Tag Archives: teaching spoon grasp

Which Spoon Is Best To Teach Grown-Up Grasp?


Using a spoon to scoop with a mature grasp (thumb on top, fingers curled under) and using a pencil to write are two preschool fine motor skills that last a lifetime.  Did you know that the design of the spoon can make teaching mature spoon grasp easier?  I had a discussion with a child’s speech therapist that caused me to take another look at the utensils that were being used in the home.  Here are the best of the bunch in their house.  Can you tell which one I liked the best?

Trick question: Minnie and Hello Kitty are the same great design!  Both the Hello Kitty spoon and the Minnie Mouse fork from Zak! have a distinctive swirly design right where the thumb should rest, and the lower handles are a bit textured for extra sensory feedback.  Although the dots on the other utensil are very good visual cues for the fisted grasp of 2 year-olds, they are not that helpful for mature grasp.  Being able to see the character or feel the swirly spot is more important to get the refinement of a grown-up grip.  The Big Bird spoon has no texture and is a bit narrow, providing less tactile information and can get slippery when hands get wet.

If you think that getting a great utensil is only going to build hand control at mealtime, then check out my popular post on how utensils affect handwriting  Using Utensils To Eat Prepares Your Child To Write.  This is the gift that keeps giving!  Children that work on utensil grip are also building the strength and control for using pencils.

The particular child that own these spoons has low tone, poor sensory registration and motor planning issues.  She is very bright,  but impulsive and highly distractible.  A mature grasp pattern is possible for her, but she almost immediately reverts to a fisted grasp out of habit, not loss of control.  She needs lots of practice to use a mature grasp, not a fisted grasp.

A fisted grasp at 4 is not an age-appropriate grasp, and it doesn’t allow graded control of a utensil.  Unfortunately, like most 4 year-olds, she is more than happy to eat finger food or shovel food into her mouth with a fisted grasp.  Just showing her what to do is not going to work.  This is what I suggested to her family:

  1. Use the spoons with the swirly spot placed right where her thumb should rest.  It is textured and the design highlights the correct placement.
  2. Remind her that she should be able to see Hello Kitty or Minnie when she eats.  This prevents the end of the spoon ending up tucked under her palm.
  3. Have her practice by feeding an adult 4-7 scoops of food.  It is fun to put food in an adult’s mouth, she doesn’t have to eat the food herself, and she needs the extra practice to develop automaticity about utensil use.  Adults do not think about how they hold a spoon.  The pattern of movement has become automatic.  It needs to be even more automatic for kids that struggle with motor planning issues.  Practice, practice, practice.
  4. Remind her about where her fingers go at the beginning of the meal, and serve the spoon-able portion first. Make it small but delicious.
  5. Here is my secret move: request the spoon repeatedly for some silly reason.  Take it from her, do whatever you came up with, then place it down on the table in an awkward position. She has to pick it up and reposition it correctly in her own hand at least 3 times in a meal.  Remind her of the correct position, but let her get it right.  Again, practice, practice, practice.
  6. Always be firm but warm and supportive.  Big girls practice this every day.  This is how adults use utensils, and of course children want to be adults as soon as they can.
  7. Find a character or design that makes using utensils a special event.  The mom immediately went online and spotted this style of toddler spoon with Rapunzel on the handle!  She ordered multiple sets!  Her daughter will be so excited to see her favorite princess at every meal.

UPDATE:  After 3 weeks of use, this little girl is getting quite good at holding her spoon the grown-up way.  She and I play a scooping game with small foam toys, and if she scoops up pieces with a fisted grasp, she has to forfeit her pieces to me!  She wants to have more points than I do, so she only has to lose her points once to pay more attention to her grip.  The mom and the nanny both report a big difference in how much of her lunch ends up on the table or on her shirt.  Yeah!!!


For more strategies to teach utensil use without tears, take a look at Teaching Children To Use Utensils to Eat: Use Good Tools, Good Food, and Good Timing.  Wondering about knife skills?  Check out How to Teach Your Child to Cut Food With a Knife…Safely! for the best choices to teach safe knife skills and still have fun!

Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child


Whether you are teaching a younger child to grip a toddler spoon or teaching an older child to hold a spoon in the mature pattern, kids can resist practicing this important skill.

I created a game that makes it really fun and builds a warm connection with your child.  

You share a laugh, and allow your toddler or preschooler to be “the baby” for a few minutes instead of giving in to all the whining that children can generate when they are challenged.  This is especially important if your child has motor delays, is on the spectrum, or has a spirited temperament.  Let me explain why developing self-feeding skills are important, and then I will describe the game.

Mealtime utensil use is the first time that your child uses a tool to obtain something.  Tool use is a visual-motor skill milestone.  Some children grab the spoon from you at 8-9 months.  Some avoid even trying, preferring to be fed.  Take a look at  Want Pincer Grasp Before Her First Birthday? Bet You’ll Be Surprised At What Moves (Hint) Build Hand Control!  for some hidden (but not to OTs and PTs!) activities that build pincer grasp for self-feeding before 12 months.  And some older kids with fine motor challenges will use that “fisted” grasp well into preschool and kindergarten.  Here is a thought:  Your child’s fine motor skills can expand daily when mealtime gives them a chance to practice grasp and grading movement!

Want more motivation?  Take a look at this recent post Using Utensils To Eat Prepares Your Child To Write .  Feeding yourself gives you clear feedback on your success or failure.  You either get your food in your mouth or not, get the spoon into your mouth smoothly or awkwardly, etc.  All immediate feedback, and not from an adult.  No criticism, no pressure from anyone.  I love it when I can recommend strategies that don’t involve an adult making judgements or demands!  In this case, the circumstances and the game do all the work.  You are going to add a social component and make practice really fun!

You need: two plastic bowls, two spoons, and a scoop-able food.  Use toddler spoons, if you have them, for better grasp and control.  Toddler spoons typically have a non-slip handle and a slightly smaller “bowl” (where the food rests.)  Metal spoons with thin handles are the most challenging type for young children, and we are trying to make this easy and fun, remember?

The only reason to use a larger utensil would be if your child is older and their hand is clearly  too large for a toddler spoon. Choose a bowl that is shallow and has straighter sides, all the better to scoop up a spoonful.  This style of bowl also tends to be less tippy than a deeper bowl with angled sides.  Select a food that your child likes, and one that stays on the spoon easily.  A bad choice?  Peas or dry cooked macaroni.  A good choice?  Oatmeal, mashed potatoes, Greek yogurt, pudding, ice cream, macaroni with a sticky cheese sauce.  You will want a few damp paper towels as well.

Your approach:  this is fun, but it could be messy.  Don’t wear your best clothes, and don’t react immediately or negatively to a bit of dripping.  Wipe it if you need to for your child’s comfort, but try not to give the impression that spillage is bad.  What child would try this if failure was embarrassing or distressing?  This is going to be a little silly, so get ready to smile and laugh at yourself.  Most of us need to do more of that anyway.

Help your child by placing his hand on the spoon in the fisted grasp for a small child or the mature grasp (thumb on top, all fingers curled slightly under the handle, index finger may come on the side of the handle) for a 3 year-old child with fair motor control/an older child with motor issues.  Hold your spoon in a mature grip, even if they are not ready to use this grasp pattern yet, because modeling the advanced skill is usually best.   Feed your child a scoop from their bowl, THEN YOU ASK YOUR CHILD TO FEED YOU!!  Open your mouth wide, but let them work on their aim.  Now you know why I told you that you need to wear washable clothes for this game!

Most kids over 2.5 years get the joke, and laugh with glee!  Go ahead and make baby sounds or use baby talk, and allow them to be “the baby” when you feed them.  Children sometimes long for those days when life was easier, when they were fed and carried.  Some kids will insist on being carried or behave in an immature way when they feel they need more attention.  This is a chance to pretend and remember, but to do it in play and to do it in fun.

Enjoy this little game a few times, and watch spoon grasp just explode!

Looking for more mealtime ideas?  Check out OXO for Kids: Great Tableware For Older Kids With Sensory and Motor Issues and Which Spoon Is Best To Teach Grown-Up Grasp?.