The Pincer Grasp

Fine motor coordination involves the muscles of the finger, hand, mouth, face, and throat. The pincer grasp — the ability to pick up small objects with the thumb and forefinger — is what separates humans from other animals. It enables children to do everything from button a shirt to manipulate a pencil.

Young toddlers begin developing their pincer grasp by picking up and manipulating toys and household objects in the course of normal play. Toddler toys are large not only to prevent youngsters from swallowing them, but also because poor coordination makes it difficult for them to pick up very small objects.

Provide toys in a variety of interesting colors, shapes, and textures to encourage your child to practice this important skill. By eighteen months, tots should be ready for more concentrated practice. The following toys and activities can help:

Play dough. Even twelve-month-olds will enjoy making designs in a play dough pancake by poking at it with straws and plastic spoons, so you may want to whip up a batch (see the recipe in Chapter 11, “Fun and Games”).

Drawing. Toddlers' early artistic productions won't look like much. But they enjoy manipulating pencils, markers, and crayons and practicing fine motor coordination in the process. Don't praise their work. The point isn't what they did — it's the doing of it!

Tongs. Give your toddler a pair of kitchen tongs and show her how to pick up small toys and place them in a can or box.

Cheerios. Have your child feed herself dry Cheerios or fish crackers from a bag. Break off a small piece of cereal or cracker and hold it on your palm. To take it from you, she will have to use her thumb and forefinger.

Peas. Let your toddler eat his peas without help. Whether he picks them up and puts them directly into his mouth or uses a spoon, peas offer lots of concentrated practice to develop the pincer grasp.

Don't wager any money on whether you're raising a little leftie until age three. Even then you may lose, because many children don't settle on a hand preference for another few years. About 20percent never do. They remain somewhat ambidextrous.

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