Hands are one of the things that have made humans so successful, you could call them fundamental to what we are. But they aren’t unique or specialised. In fact it’s pretty much the opposite – every primate and lots of other little brown animals have hands. Horses’ hooves are specialised. We have been successful by staying primitive and generalised and keeping our options open. Even if horses suddenly became super intelligent, they’re not going to be making tools.
This is not to say that hands aren’t special. You could argue that they have had so many millions of years to perfect themselves to give us the range of grips, movements and power or delicacy we have.
Babies and children develop different types of grasp or grip as they get control over the muscles in the hands.
This is a primitive reflex babies are born with. When anything lightly strokes their palm, including clothes, hands or fingers, their fingers curl in and they grip it strongly. This obviously had its origin in primate babies holding on to their mothers, and it has survived because it could still be valuable for a carried baby to be able to grab on. It is strong enough to support them, but don’t count on it because they can let go suddenly.
Babies begin to be able to purposely grip at around 4 months using a power grasp. They swipe at objects as they begin to control the arms and hands and sometimes manage to grab on. In a power grasp the object is held against the palm with the fingers and thumb wrapped around opposite sides. This is when things like balls, egg rattles and bells are popular, or large soft toys they can hold and scrunch.
It may look simple but it is still a very complicated movement. The hand needs to open first, then the joints of the fingers need to bend in the right order from the base to the tips to wrap around the object. In a tight grip the wrist bends backwards as well.
The precision or pincer grasp uses the tips of the fingers and thumb rather than bringing the object in to the palm. This takes a long time to develop because it requires fine control over all the little muscles of the hands and fingers. The beginning of the precision grip is a four-finger grip, using all the fingers but not the palm. Babies don’t start using this grip until they are almost one. Games to play with it are anything where they can pick up smaller objects, including finger feeding or blocks. A box they can fill and empty is very popular.
From the four finger grip they develop the pincer grasp with just the index or first two fingers. This is usually takes several years to develop, and school children still need help with it for things like scissors and pencils. Threading onto pipecleaners or straws then ribbons is good practice, as well as imaginative play with small animals or characters to move around.
There are so many games out there you can do to help children gain control of their hands and fingers that can be used at lots of different ages.
- Rhymes – from ‘Round and Round the Garden’ through ‘Once I Caught a Fish Alive’ to ‘Incey Wincey Spider’
- Pointing games.
- Holding, throwing/tapping and catching with beanbags or soft balls.
- Stacking and building.
- Cutting, gluing and writing.
- Tracing around hands then using them to make flowers or leaves.
- Hand prints and glue
- Party tricks
And for the older kids, fingerprinting is lots of fun. Over the years I’ve found the simplest way to get fingerprints is using a large nibbed texta. Whiteboard markers or permanent markers can work if you are quick, but kids’ textas like crayola are the best. Likewise school textas with small points can work, but they tend to be a lot dryer.
All you have to do is quickly colour the fingertip then push onto a page, either rolling the finger to get the whole thing or just pushing down to get an oval. It’s not the clearest of impressions, but it’s much easier and more independent than trying to use ink or paint and it can be seen.
Then you can look closely and identify your own personal fingerprint pattern. It’s interesting if you have boys and girls to compare, because there are some differences.
Mine is left thumb – L, W, L, W, L, right thumb – W, W, L, W, L.
Or do other things with them.
Enjoy this article? Subscribe to the weekly newsletter to hear about them all. Or grab my RSS feed