When Baby Begins To Grasp
Around month three your baby will likely begin to show some interest in grasping toys. She won’t be very effective at grasping yet but her attempts to secure objects will strengthen her hand and finger muscles, improve her coordination, and capture her attention.
From Reflexive to Purposeful Movement
This isn't your baby's first experience with grasping, she was born with a grasping reflex - the same one that makes for adorable newborn photos of a tiny hand wrapped around a parent's finger.
Most of baby's very earliest movements are driven by reflexes. Through opportunities to explore how her body moves and to "play" with people and objects, your baby's reflexes will begin to integrate, or disappear. This paves the way for intentional or purposeful movements - like grasping toys - to emerge.
Helping Baby Play Through Early Grasping
As she’s learning to grasp, your baby will be most successful with lightweight toys that can be secured with lots of different hand and finger positions. She won't have established grasping motor patterns (or set plans for how to shape and move her hands and fingers to grasp different objects) yet. All of her grasping will be trial and error at this point.
By placing objects in a basket or small shallow pan, you allow baby to push and bump her hands up against items while keeping them close. She can also use the wall of the container to help her grasp the items.
Great Grasping Toys For Infants
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Given simple, quiet grasping activities, you'll be amazed at how focused and intent your little one can be for several minutes at a time. There isn't a need or benefit to loud, battery-operated toys or those that are extremely visually busy. Your kiddo's brain is wired to focus, persist through several rounds of trial and error and to find successfully grasping rewarding without bells and whistles. I advocate for simple grasping toys.
Cut paper towel or toilet paper tubes make great early grasping toys. Cut them into rings about 1-2” wide and place them in a low basket or pan. Ribbon strips are easy grasping toys (with close supervision, of course - eyes on baby within arm's reach). Golf balls make a great noise when placed in a metal pan and pushed around during grasping attempts. Your baby is too young for ring stacker or shape sorter toys but you can place the pieces from those toys in a grabbing basket.
Want to buy baby some grasping toys or give some as a gift? Here are a few of my favorites - built to last and will grow with your child beyond the first few months:
Positioning Baby For Grasping Play
Tummy Time Grasping Play
Because grasping typically emerges before baby is strong enough to prop on one arm and reach in Tummy Time, it's helpful to prop baby on your lap or over a Tummy Time pillow with hands free to play.
She'll still get the back and neck strengthening benefits of Tummy Time, the sensory experience to her positional/movement sense (vestibular sense) and her pressure & stretch sense (proprioceptive sense), as well as a break from pressure across the back of her head (which helps to prevent Flat Head Syndrome or Positional Plagiocephaly).
Seated Grasping Play
If your baby is showing some ability to sit with support, you can hold her in a seated position for brief periods of seated grasping play. Holding your baby in supported sitting is preferable to putting her in a Bumbo or other seat because it offers dynamic, responsive support that adjusts to her body positions and needs.
Sidelying Grasping Play
Baby laying on her side is a great position for grasping play because it encourages her two hands to come together at midline - the center of her body. Midline and two-handed play promotes brain development by stimulating the two sides, or hemispheres, of the brain to communicate and coordinate. You can use a rolled towel or bag of rice behind her back to support baby in this position if she rolls easily out of it.
By allowing your baby opportunities to practice the emerging skill of grasping, you support her natural development. By giving her playtime in a variety of positions, unrestricted by Baby Holding Devices, you promote her healthy and prevent conditions such as Flat Head Syndrome and Torticollis. By understanding her development, you learn to enjoy watching and encouraging the most subtle changes she's making - a newfound interest in toys, opening and closing of her fingers, beginning to use her eyes and hands together to reach for objects. The early months are exhausting and challenging for new parents, why not add some fun into your days?!
Looking for More Ideas for Playing With Your Infant?
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Try this and other grasping activities with your baby: