Hand function 7-15 months: overview

By 7-8 months typically developing infants have usually learned to sit independently which frees the hands for exploration and manipulation of interesting objects and toys. Sitting erect also changes the infant's field of vision, introducing new possibilities for visual and manual exploration.   

Between 8-15 months the infants' exploration of interesting objects and toys becomes more systematic, complex and attuned to their shape and size and they start to understand the possibilities for action afforded by different objects. 

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 Article 

At this age infants' manual actions also start to become more goal directed - they start to build towers, remove toys from containers and pack them away again, post objects through apertures, take things apart and fit them together again. 

Typically when encountering a new object infants will engage in a series of actions that include fingering, mouthing, shaking, banging, passing from one hand to the other and turning it over. 

Inspecting and exploring toys

Flexes and extends the fingers repeatedly when exploring a toy

Infants take particular delight in playing with flaps and labels on toys.

   R hand opening and closing 18.jpg    R hand opening and closing 19.jpg      

Grips small flat objects between thumb and forefinger 

Notice how Roan (9 months) carefully positions the hand in readiness for grasping the flap on the toy. 

R hand opening and closing 14.jpg        R hand opening and closing 15.jpg

Spends time exploring a new toy using two hands 

Infants take time to inspect a new toy using both hands. They turn the toy over, turn it around, shake it and bang it on hard surface, taste it. 

They also watch their own hand actions and visually inspect the toy with sustained attention. For subscribers: Videos of Will  9 months iexploring toys 

will hands 9m.jpg    R 9m graband pull 4.jpg

Visually inspects a toy - turns it over and around 

The infant looks at the toy with great interest , turning it around and inspecting it from all angles. 

This visual exploration is important for making the connections in the brain that link what the infant sees to how the toy feels and behaves and also to the hand movement that are used to grasp and move the toy. 

will 9m turn toys over 1.jpg   will 9m turn toys over.jpg   

Adjusts shape and position of hand ready for grasping 

Here you see how Will aged 10 months opens the fingers and aligns the hand in readiness for grasping the toy with the left hand. 

At this age the hand will still open  a lot more than needed for the action. 

       will 9m shape hand to toy 1_1.jpg  will hands 9m 4.jpg

Shakes a toy to discover if it makes a noise 

If the toy does not make a noise, the infant will usually stop the shaking action. 

If the toy does make a noise, the infant will shake it several times before continuing to explore the toy in different ways. For subscribers: Exploring differnt ways to shake bells

will 9m grasp and bang.jpg  T shaking toy 2.jpg    

Mouths a toy briefly to explore texture and taste

At 8 - 10  months the infant will still spend a little time exploring the taste and texture of a toy with the mouth. However this is usually quite brief and the infant quickly moves on the exploring the toy in different ways. 

   W 8m mouthing a toy_1.jpg 

Passes toy from one hand to the other 

Infants pass toys from one hand to the other repeatedly. 

This is important for learning to use the two hands together, including moving the hands to the right place at the tight time. 

will 9m paasess to to other hand 1.jpg   will 9m paasess to to other hand.jpg          

Approaches and picks up larger object with two hands 

Infant quickly learn when an object needs two hands for lifting. 

W 8m grasping with two hands.jpg   W 8m grasping with two hands 1.jpg   

Shaking, banging and drumming 

Shakes a toy that makes a noise  

Spends time shaking the toy in different ways to explore how different movements change the sound that is produced by the shaking action.

Stops and starts, speeds up, slows down and changes the direction of movements, changes hands. For subscribers: Exploring different ways to shake bells 

T shaking toy 2.jpg  

Bangs toys on a hard surface

Vigorously bangs toys on a hard surface to discover if it makes a noise. Toys that produce a satisfying sound are banged repeatedly. 

T 11 m banging tin 5_1.jpg T 11 m banging tin 4.jpg      

Bangs two blocks together 

Picks up small hard toys such as blocks and bangs them together repeatedly. 

The accuracy of the banging action improves over tome. 

 winterhands in action 6.jpg      


Drums with hands on hard surfaces that make a pleasing noise

Bangs an open hand against a flat surface that produces an interesting sound. Explores drumming with one hand or both hands together. 

Drumming is usually done in response to a demonstration by a play partner.  Video clips for subscribers: Drumming games with Pam

T 11 m banging tin.jpg   W 8m drumming 1 (1).jpg    

Takes turns in a drumming game with a play partner 

The infant watches and copies the actions of a play partner who initiates the game. Infants are  sensitive to turn taking. 

 T 11 m banging tin 2 (1).jpg

Knocking over and building towers 

Knocks over towers and other tall toys

T 12 m knocks over a tower 2.jpg    T 12 m knocks over a tower.jpg

Stacks two or three blocks or tubs to make a tower

T building a tower.jpg

Drop, throw, hide and look

Drops toys over side of feeding chair - watches them land.

This action teaches the infant a great deal about what happens when a toy falls onto a hard surface: What sort  of noise does it make, does it bounce and roll? 

     W 8m knocks jar off table.jpg    W 8m looks for fallen toy.jpg   


Throws toys backwards and then looks for them 

This seems to be a favorite game for infants.

T throw and watch 2 (1).jpg

Tipping out and unpacking 

Reaches into a container to retrieve a toy

T 11m tin and blocks 7.jpg    T unpacking bucket_0.jpg

Tips  toys out of a box or tub

 T 12 m tipping toys out of box 5.jpg      T tipping a tub.jpg

Packing in and posting 

Packs toys into a container

Holds toy over the opening and releases it. 

T 11m tin and blocks 5_1.jpg          

Posts a ball through a round hole in a box 

Infants love posting games. 

T 13 w watching hands 1_2.jpg         

Posts a  rod into a hole

This is more difficult than posting a ball into a round hole. The stick needs to aligned at right angles to the hole to fit through. Short rods are easier than longer rods. 

T 16m posting long rod 1.jpg   W posting rod.jpg      

Taking things apart and fitting them together 

Takes lids off and puts them on again

T 16m closing honey jar.jpg   T 16m closing honey jar 1.jpg

Takes apart a toy egg or tub

This requires a strong grip and forceful pulling action.  Fitting them together again requires precision in matching the pieces. 

T 24m pulling apart.jpg      T 24m pulling apart 1.jpg   

Grasp and pull 

Pulls toys apart

Knows how to grasp firmly and pull hard to pull a toy apart. 

12m pulls toys apart.jpg

Pulls on a cloth to bring a toy nearer 

R 10m pulling blanket.jpg

Picking up and moving large objects 

Infants enjoy the challenge of picking up and moving large objects. Heavy objects provide an added challenge. 

T  14 months playing with plastic bottles.jpg   

Imitation and following instructions 

Copies simple actions

Imitates caregiver's everyday actions 

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

Copies a complex action on a toy.

Here I show Roan how to pull a toy apart. 

R 12m watching a demo.jpg   R 12m pulls apart after demo.jpg

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