Foundation Manual Behaviors: Newborn to 5 months

Infants use their hands to explore and interact with their social and physical environment in a variety of ways: communication, haptic exploration of objects and surfaces, and reach, grasp, transport and manipulation of objects.  

Over the first 4 months the development of upper limb and hand actions includes several overlapping movement behaviors which provide the experience the infant needs for goal directed interactions with toys and objects that start to emerge at 6 months. 

Newborn visual and manual behaviors 
►  Sustained visual regard of their hands. Interestingly, infants also pay close attention to the hands of a caregiver. 

Very young infants pay close attention to their hands    Infants preferentially look at hands

►  Sustained visual attention to interesting events and objects in the environment. From birth infants are interested in the faces of their caregivers. 

W 5w focus on toy.jpg    Newborn looking 2.jpg

►  Spontaneous movements of the upper limbs bring the hands into contact with their faces,bodies, clothing and surrounding surfaces. Initially, because the hands are lightly fisted, this contact is most often, but not always between the dorsal aspect of the hand and fingers 

Infant's spontaneous movements bring their hands into contact with thface and mouth   W 7d quiet moment 3.jpg   Will 7w supine repose momennts 3.jpg

►  Swiping at objects within reach reach: these swiping movements are made with the elbow moving into extension and early opening of the hand.  

W 5w swipe 1.jpg   W 5w swipe 2.jpg   W 5w swipe 3.jpg

►  Spontaneous movements of the fingers - initially mainly grasping and hand opening, but including with increasing frequency a variety of hand postures, including pointing with the forefinger, thumb to forefinger, simultaneous flexion of the forefinger amd middle finger, as well as ting and little finger.  

The period from 2-3 months 

From 2-3 months (depending on experience) infants gain increasing control over reaching towards and grasping toys within reaching distance. 

►  During this period the infant develops the ability to stabilize the head in the midline and maintain a steady trunk when moving the limbs. 

    Will 14w supine repose momennts 2.jpg   

►  Individual finger movements are becoming more common

W 15w hold rattle look 2.jpg   W 14 w supine finger pointing_1.jpg   

►  Grasping objects is associated with close visual regard.  

W 14w hold and feel.png   W 15w hold one hand.jpg  

►  Reach-to-grasp is becoming more direct and the hand is starting to open and align to the object. 

►  At 2-3 months infants  continue to use their hands to explore their bodies, clothing and surfaces and objects their hands make contact with.  Increasingly contact is made with the palmar aspect of the hand and fingers, and contact leads to exploratory finger movements. 

   T 18w reachinh face.jpg      W 14 w supine hand to hip.jpg  W 14 w supine hand contact open hand 2.jpg

The period from 4-5 months 

PDF Checklist: Foundation Manual Behaviors 4-5 months:  See link at the bottom of the page

From 4-5 months infant start to reach for, hold, transport and manipulate objects with increasing levels of control. 

►  They continue to pay close visual attention to their hands as they hold and manipulate objects. 

will 16w supine 10.jpg

►   Reach-to-grasp to a stationary object is becoming more accurate, with the hand opening and aligning itself to the size and direction of the object. 

W 18w reach for dragon 1.jpg   W 18w reach for dragon 2.jpg   W 18w reach for dragon 3.jpg

►   At this age the palmar grasp is most commonly used, but thumb to forefinger grasping actions also start to be seen. 

►   The infant learns to grasp objects with one hand while exploring the surfaces with the other hand using finger movements.

W 18w toy hold and finger.jpg

►   Infants continue to use their hands to touch and explore their own bodies, clothing and surfaces their hands contact. 

W 4m playing hands in bouncy chair.jpg   

Read more: Tutorials in the development of upper limb and hand function


Cunha, A. B., Woollacott, M., & Tudella, E. (2013). Influence of specific training on spatio-temporal parameters at the onset of goal-directed reaching in infants. Brazilian journal of physical therapy, 17(4), 409–417. doi:10.1590/S1413-35552013005000099

Lobo, M. A., Kokkoni, E., de Campos, A. C., & Galloway, J. C. (2014). Not just playing around: infants' behaviors with objects reflect ability, constraints, and object properties. Infant behavior & development, 37(3), 334-51.

Lobo M. A., Galloway J. C. (2008). Postural and object-oriented experiences advance early reaching, object exploration, and means-end behavior. Child Dev. 79 1869–1890.

Lobo M. A., Galloway J. C. (2013). The onset of reaching significantly impacts how infants explore both objects and their bodies. Infant Behav. Dev. 36 14–24

Soares Dde A, von Hofsten C, Tudella E. Development of exploratory behavior in late preterm infants. Infant Behav Dev. 2012 Dec;35(4):912-5. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2012.09.002.

Thomas, B. L., Karl, J. M., & Whishaw, I. Q. (2014). Independent development of the Reach and the Grasp in spontaneous self-touching by human infants in the first 6 months. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1526.

Corbetta, D., Thurman, S. L., Wiener, R. F., Guan, Y., & Williams, J. L. (2014). Mapping the feel of the arm with the sight of the object: on the embodied origins of infant reaching. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 576.

von Hofsten C, Rönnqvist L. The structuring of neonatal arm movements. Child Dev. 1993 Aug;64(4):1046-57. PubMed PMID: 8404256.

Williams, J. L., & Corbetta, D. (2016). Assessing the Impact of Movement Consequences on the Development of Early Reaching in Infancy. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 587. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00587


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