As adults, we do a lot of things with our hands: we eat, we write, we wave, we shake hands, we hug, we carry, we hold, we point, we juggle, we tickle, we touch, we gesticulate, we push, just to name a few.
But did you ever think how does one acquire these skills to begin with? It seems like we knew how to do these things since we were born. In fact, we didn’t.
Around the age of 4 to 8 months, a baby will start to pick up things, usually large objects, such as blocks. Soon after that, she will begin to bring these to her mouth, one of the signs that she is ready to start with solid food. She uses her whole fist to grab and do this movement.
From 9 to 12 months, her dexterity will improve. She will specialise in picking up smaller items, just by using her thumb and forefinger. This is called a pincer grip or grasp (no 4 in the image below). She will practice using both her hands, so you won’t be able to tell if she is right or left handed (usually you can tell at around 2 to 3 years old).
This is the moment when meals might be turning into ‘chasing the pea around the table’ or ‘catch that pea before it escapes!’. Not only food will be the main target, but also cutlery, which she will develop an interest in and will try to hold and bang against the table. However, this pincer grasp comes at a time when babies usually learn how to throw, so watch out for food mess (I recommend using a shower curtain under the highchair – it’s easier to wash).
So why this post on a weaning blog? I consider the pincer grasp the origin of good an healthy eating, as it is strongly connected to baby led weaning. A baby will learn to eat on her own using her fingers at first and that is why I believe it’s a subject worth tackling here.
Why is the pincer grasp so important?
If you think about it, what babies learn to do next is based on their ability to pick up things. Motor skills are essential for the following activities:
- holding pencils, crayons or markers – this later will evolve into writing and drawing
- holding and using feeding utensils
- easily fastening and unfastening closures (zippers, buttons) on clothes
- using scissors
- manipulating small items with her hand
- playing with toys, blocks etc
- 3 signs baby is ready for weaning
- How to teach baby to drink from a cup
- How to choose the best highchair
Everything that we already know how to do as adults is somehow connected to our dexterity. The sooner we teach our babies how to use their hands and fingers, the better the chance they will have a good start in life.
Today, some children start school without a perfected pincer grip – struggling to complete easy tasks like holding a pencil or writing their name. This is also a consequence of the increase in touch screen usage in young children. The only movement touch screen devices teach them is swiping or tapping, which can’t lead to finer motor skills at all.
But this is not the post to talk about that, so let’s see how we can help our little ones develop the foundation of good grasping.
How to improve pincer grasp
This is not one of those sponsored posts where mommies recommend some extraordinary device that will help your baby learn something overnight. If it were, I would recommend one of these. I swear, it looks like that’s why they were invented in the first place! (joking, I haven’t even tried giving one to Emma, don’t know if it helps)
In fact, when it comes to dexterity and the pincer grasp, the easiest way would be to either:
- look around your house and see what small items you can give to baby (be careful of how small! we don’t want baby to eat them!) to play around and discover her sense of touch, or
- let her eat by herself.
Now let’s talk about these things.
Get a grip, baby!
When it comes to specific items or toys, here is what you can safely offer baby to play around and fidget with her little fingers:
- Activity boards – they stimulate pushing buttons, flipping switches, turning dials. They also teach baby cause-and-effect and are great fun especially if they come with sound.
- Blocks of all shapes and sizes – baby can stack, knock down or clap together. They strengthen eye-hand coordination, teach about balance, colours and help baby develop problem-solving skills.
- Balls, big or small, with different textures and of different weights – some may just be pushed around, some might be squeezed.
- Kitchen gear – give babies wooden spoons, plastic bowls, safe cutlery, even measuring spoons and cups
- Nesting toys – cups or boxes in different sizes and colours that babies can also stack or knock down
- My absolute favourites – pegs and Ikea bag clips
All in good fun, but please be careful of how you choose the toys: make sure they are appropriate for baby’s age and do not buy anything that has the least chocking hazard!
Do the BLW, baby!
I know I said this blog is not taking sides when it comes to your preferred method of weaning, but in this case I have to give it to the BLWers. Your babies probably are the most advanced at pincer gripping. I believe all the mess is worth it just because of that.
When I realised Emma could hold a pea between her thumb and forefinger, I was amazed! Weeks before she was doing the fist, squeezing the life out of everything I gave her to eat, and now she is like the ninja of all babies!
When I saw that she began to chase breadcrumbs (!) on her plate… Then, my friends, I really felt BLW is a good thing for babies. I am glad I left her to her own devices. She discovers quickly if I let her do the eating, instead of feeding her with the spoon. They don’t call them ‘finger foods’ for nothing!
But even if you’re going down the puree method, do not feel discouraged. And most importantly, do not delay the introduction of finger foods. Give baby peas to play with, touch and move around, even squeeze in her fist! It is the only way they learn. She will go over the squeezing part sooner or later. My Emma still does it and she’s 13 months old. But boy, does she have a pincer grasp!
What do you use to improve dexterity in your little one? Do let me know in the comments below! And please share this with other moms who might be looking for inspiration! Sharing is caring and more so for us fellow moms!