The image of a baby popping cereal into her mouth and grinning is commercial genius. But what if your child is still raking them with a fist at 8 months? Is that late or just right? Is there a way to promote early grasp without offering a baby something tiny that she can choke on? Only if you know the many ways grasp is developing in those first months of life.
Motor skills do not appear out of the blue. There isn’t a switch that goes on to suddenly release the ability to roll or the ability to hold a bottle. That’s true for my clients in Early Intervention as well. Some have serious medical challenges, and some have yet to be diagnosed with ASD or a genetic disorder. But no skills just pop out without foundational abilities first.
Motor skills start developing in the womb, folks. A premature arrival has medical consequences, but it also deprives a child of the motor and sensory development that naturally occurs while floating in a very active and progressively smaller apartment. Some children catch up quickly and some do not. What happens after birth will make a huge impact on the way movement skills are acquired and refined every single day after birth.
If you go shopping at a baby emporium, you would think that they sell toys that are absolutely essential to development. Reading the labels, you’d think that hand control just couldn’t happen without a Whoozit or a Taggie toy. Guess what? Human beings have been developing pincer grasp long before Toys R Us came along, and as far as I know, infant development did just fine without them. What makes a difference is what exposure and encouragement a child has to build his skills. Fun toys can motivate a child, but they aren’t the most powerful tool I know to develop grasp.
Here are the great hidden things that build early fine motor skills:
- Crawling: I know, there is a big internet debate about whether crawling is necessary for walking. Here is what I do know: it is great for developing arm strength and control through the wrist. It is amazing for building the arches of the hand that allow a child to curve the palm and bring fingers together. Bonus Round: crawling with objects in the palm. Your baby will eventually move the toy toward the thumb-side of her hand so that she can put her weight on the pinky-side while crawling. One hand, two different uses = better refined control.
- Reaching While in Tummy Time: Big-time hand skills develop in this position, especially when babies have to push way up while reaching.
- Reaching Up While Lying on the Back: All that abdominal strength is core, core, core stabilization, plus hand control without any arm support. I make first-graders do exercises in this position before we work on handwriting. It works.
- Pivoting around on the Belly. I love the pivot!! I took a training course from a PT about 15 years ago that transformed my understanding of this move. Your little one will be working arms, legs, core, neck, and I saved the best for last. As she reaches and pivots, she will be using her hand in all directions as she leans on one side of her hand first the front, then the heel of her hand, etc… Magic can happen for so many other skills using this move, but the biggest secret is how it develops hand control!
Good luck, and have fun developing great hand control before that pincer grasp emerges!!