The pincer grasp is the ability to pick something up and hold it with the thumb and forefinger. A well-developed pincer grip is an important fine motor skill for later pincer grip activities like tying shoe laces or zipping a zipper. We can intentionally offer activities that allow babies to use their pincer grasp. Children are learning how to use and manipulate objects with their hands well before they are aware of the impact their hands have on their lives. Around one year old a baby will have refined their pincer grasp to be able to pick up small objects. Furthermore, they will continue to refine and develop this skill as they move into toddlerhood.
Activities that Support the Pincer Grasp
Many activities in our daily routine will give opportunities for our baby to develop skills. Here are some simple activities that will promote the development of the pincer grasp.
Finger foods like Cheerios and peas are a great way for a baby to use their pincer grasp, but maybe not right away. When a baby begins self-feeding, around 6 months of age, they will use a raking motion and it will be difficult for them to pick up small objects. They use more of their whole hand to pick up food. We can offer strips of food following a baby-led weaning approach to promote self-feeding. Large pieces promote self-feeding and develop the skill of eating. These larger strips are preferred to smaller pieces of food that could be a choking hazard. Check out this blog post for more information on a comparison of baby-led weaning to spoon feeding.
Their raking grasp will quickly develop into the inferior pincer grasp, where they use the pads of their thumb and index finger. Between 10 and 12 months old, the baby practices and refines the pinching motion and it will develop into more of a neat pincer grasp. At this stage, small bits of food will now be easier for your baby to manage and pick up. A neat pincer grasp is a further development of the pincer grasp. The child now uses the tips of the thumb and pointer finger to pick up small objects. Let’s keep looking at more baby activities that support the pincer grasp in babies.
Turning the pages of a board book is a great activity to develop pincer grasp skills. Board books are a very practical activity that allows a baby to work on this essential skill. Meanwhile, they develop all their hand muscles as they navigate holding a book and turning the pages. As they get older and more gentle with objects we can show them how to turn thinner pages.
Toys and activities where the child is grabbing or posting a toy into a hole are a great way to support the development of different types of grasp. As they start with toys like this pop-up-peg toy they are getting opportunities to refine the true pincer grasp over time. The pop-up-peg toy is the perfect toy to support all the different stages of grasping that a baby goes through.
First around 7 to 9 months old they can grasp, with a palmer grasp, the pegs out of the base. Around 11 months old they were refining using their pointer finger to push the peg down to get it to spring up. Between 12 and 14 months of age they were grasping the pegs out of the wooden base with a neat pincer grasp and posting the peg back into its spot. I can’t think of a better toy that supports the pincer grasp development as well as this one!
Pulling Tissues from a Box
Another fun activity for a baby is to pull out tissues or wipes from a package. This allows the baby to use the tips of their finger and pull up to get the tissue to come out. A great way to include your baby in self-care tasks such as diaper changes, is to allow them to contribute by pulling out the wipes. It’s amazing to see that there are so many activities that we do in our day that help to refine these grasping skills. When we are aware of the opportunities, we can help our baby to do them as well.
Wooden blocks are a fun and easy way to give a baby another opportunity to get a superior or neat pincer grasp. As they start to pick up and hold objects, they will likely hold and analyze the larger items, like blocks, before they quickly put them into their mouth to explore in another way! Blocks will continue to be a fun activity for furthering the refinement of the pincer grasp. They will use them to stack and build towers on their own into toddlerhood.
Another simple toy that isolates the pincer grasp is a coin drop activity. You can buy this toy or make a simple DIY coin box with some poker chips and a shoe box. This activity comes a little later, shortly after a baby’s first birthday. With practice, the baby will figure out how to hold the coin using a pincer grasp and drop it into the slot. Furthermore, they will use a tripod grasp to open the drawer to retrieve the coin. The tripod grasp is a wonderful preparation for handwriting one day. This one activity allows for many opportunities for the baby’s fine motor skills to develop.
Development of Pincer Grasp
There are different types of grasps that a baby will use as they refine their fine motor skills. To illustrate the development of these skills let’s look at the progression of the pincer grasp.
A baby around six months will use a raking grasp. This is when they are using a raking motion with their arms to bring an object closer to them. Then they grasp and hold toys in their hand using the palmar grasp.
Crude or Inferior Pincer Grasp
The crude pincer grasp, sometimes known as the inferior pincer grasp, is when you hold an object with the pads of your thumb and forefinger. This development of the pincer grasp will develop around 8 to 9 months of age.
Neat Pincer Grasp
The neat pincer grasp, which I will refer to as the pincer grasp develops between 10 and 12 months of age. With the development of the tips of their thumb and index finger working together to pick up smaller objects, they will more effectively be able to self-feed small food items. Ensure with all these suggested activities that no toys or food is a choking hazard for your baby.
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Frequently Asked Questions
When does the pincer grasp develop?
Before the pincer grasp, the child will develop a palmar grasp, where objects are grabbed with their whole hand and secured in the palm of their hands. The crude or inferior pincer grasp is developed around 8 to 9 months of age. The neat pincer grasp develops between 10 and 12 months old.
What toys are good for supporting a pincer grasp?
Toys like knobbed puzzles, books, blocks, and posting activities such as this pop-up peg toy are great toys to develop a child’s pincer grasp. Certainly, as a baby grows into a young toddler and continues to refine their fine motor skill of the pincer grasp, fun activities like play dough, stringing beads onto string or pipe cleaners, knobbed puzzles, coloring, sticker books, and transferring pom poms with tongs are all great toys and activities to offer.
What are the different pincer grasp milestones?
Around 6 months your baby will use a raking grasp and hold objects in the palm of their hand.
7 to 9 months
During this time a baby is developing their crude or inferior pincer grasp. A baby uses the pads of their thumb and forefinger to hold an object at this stage of development.
10 to 12 months
From 10 to 12 months, a baby will refine their movement into the neat pincer grasp. This grasp is where they use the tip of their thumb and forefinger to pick up an object.
Why is the pincer grasp important?
The pincer grasp is a critical fine motor skill that will lay the foundation for many other motions later on in their life such as using buttons, zippers, and holding writing utensils which will influence their handwriting.