BABY’S HANDS: USEFUL EVERY DAY FOR A LIFETIME: Baby’s hand use and manual development.




Baby’s OMSDEP: Her hand use and manual development intentions: 


  • To pick up small objects in a ‘pincer grip’ between her first finger and thumb. 



The Pincer Grip:


A ‘pincer grip’ is a special grip that humans use to pick up small objects. The pincer grip is the grip adults usually use to pick up objects such as pencils, marbles, nuts, paperclips and other small objects. The pincer grip is formed by putting the thumb of one hand on one side of the object to be picked up and the first finger (the finger next to the thumb) of the same hand on the other side of the object to be picked up. The thumb and finger then close in on the object until it is held tightly and it can then be safely lifted into the air with out dropping. Parents can test using a pincer grip themselves by picking up a nut-sized object between their thumb and first finger (the finger next to the thumb). 


The pincer grip is very, very easy for most adults to do as they usually do it thousands of times each two or three days. But for baby this is a new Level of development that is both fascinating and enjoyable when she attempts to, and then eventually does, pick up objects that she previously could not pick up except by using her full hand grasp. The following sketch shows a pincer grip picking up a nut-sized object.


Babies at this Level can sometimes be observed trying to use a ‘pincer grip’ with both their left and right hands to pick up twigs, food crumbs and other small objects and to pull threads in carpets and clothes. 



Parents are sometimes very concerned about baby carrying out such activities, of course. Carpets might be permanently damaged by her pulling and baby might choke on small objects she puts to the taste test. For this reason it is not unusual for parents to remove the objects required for baby to develop her pincer grip, despite baby’s protestations. And in some cases baby is punished for doing what comes naturally to her. 



Since the average human being uses his or her ‘pincer grip’ to pick up as many as several hundred small objects each day, (including pens, pencils. food, buttons, car door latches and hammers) proper development of the pincer grip is crucial for full human functioning.  Baby should not be stopped from using her pincer grip but must, of course, be well supervised to prevent damage or injury. 


Proper pincer grip development is important to be an average human being. Development of an excellent pincer grip is important for babies to eventually be excellent as surgeons, plumbers, jewellers, musicians and in other fields requiring high standard hand skills. Therefore, at this level of development, parents help baby to naturally develop her pincer grip.  Objects the size of marbles, buttons and nuts can be placed in a container and baby plays the game of taking them out and putting them back in; which is great fun. To avoid the danger of baby choking small edible pieces of soft food or other suitable items can also be used. You might invent some variations on this game but the crucial factor is that baby uses a pincer grip to pick up objects and release them many times each day.




Brachiation: Level 4.


Preparing for brachiation:


Set up the brachiator for adults and use it yourself with enthusiasm, joy and excitement three times each day (one trip down its length each session is sufficient demonstration for baby). Be sure baby is present when you use the brachiator and allow her to absorb your enthusiasm, joy and excitement. When she demonstrates that she too would like to use the brachiator congratulate her as you help her to do her first brachiation activity. The first few times she wants to use the brachiator allow her to hang from it for her usual time while you remain ready to catch her if she lets go. Then, after the first few times, help her to move along the brachiator as described below.  


Beginning brachiation:


Until she can safely brachiate on her own, baby will need your constant assistance when she is brachiating.  From a safety point of view assisting her primarily means holding her. There are two reasons for holding her (1) so she doesn’t fall to the floor if she lets go and, (2) to help her swing from one rung to the next. There is no need to hold her so that you are supporting all of her weight except perhaps occasionally during the first few weeks. After a few weeks baby should be supporting about 20% of her own weight as she swings and the supervising parent holds her firmly, ready to catch her, if she lets go. After 3 to 5 months baby may be able to carry 25% to 30% of her own weight. 


In the beginning though, when baby uses the brachiator for the first ten or twenty times, you will likely need to carry more of her weight as she learns the brachiation technique. She can already hold her own weight well and swing using both hands and arms, as she has demonstrated on parents fingers, the trapeze and the bar. But, now she must learn to reach out, take hold of a rung and swing, let go of the trailing rung and reach out and grasp the next rung. She also needs assistance to do this until she is able to carry her own weight on one hand and arm.


She will probably tend to put her hands both on one rung, instead of swinging past that rung to grasp the rung two ahead. Until she learns this technique she requires more help from her parents. For the first five or six times baby brachiates it can be very helpful if one parent moves baby’s hands from rung to rung in time with her other parent swinging baby from her hips. It is very important that both parents do this in co-operative happiness without any anger, disparaging voice tones or negative body language if one partner makes a mistake. Baby wants to be the centre of joy and happiness, not the centre of anger and bickering. Baby should quickly learn how to move her hands from one rung to the next without assistance if she is encouraged to do so. 


The second very important part a parent plays is to help baby swing by pushing her body gently but firmly forward to about 30 degrees from the vertical as she reaches out for the next rung. This will take a little practice to perfect and parents should, themselves, practice swinging back and forth before reaching out, before they help baby to swing. Parents will then know from their own experience what baby needs to do and how she feels doing it.


Make brachiation easy: 


Natural brachiators depend on good swinging to make brachiation easy. Monkeys swing through the trees with ease because they naturally swing. Monkeys do not pull themselves from branch to branch. The natural and best swinging motion is when baby swings forwards and backwards somewhat like a pendulum. Brachiation is difficult if it is done unnaturally by attempting to use muscular strength to pull the body from one rung (or branch in the case of monkeys) to another. 


When a brachiating child swings forward she also swings a little to the left or right as the extended arm pulls that side of the body forward. Parents can expect that they might need to spend over two years holding baby each time she brachiates. Then it might be possible to lower the ladder to a height where baby is just above the floor and baby can brachiate independently. It might also be possible that you will be able to do this in less than two years; your baby and your family’s approach to brachiation will determine the time period. 


In the beginning stages of learning to brachiate the ladder should be placed at the most comfortable height for the helpers so they do not have to bend over while holding and swinging baby. When baby becomes an independent brachiator the ladder can be placed so her feet are about 25 mm above the floor when she is hanging from extended arms. 


Baby’s Bigger Head.


At this age baby’s head is proportionately bigger and her arms proportionally shorter than later in life. For that reason the clearance between the top of her head and the rungs becomes wider as she grows over time. At a very young age it is possible that baby could hit her head on the rungs if she is held too high by the supervising parent. It is important to avoid holding baby too high for this reason. If she does bump her head often enough she might decide that brachiation is too risky for her. Therefore, to maintain her interest and participation, be sure not to lift her too high. 


Activities for parents and babies:


  1. Ten times each day arrange for baby to help you to unpack and then repack about twenty toys or books in a box or similar container. Try to have her use each hand about ten times during this activity. If she favours one hand try holding a book or toy out to her other hand half of the time. Ensure the books and toys are small and light enough for baby to easily handle them with one hand. The objects should be removed from the container one at a time. Other objects such as spoons or straws can also be used. This game can be great fun. 


When baby can do this go on to 2. below.


  1. Ten times each day have baby remove twenty marbles (spheres about 18 to 20mm in diameter), or marble sized pieces of food, ‘play-dough’, or similar safe objects from a jar or other container. Then have baby place the objects back into the container. The marble sized pieces should be removed one at a time using a pincer grip. This game can be great fun.


When baby can do this go on to 3. below.


  1. Ten times each day have baby remove twenty small pea sized pieces of soft bread, play-dough, or similar safe objects from a jar or other container. Then have baby place the objects back into the container. The small pea sized pieces should be removed one at a time using a pincer grip. This game can be great fun.


When baby can do this go on to 4. below.


  1. In the preceding activities 1, 2 and 3, baby has been using her pincer grip with one hand only at any one time. For example, she would use a pincer grip to pick up with her left hand and then, say ten seconds later, use a pincer grip to pick up with her right hand. She never used a pincer grip in both hands at the same time. 


Now, at this stage of development, baby should soon be able to pick up two objects at the same time by using a pincer grip with both hands at the same time.  


Using the small pea sized pieces encourage baby to pick-up a piece in each hand at the same time, using a pincer grip in each hand of course. You might also observe baby using the ‘double pincer grip’ at meals or other times. When she has used a ‘double pincer grip’ three times she has completed Level 4 development and is ready to go on to Level 5.


Repeat activity 3 above every two days until baby moves on to level 5. 


  1. During this Level 4 continue swinging baby from your fingers (or allowing her to swing on a trapeze or from a bar) as described in Level 3. 


  1. Throughout this Level provide baby with a collection of about 20 cube blocks having sides about 50 to 60 millimetres wide. Help her to learn to stack them as high as she can. Do this activity for five minutes each day every two or three days. 


  1. Enjoy the activities you do with baby and she will enjoy them more. Congratulate her and tell her how wonderful she is at least 20 times each day. Encourage her to use your prepared items to practice her pincer grip.  Always clearly and lovingly explain why she is not permitted to pull carpet threads or damage other objects, and why she must stop if you require that she must stop. Likewise always clearly and lovingly explain why she must give you (or why you must take from her) small objects that she might choke upon.



Brachiation Activities:


  • Each brachiation session should be about 20 to 30 seconds and not longer. You should always finish sooner rather than later so that baby is keen to do some more brachiation at the next session. Seven short sessions each day should allow her to develop her brachiation technique while not overtaxing her, and should help to maintain her positive interest in doing more brachiation in following sessions.


It matters little how far baby brachiates along the ladder at this stage. What is important is that she gets experience in reaching out with her arms, grasping the bars with her hands and feeling how it feels to swing. There is no need to rush her through these experiences. Steady, enjoyable and natural progress is easiest and best for her. After three months begin to increase the length baby brachiates from three, four or five rungs to one rung further each three days until she is brachiating one full length of the ladder. Brachiation sessions can then be increased to about one minute. 


Clothing: Overalls are excellent for brachiating as they do not restrict arm movement and can be held tightly to catch baby if necessary. Tight fitting clothes will restrict baby as she reaches out with her hands and stretches her legs. T-shirts and shorts are suitable clothes for brachiating providing you can hold baby securely. A strong belt and buckle can be useful as a grip for parents.



What baby should be doing at this Level of development:


Picking up small pea sized objects with either the left or right hand using her pincer grip.


What baby should be doing as she enters the next Level of development:


Picking up small pea sized objects with both hands at once using her pincer grip.


When baby can do as above she graduates to Level 5 of Baby's Hands. Click on the diploma below to move on to Level 5.

An average child is likely to move on to Level 5 at approximately age 18 months.


A child could potentially move on to Level 5 at approximately age 9 months.

Level 4 Pincer Grip.png