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).
Sitting infants will pick up and throw a ball as well as intercept a ball that is rolled in their direction.
Taking turns in drumming games with a social partner
Social imitation games
Where the infant copies the actions of a social partner.
Dropping objects into a container and posting objects through a hole.
Retrieving objects from a container and tipping objects out of a container.
Taking off and putting on lids
Knocking down and building towers.
Pulling apart and putting together
Involves hold to stabilize and hold and pull
Lifting, moving and carrying large or heavy objects
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