.
One note: While all of these pencils come with erasers attached, mechanical pencil erasers are generally too small and don't last long enough to be of much use. It would probably be a good idea to pick up a couple of good rubber erasers to go with your mechanical pencils.