From object exploration to goal directed actions

Infants start to use their hands (and feet) to actively explore the nature of the surfaces and objects they encounter, starting in utero and continuing after birth.

Research by Michelle Lobo the team from the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Indiana has tracked the development of these exploratory behaviors in typically developing and preterm infants.  The identified 10 exploratory behaviors, including holding, transferring, shaking, banging, looking, manipulating, picking, fingering, mouthing, rotation, squeezing.  

See Lobo, M. A., Kokkoni, E., de Campos, A. C., & Galloway, J. C. (2014). Not Just Playing Around: Infants’ Object Behaviors Reflect Ability, Constraints, and Object Properties. Infant Behavior & Development, 37(3), 334–351.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4083016/

This set me thinking about when and how these exploratory behaviors change into more goal directed actions which require a sequence of movements adapted to the requirements of the task and characteristics of the object and environment to complete successfully. 

So I went back to my list of hand activities, and identified the following activities that I think exemplify the shift from exploratory behaviors to goal directed actions. This shift occurs at about 6-8 months, when the infant is able to sit.

Below is my list of the goal directed actions typically developing infants have acquired by the age of 18 months. (You can review the development of hand tasks from birth to 18 months here: Development of Hand Tasks).

Ball activities
Sitting infants will pick up and throw a ball as well as intercept a ball that is rolled in their direction. 

R 10m playing ball 4.jpg

Interactive drumming:
Taking turns in drumming games with a social partner

T 11 m banging tin 2 (1).jpg

Social imitation games
Where the infant copies the actions of a social partner. 

R 12m watch and copy actions.jpg   R 12m watch and copy actions 1_1_1.jpg

Dropping objects into a container and posting objects through a hole. 

T 11m tin and blocks 5_1.jpg   T 16m posting long rod 1.jpg   T  19m blocks into tube 4_2.jpg

Retrieving objects from a container and tipping objects out of a container. 

T 11m tin and blocks 7.jpg T unpacking bucket_1.jpg     T  19m upending tub 19.jpg

Taking off and putting on lids

  T 16m closing honey jar 1.jpg     Putting lid on tin 1.jpg   

Knocking down and building towers. 

T 12 m knocks over a tower.jpg   T building a tower.jpg   W 18m tub tower 1.jpg

Pulling apart and putting together 

Involves hold to stabilize and hold and pull 

T 12 m pulling egg toy apart.jpg     T 12 m seperating tubs.jpg

Lifting, moving and carrying large or heavy objects

T  14 months playing with plastic bottles.jpg   W 15m carrying bottles 10.jpg   W 15m carrying bottles 7.jpg   


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See also Development of hand tasks: from birth to 15 months 

For subscribers  View a range of clips demonstrating the development of  goal oriented hand tasks  Toddler Hand Tasks 

More about a TOMT subscription   Includes the Infant Fine Motor Development Checklist 


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