Your baby’s development is getting a quick jump start right about now. You’re probably noticing them finding their hands and feet, grabbing for anything in their reach, bringing objects to their mouths and really taking a keen interest in toys, objects, and the world around them.
When your baby was a newborn, they had a grasping reflex. If something touched their palm, they would automatically close their hand around it. This wasn’t an intentional movement, but one that happened automatically (a reflex) .
Now, they are starting to have purposeful/intentional movements and finding ways to use their hands. They can keep themselves stimulated through simple activities and if they see something they want and they can reach for it.
The Benefits of Play
This is an important time where babies actually begin to play. Play is a baby’s way of learning about the world around them.
They learn through these objects and toys to discover textures, sounds, cause and effect, spatial relations, and so much more. Along with improving the strength and coordination of their hands, play develops their cognition, hand-eye coordination, gross motor skills, sensory processing, and social/emotional skills.
Fine motor skills are the small, precise, and controlled movements of the hands, used to grasp and manipulate objects. As the child gets older, they will help them eat, write, color, cut, tie shoes, button, and everything else we use our hands for.
In the early part of this age range (3-4 months), your baby will begin to open her hands a lot more (instead of the fisted grip you saw for the first couple months of life). They’ll start to play by grasping objects put right in front of them and exploring things with both their hands and mouth.
Toward the later end of this stage (5-6 months), your baby will be able to aim better when reaching to grab an object and can get what they want within an arms length reach, further developing their hand-eye coordination. They will be able to manipulate thier hands to turn, twist, and handle plenty of objects.
Give your baby as much opportunity to practice these skills as possible. Their wake times will be getting longer now so they should have plenty of time to play. Follow some of these tips and activities to start stimulating your baby at this age.
Use appropriately shaped and sized toys
At this age, your baby will likely be able to hold rings and long cylindrical objects the best. Choose toys and objects that will fit well into your baby’s palm and that have lots of separate, skinny, attached parts that the baby can grasp onto.
Lightweight toys are ideal so they can fully lift them overhead and up to their face and mouth. There are recommendations below for great toys that encourage grasp at this age range and also see my post on The Only Toys You Will Need For Your Newborn.
Put objects close by
Their grasping won’t be fully precise yet, but more trial and error. They won’t know exactly how and why they are grasping the object, but they will get to it nonetheless.
Make sure the toys are in their visual field and easily reachable so they don’t have to lean to far or get too frustrated in order to get them.
Bring objects to midline
Your baby can use both of their hands together now and bring them to the center of their body while playing with a toy, instead of just the same side as their hand.Try different positions to allow them to have an object in thier line of sight.
This can be laying on their side, back, tummy, or sitting supported by a Boppy or Fisher Price Sit-Me-Up.
Use various textures with lots of stimuli
When picking toys and objects, use ones with a variety of sensory attributes. That will include textures (hard, soft, fuzzy, plush, smooth, rough), auditory feedback (crinkle, musical, squeaky), visual (bright, contrasting colors, large shapes). There are examples of these at the bottom of this post.
Although you may think tummy time is a gross motor skill, it will play a significant role in your baby’s fine motor development. At this point, they will be using their arms and hands to push their head and shoulders up. This will help strengthen all of the large and small muscles in their arms, getting them ready to use their hands more functionally.
The deep sensory stimulation from this position allows them to become more aware of their hands and arms attached to their body. I could go on and on about how great tummy time is here, but just read my full post on The Benefits of Tummy Time and How to Get Your Baby to Enjoy It.
Not only can you use the belly down position to strengthen the arms, but it is a great position to use the hands for grasping play. Your baby probably won’t be able to use their hands while on their belly flat on the ground. However, if they are propped up on a Boppy or pillow, they should have a much easier time getting their hands free to grasp while thier upper body is still supported.
Try laying them across a Boppy with the pillow underneath their stomach. This will allow them to push their head and shoulders up and reach with their hands.
Changing positions can be great for a baby to start seeing the world from a different view. Instead of always laying on their backs, now they have a little more control and can maintain upright positions.
Your baby may start being able to sit up by themselves, using their hands as a support, toward the later end of this monthly range. For the 3-5 month old who still cannot support themselves, there are a variety of ways to keep your child in an upright seated position.
Try the following positions for sitting them up:
- With your knees raised, holding them against your thighs on an incline
- Seated in a Fisher-Price Sit-Me-Up
- Sitting them propped up against a Boppy or corner couch cushion
- Sitting behind them, holding at their trunk, waist, hips, or thighs.
The Sit-me-up is best for younger babies (2-4 months) because it gives them a lot of support for sitting. However, this device won’t help to improve their trunk strength or really help them learn to sit up on their own as quickly.
Your own hands are the best support for baby because you can place them on different parts of thier body. Placing your hands higher on their waist and trunk gives them more help and doesn’t work on their balance as much. Bringing your hands down further to their hips and legs, as they need less and less support, will challenge and strengthen their trunk muscles.
Related Post: How to Play with and Stimulate your Newborn
Here are some of my favorite toys (Occupational Therapist Recommended) to use for fine motor skills at this age range. They offer a variety of textures and sounds and are properly sized for little hands to grab.
Sensory Teether Toy
This sensory teether toy is particularly one of my favorites for the little ones. It easily allows your infant to grasp it and chew at the same time, working on his fine motor skills (grasping) and hand eye coordination (bringing it to his mouth), as well as satisfying his oral sensory (teething) needs.
These little crinkle books could keep my daughter occupied all day long. When they start to grasp around 3 months, they’ll love the sensory (auditory and tactile) feedback it provides and also love turning the pages.
O-Balls and O-Ball shakers
There are so many holes in the O-Balls and O-Ball shakers that are perfect for little hands to grab and move. This one is a great toy because it has a rattle which allows baby to start learning cause and effect (that he can grab and shake a toy and it will make noise).
Plush Musical toy
This is a soft plush toy that combines bright colors, textures, and music to stimulate the senses. It has the crinkle texture which babies love to feel and hear, musical sounds, as well as dangling parts to chew on and manipulate. It’s really an all-in-one toy!
Rattle and Teething Toy
This grasping rattle and teether makes it easy for baby to stick their little fingers and hands in to grab a part of the toy. They’ll love to grab hold of it and bring it to their mouth.
Click Clack Ball Toy
Another great toy, this ball easily lets your child grasp the hooks and even twist them when he’s ready to do that. There are beads inside so the baby’s hearing will be stimulated and the hooks are easy for your baby to chew on.
Just a standard rattle will always do the trick. As they get later in this developmental range, 5-6 months, they should be able to grasp these and start understanding if they shake it, they will make noise.