Hello again! This is part IV of our Helping Hands series focusing on hand use from 9-12 months old. In this blog, Matt, Co-founder of Rahoo Baby and pediatric OT discusses how we as caregivers can help little ones start using their hands age appropriately as they approach their first birthday!
The reason this blog is broken down into 4 parts is because although 3 months may not seem like a long time, for a baby – in terms of development - that’s like a lifetime! And look no further than the way your little one is using their hands to get a reminder of how far they’ve come. From reflexive grasping, to actual reaching and grasping, to using both hands separately but at the same time.
But what comes next? Let’s dive in and discuss!
Remember though - since you’re taking time out of your busy schedule to read this, you should leave with knowledge you don’t find just anywhere. So instead of talking about the basic milestones you can read about on any child development forum, let’s talk about the subtleties that many parents don’t end up learning about.
So how should I expect my almost-one-year-old to use their hands during play?
Many parents have heard of what’s known as the pincer grasp. This is where a baby is able to use the tip of their index finger and thumb to pick up something small. If your baby is over one you can expect to see this in action, or starting to emerge over the next couple of months. If your baby is closer to 9 months, however, just see if they can achieve a “radial digital grasp” – the fancy term for using the thumb, index and middle finger together. If they reach for a block, are they using all five fingers and grasping it in their palm? Or are they a little more let’s say, particular, about the way they hold it? That’s what to keep an eye on. As your baby grows into toddlerhood the play expectations will require these more refined hand-manipulation skills; stringing beads, stacking blocks, scribbling lines with a crayon. For now though, let’s lay out how we can promote continued fine motor development as your little one’s first birthday approaches.
Continue to encourage gross motor play, weight-bearing
- Continue to encourage crawling! That’s not to say that walking isn’t very exciting, and a huge milestone, because it is. But all the time your baby spends crawling is high quality weight-bearing for their arms. When your baby is weight-bearing they receive deep sensory input through their hands, which not only helps them develop fine motor dexterity, it quite literally helps to form the shape of their hands! Not to mention it’s an excellent core workout, and if you’ve read our other blogs you know that core strength and fine motor development go hand in hand. So keep on crawling baby!
- Set your baby up for pull-to-stand practice. Weight-bearing can mean two things – pushing or pulling. A baby is pushing through their arms and hands when they crawl. When a baby uses a piece of furniture to pull themselves into standing it’s a perfect example of “pulling” for weight-bearing. Most day care centers have a railing about 18 inches or so off the ground that allows little ones to practice using their arms and hands to pull themselves up from a sitting position into a standing position. At home though, let your baby practice with a sturdy, top-heavy kitchen chair, an ottoman, or the front of the couch. The other option is just to let them grab your hands and try to pull themselves up!
Provide age appropriate play opportunities
- Purposeful release– Another trademark of “I’m almost a toddler” play, is when your baby demonstrates they have what’s known as a “purposeful release” – the fancy way of saying they can let go of things they hold in their hand on purpose. So how do we help our little ones master their purposeful release? For starters, make sure they have at least one dump and fill toy for container play. If you don’t know what that is, we discuss it here. Give your baby plenty of practice with it. Show them how it’s done! Then show them again, and again, and again. Once you’ve shown them again, show them a few more times for good measure 😏 Babies need to see, feel, hear and experience things many times before they actually appreciate what’s happening.
- Story time – What does story time have to do with hand use you may be wondering? Well, it’s a very functional activity for a child this age. What can we expect a 9-12-month-old do during story time? Soon, around their first birthday they will start to point at pictures. But even before that we can help them learn to turn the pages of a book - not all by themselves, but they can do part of it. When it’s time to turn the page, turn the cardboard page half way – does your baby reach and push the page down to start the next one? Give them a few seconds, and if they don’t, try giving them hand over hand assistance. Show em’ how it’s done! This is not only a functional use of their hands, but as they master this skill it will also help keep them engaged from an attention standpoint.
Allow plenty of practice with self – feeding
- Self-feeding is a major component of age appropriate hand-use during this age range, but won’t be covered here. There’s simply too much to cover, so this will be discussed in a different blog. But yes, let your baby practice finger feeding, and no it is not too early to let them start practicing with a spoon. In fact, here’s our favorite starter spoon.
If you think of any questions as you read this, I would highly encourage you to email me directly! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org - our team loves talking about this stuff and would love to hear from you!