Fine motor skills involve using the small muscles of the hand, which help your child grasp and manipulate objects. The pincer grasp is a basic fine motor skill, one of the many developmental milestones your baby will reach in teaching them how to use their hands and fingers effectively.
Babies begin to develop the pincer grasp at around 4 months and typically learn how to master the pincer grasp by about 12 months of age.
Between 4-6 months of age, you may begin to see your baby use their thumb, index finger, and middle finger together when picking up smaller object. At around 9 months of age, you will begin to see an immature pincer grasp, the initial stage of the pincer grasp. Your baby will start to bring the pads of their thumb and index finger together to pick up smaller objects in a pinching motion.
As your baby practices, their pincer grasp will become more refined, and around the age of 12 months you will begin to see your child use the tips of their index finger and thumb to pick up tiny objects.
The best way to foster the development of your baby’s pincer grasp is to build practice within daily activities at home. The most effective way to help your baby develop a pincer grasp is by presenting opportunities for practice. There are many items in and around your house that can be used to help encourage use of their pincer grasp. Always remember, with your baby starting to develop more refined hand skills, be aware of choking hazards such as coins, buttons, and small toys.
Here are some fun and rewarding activities to help your baby develop a pincer grasp:
Self-feeding is a wonderful way to help develop a pincer grasp for your child. Try this by placing food items, like cheerios in the small slots of an ice cube tray, so your baby begins to use just the index finger and thumb. If you do not have an ice cube tray, place only 2-3 small items, such as cheerios, soft, cooked pieces of vegetables, or puffs on your baby’s high chair tray to promote use of the pincer grasp to bring the food to their mouth. Keep away from hard foods that can pose as a choking hazard.
The index finger is needed to develop a pincer grasp. Some fun ways to help strengthen the index finger include pointing at pictures in a book, poking holes in play-doh, or pulling tissues from a box.
Take a whisk from your kitchen, and place pom-poms through the wires of the whisk. Encourage your baby to pull out the pom-poms one at a time using their thumb and index finger. Your baby will love the varying colors and feeling the soft texture of the pom-poms!
Place several pieces of tape of varying lengths on the carpet or tabletop and let them peel it, stick it back down or make patterns. Encourage use of their fingers to peel the tape off. This will help to develop strength within their hands and fingers!
Have your baby play with blocks of varying sizes and textures that they can pick up by using their fingers. Encourage stacking, transferring, or tapping the blocks together!
Using the string of pull toys can encourage use of the pincer grasp, even if your baby is not yet walking. Pull the toy’s string in front of your baby and see if they imitate you. Encourage your baby to pick up the string to practice using their fingers in a pinching motion.
Nicole Mayo is a pediatric occupational therapist at the NAPA Center Boston. She loves providing the necessary tools and strategies to help each child reach their fullest potential. Outside of the clinic, Nicole enjoys spending time with her family and exploring the outdoors.