How can I strengthen my baby's hand skills?

Q: How can I strengthen my baby's hand skills?

A: All babies are born with their hands clenched, and it isn't until about 3 months that they reach for objects and bat at toys swinging from their mobiles or play gyms. But babies' hand skills are still pretty uncoordinated for the first 6 months or so; instead, they prefer to use their mouths to explore their surroundings. After 7 months, a baby's fine motor skills usually become developed enough to hold objects more securely between his palm and fingers. Starting around 8 months, some babies will begin to hone the pincer grasp, the ability to pluck and hold teeny objects, like Cheerios, between the thumb and index finger (though for many, this happens closer to 10 to 12 months). To help boost your baby's grip, try the following tips:

• Provide plenty of stimulating, age-appropriate objects for your baby to play with. Toys with handles or bells, as well as activity boards with things that slide or spin are also great options because they teach cause and effect, and encourage baby to do different activities like pulling, shaking, and spinning. You can also offer safe household objects, like a spoon while you're feeding dinner, a washcloth during bathtime, or measuring cups while you're cooking. • Engage your child in your everyday routine, like helping her turn the pages of a book during story time or putting on his socks on when you're dressing him.• Give a variety of smooth, spongy, nubby, furry, and squeezable toys, so baby's hands can explore different textures. This helps her discover that she can examine objects with her hands, not just by putting them in her mouth.• Encourage your older infant to imitate your hand motions. Play classic games like itsy-bitsy spider, pat-a-cake, and clap-hands, place play rings on a stacker, roll a ball, or draw with a large crayon. Before long, your baby will love, love, love to imitate anything you do.

Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.