You've been amazed by each of your baby's big motor milestones. By now, she most likely rolls over and sits up. She might be scooting on her bottom, crawling, or pulling herself up to a stand as she launches herself into a world that beckons just out of reach. First steps are just around the corner.
Between 10 and 12 months, there are equally exciting -- though often overlooked -- motor-skill developments involving baby's hands. For example, you're out walking your baby in the stroller when she suddenly points to a dog and squeals. Or your baby's in her high chair when she deliberately picks up her sippy cup and drops it on the floor. These milestones don't get the same play as walking, but they're just as important to her development, indicating that your clever baby is now trying to master the world in a whole new way: with her tiny fingers.
The motor areas of a baby's brain mature in a head-to-toe sequence: the brain areas that control the head and neck muscles mature before those that control the trunk, arm, and hand muscles. The areas of the brain controlling the legs are the last to develop. Why is this? Put simply, it's probably because a baby needs to know how to suck and feed himself before he needs to walk.
When your baby was born, he held his arms and hands tucked close to his body, a position called "flexion." Over the past months, his hands and arm motions have become less reflexive and random; by 6 months, he can grasp a toy -- but only using his whole hand. To understand how limiting this is, watch a 6-month-old holding his pacifier. He has little control of his hands -- he may fling his arm around, hit himself in the head by accident, and mistakenly drop it -- then look frantically around wondering what happened to it. Or he may want to let go of it, but be unable to release his fingers, banging the paci on the floor in frustration.