Puzzle Piece Pinching : Fine Motor Play for Babies


During the second half of your baby’s first year, he’s supposed to develop what’s called a pincer grasp to pick up tiny objects. (Some people call it “pincher” but Occupational Therapists like me stick with the super-nerdy technical variation).

But how in the world can you help your little one practice grasping tiny objects when every.single.thing goes in the mouth???

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(Related unsolved mystery of the universe: how come your baby will become adept with a pincer grasp to eat microscopic grossness off your floor long before she'll use it consistently to finger feed or during a developmental screening at the doctor? They didn't teach us this in OT school.)

But back to today's play activity. You’ll need a few supplies:

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-a wooden inset puzzle (that means the pieces drop down into their spots); one with small pegs is fine because as baby's grasping skills develop you'll be able to ditch the ribbons and use those little pegs!

*if this is your first baby, you may not have a puzzle like this yet but trust me, it will be played with for a long time to come in the toddler years so it’s a smart purchase now. My favorite source for wooden puzzles is Amazon (because I don't have to leave my home with three small children or wear real clothing) where I always search directly for Melissa and Doug puzzles.




You’ll flip puzzle pieces over and tape a strip of ribbon or yarn a little bit wider than the piece onto the back. You can do all the pieces or just a few - your choice! Then place the pieces in the wooden puzzle frame and present it to your baby.

And of course you’ll closely supervise because - tape and ribbon seem delicious to a baby but aren’t safe for mouthing. Here's what this little game looked like in our home:


How your baby develops grasping skills

Here’s the nerdy part that I can’t resist sharing with you (‘cause I think baby-raising is a whole lot more fun when you can notice all the little ways your kiddo is learning and developing):

This activity helps your baby transition from beginner, whole hand grasps to more mature and precise finger grasps. I'll spare you the technical terminology lest any Type-A parents start to feel not good enough that they don't know this stuff. Trust me, you don't need to know what a radial digital grasp is to help your baby's development. So let's keep this simple:

Early baby grasps use the whole hand, especially the pinky and ring fingers, and press the object into the palm.  This works well if your mission is to grab and pull mommy’s hair or grab a rattle to put in your mouth.

But as baby’s daily play starts to get more advanced - putting objects in containers, putting objects together to bang or picking up “just right bites” of solid food (small bites safe for early eaters) - he’s going to need more accurate and skilled ways of grabbing. 

Beginner baby grasping = whole hand, objects in palm, reliance on pinky side of the hand

More advanced baby grasping = object held between finger pads and/or tips, reliance on thumb side of the hand

Watch for your baby to visually zero in on those little snippets of ribbon and use some fumbling trial and error until they find a grasp that works. And as always - happy playing with your kiddo!

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  • an understanding of the mini-milestones your baby needs to reach before the BIG milestones like crawling, standing and walking
  • simple developmental play activities to promote those mini-milestones with stuff you already own

CLICK HERE to sign up for the course or click on the image below:


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