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


Manual is a technical word which means: Of, or related to, the use of the hands. In order to keep technical language at a minimum manual development is usually referred to as hand-use development below.


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

At this Level baby’s OMSDEP is to repeatedly grasp objects by reflex action and to hold them tightly until they are removed from her grasp.  

By grasping frequently and then having objects removed from her grasp baby develops the natural ability to let go of objects herself. She cannot yet decide to let go of objects herself and then do so.  The grasp reflex is explained below.


Hands, the brain and the environment: 

Human hands hold knives, forks and spoons; they count coins and play musical instruments. Hands write, repair plumbing pipes and tie knots. Hands conduct orchestras, build buildings, draw, paint and sculpt, they prepare food and hold shovels and they turn the caps off jars. Hands control horse’s reins, bowl balls and firmly hold Olympic gymnasts as they perform on the horizontal bars. Hands perform literally thousands of different tasks and how well they function is controlled to some extent by the hands themselves, but how well human hands perform is governed primarily by the human brain. The environment in which hands work will affect their physical structure. For example, a pick and shovel labourer might develop calluses and possibly stronger muscles that pull the bones into place so the fingers and hands can strongly grip objects like shovel and pick handles. But it is important to keep in mind that it is the brain that controls the muscles, and it is therefore, the brain that ultimately controls the hands and fingers. And, although the environment creates calluses and stronger muscles it is what the brain learns from the environment that ultimately decides if the hands function with excellence or poorly. Smart hands (connected to a smart brain) can do things that strong but unintelligent hands cannot do. Hands, or more accurately the brain that controls them, become more intelligent by environmental experience.

Hands that are learning to play a musical instrument pass information to the child’s brain, which grows and stores memories so the hands can repeat the performance in the future. The muscles of the hands also grow (if the body is sufficiently nourished) as do the hand’s bones and skin. Although the physical construction of the hands (that is the skin, the bones, and the muscles) is important to carry out the many skills that the hands can perform, it is the brain that directs each hand. And it is the brain that develops the ability to learn each and every skill, not the hands.

People who are skilled with their hands may have some genetic benefits such as slightly longer fingers or slightly stronger bones than average, but those genetic benefits are far outweighed by the benefits accrued by a person who’s brain is comparatively well structured and developed by environmental experiences. In a nutshell; even if a person is born with the ideal hands to be an excellent musician, surgeon or plumber they will never be an excellent musician, surgeon or plumber unless they have the environmental experiences for their brain to develop excellent musical, surgical or plumbing skills. 

“BABY’S HANDS: USEFUL EVERY DAY FOR A LIFETIME”, describes how parents can provide their child with an ideal environment for skilled hand and related brain development.

Baby’s hands at birth:

Parents are often thrilled by the fact that shortly after birth baby will wrap her tiny hand around a parent’s finger and hold on tightly. This gesture by baby is sometimes interpreted as being an unspoken demonstration of love for, and recognition of, the parent.  Apparently baby is so keen to keep her parent close by that she will not let go. In truth baby has no choice about grasping any finger, whether it belongs to one of her parents or a total stranger. Baby will hold any finger if it touches her palm and sets off her grasp reflex. Her grasp reflex is one of several OMSDEP reflexes over which she has no control. 

Once the grasp reflex is triggered by an object touching her palm baby will grasp the object and she cannot, in fact, decide to let go. She will hold on to a parent’s finger (or another object) until the finger is removed from her grasp it or until her arms move in such a way that the finger is dislodged. At this level of development baby cannot decide to let go of any object (even a burning ember) because her grasp reflex will ensure that she holds on to it until it is dislodged by the movement of her arms, or it is removed by other means. 

The grasp reflex may be a safety feature that baby has retained from an earlier evolutionary time when she may have needed to hold her parent tightly whilst her parent collected food, fought off an attacker or fled from danger. Whatever the reason why she originally had this reflex it still plays an important part in her OMSDEP. The grasp reflex is the stage of hand-use and development before baby develops the ability to let go of an object.  

Development by chance:

Babies hand-use abilities are usually left to develop by chance as they learn to use their hands. If children who are left to develop by chance are fortunate they will live in an environment where their grasp reflex will be stimulated or ‘set off’, by chance, many times each day. Such stimulation by chance sometimes occurs when baby receives frequent close physical attention from an older brother or sister. When brother or sister ‘set off’ baby’s grasp reflex her hands are given the opportunity to do what they are designed to do; grasp and hold, in preparation for the time when her brain is sufficiently developed to take over full control.

A good environment for baby’s grasp reflex is one where she has the opportunity to grasp, hold and let go of an object about fifty times in each hand each day. This may sound like a lot of time spent grasping but at a rate of about 5 grasps per minute 50 grasps takes a total of only about 20 minutes each day. Further, her ability to grasp, hold and let go is improved if she holds on tightly rather than loosely. As mentioned above having the opportunity to let go does not mean baby can or will let go: Objects she grasps are usually actually removed from her grasp by another person, or the object is accidentally shaken or knocked from her grasp. 

Each time an object is removed from her grasp baby feels what it is like to have it removed and eventually her brain develops the ability to decide when to let go by choice. Baby’s Own Magnificent Self Development and Education Program at birth is to grasp objects by reflex action, to hold them tightly, and to have them removed hundreds of times until she develops the ability to let go of objects herself. When she can let go by choice baby will move up to the next Level of development, Level 2. 

As stated above there are two natural ways by which objects are removed from baby’s grasp. The first is that the object is gradually knocked from her grasp as she moves her arms about. The second is that another person, usually a family member, removes the object from her grasp. For convenience parents use the second method; they place an object in baby’s grasp, let baby enjoy holding the object for a short time, and then remove it and replace it again. This is done firstly in one hand and then in the other.

Protecting baby: 

Because parents rightly try to protect their child they sometimes ensure that objects that are excellent for grasping are kept away from the child. Consequently the child’s grasp development and hand use ability is delayed. Baby should, of course, be protected from hurting herself or choking on small objects, but she also needs plenty of opportunity to grasp suitably sized objects. Fortunately, parent’s fingers are usually the right size and very safe as objects for baby to grasp. If the available fingers are too big there are a number of babies ‘toys’ such as teething rings or cylindrical timber or dowels that are suitable.


To further assist in the development of baby’s hand use ability parents use an activity called ‘lift-offs’. In the lift-offs activity a parent lays baby on her back on a bed or other soft surface, places one finger into each of baby’s grasping hands and then gently lifts baby until her head is raised a few centimetres off the bed. After 5 to 10 seconds baby is set back down on the bed again. The procedure is then repeated for one minute. During that one minute baby is ‘lifted off’ about 3 to 7 times. 

Lift-offs is a very beneficial activity to develop baby’s hand use ability. The lift-offs activity is the first in a series of enjoyable activities that not only assists in baby’s grasp development but also assists her piano, violin and other instrument playing, her lung development, speech and singing ability and her ability to perform gymnastic bar activities with excellence.  How all these items are assisted by lift-offs is explained in later Levels. 


Activities for parents and babies:

A list of Magnificent Parenting activities follows. These are practical activities for children to do with their parent’s help. parents create the environment baby requires to complete her OMSDEP.  In many cases, these activities are the environment required and, after commencement, promote baby’s excellent natural development. 

The activity list sometimes includes extracts of preceding sections as well as new information. The list is intended for use as a day to day checklist for quick and easy reference but, to fully understand and participate in the activities, parents may need to re-read the entire Level, or other parts of this book, from time to time.


Grasping activities.

Thirty times each day put an object into each of baby’s hands, That is, 30 times in the left hand and 30 times in the right hand. 

Suitable objects include fingers, teething rings, small pieces of timber or plastic dowel or unsharpened pencils.


Ensure she does not put any potentially dangerous objects in her mouth or poke her face, eyes or body. Invite friends and family to place their fingers into baby’s hands. Tell baby what you are doing when you place objects, including fingers, in her hands. The grasping activities should, ideally, be spread out evenly throughout the day. Do not try to have baby do all 30 grasps at one time. Have her grasp with each hand one or two times and then wait for at least 10 minutes before doing the activity again. Baby will also have additional opportunities to grasp each day when doing other activities such as lift-offs.

Read the section titled “The pencil grip” in Level 5, Chapter 32. 


Ten times each day (approximately every hour) play ‘lift-offs’ as follows: 

Lay baby on her back on a soft surface, place one finger into each of her hands and allow her to grasp them. Then gently lift her until her head is 5 centimetres off the soft surface for 5 to 10 seconds before setting her back down again. When you first start lift-offs hold baby up for 5 seconds and then lay her back down. Then, within a few days, try to hold her up for 10 seconds. Do about three to seven lift-offs with baby in about one minute or less. One minute is the maximum time for which lift-offs should be done so that baby always enjoys them and doesn’t become bored. During that one minute baby’s head, shoulders and upper back will be lifted off the surface she is laying on, and put back down again, about 3 to 7 times.


When doing lift-offs the decision about exactly when to let baby down (5,6,7,8,9 or 10 seconds) is made as follows: If you feel baby beginning to let go or if her face begins to look concerned rather than delighted then gently let her down.  Baby must enjoy doing lift-offs; or any other activity! If she continues to look delighted then let her down after ten seconds. The procedure is then repeated for one minute. During that one minute baby will be lifted about 3 to 7 times.

Tell baby what you are doing as you lift her. You might say, “Darling, I’m lifting you up 5 centimetres and then after 10 seconds I’ll put you down. You’ll feel the gravity pulling on you as I lift you up. You’re a great gymnast. You’ve done really well.”

After about one week begin to lift baby higher so that her bottom is still sitting but her back is lifted until it is about 30 degrees off the surface on which she was laying. The drawing below shows the angle of 30 degrees between baby’s back and the surface she was laying on.

Be sure that baby can support her head well; most children can, as her shoulders lift up from the surface she is laying on. Do not lift her suddenly, or very quickly, in a way that will cause her head to fall back and put strain on her neck. Similarly, although it is possible to lift baby vertically and into the air while she grasps your fingers, be careful not to pull her up into a sitting position and cause her head to flop forward as this can also put strain on her neck. Over the next few months and years, baby’s spine at neck level must be well cared for while her neck and shoulder muscles develop the strength to move and support her neck as required. Babies and young children can develop neck problems in the same way as do older children and adults. The neck support described in “LEVEL 1. BALANCE: FROM BABY TO GYMNAST. Baby’s balance development.” can be used to help keep baby’s neck supported if you wish to use it during lift offs. When doing lift-offs with baby keep your hands around hers so that you can grasp her quickly and easily if she begins to fall. This is quite simple to do providing you pay constant attention to her. Always ensure that baby has a soft surface to fall onto if she does happen to fall.


Safety grip:

Start by having baby grip your thumbs, as shown in the drawing below, and then fully close your own hands around the back of her hands and wrists to begin doing lift-offs. Baby will be firmly holding your thumbs and you will be firmly holding her hands and wrists.

















What baby should be doing at this Level of development:

Grasping objects and holding on to them tightly. At the end of this Level 1 she learns how to let go of the objects. 

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

Grasping objects and then letting them go when she chooses.

The lift-offs activity. 

When baby can do as above she graduates to Level 2 of Baby's Hands. Click on the diploma below to move on to Level 2.

An average child is likely to move on to Level 2 at approximately age 2 months.

A child could potentially move on to Level 2 at approximately age 1 month.