baby letting go of stacking cup

Grasp and Release Activities for Babies

Babies are born with the reflexive ability to grasp. While a newborn grasping your finger will melt any new parent’s heart, your 3-week-old baby isn’t doing this intentionally. Around 2 months of age, a young baby’s grasp becomes more intentional. And around 3-4 months of age, they will gain the ability to reach out for things to grasp.

Once babies are able to grasp objects, they can also drop them. But there is a difference between a baby dropping an object versus intentionally opening to their hand to let it go. The latter skill is referred to as voluntary release. Voluntary release begins around 8-9 months of age. At this age, babies should achieve the developmental milestone of dropping objects on purpose. And by 9-10 months they will be learning how to release small items into a specific target.

Baby’s manual dexterity evolves significantly in their first year. Over time your child will go from intentionally dropping food from their highchair, to helping put toys away, to putting puzzle pieces in a puzzle. All of these fine motor activities require the skill of voluntary release. See below for fun activities recommended by an occupational therapist that will develop your child’s fine motor skills.

baby releasing block

Activities for Grasp and Release

The following activities are listed by level of difficulty, easiest to most difficult. The easier activities are great for babies ages 6 to 10 months of age. By 18-24 months, your child should be able to do the most difficult. All of the ideas below are great activities for fine motor development.

Fisher-Price Baby & Toddler Toy Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Piggy Bank with Learning Songs & Phrases for Infants Ages 6+ Months

Other Activities That Support Release and Grasp Skills

baby playing with ball

If your baby is having a hard time with voluntary release, practice other lower level fine motor skills that typically come before voluntary release. Use a variety of objects during everyday activities to get in regular practice. Some good ideas to try include:

  • Reaching and grasping toys
  • Banging and shaking toys
  • Transferring toys from one hand to another (you can encourage this by offering a second toy to the same hand already holding a toy)
    • The O-ball is my favorite toy to practice transferring with
  • Taking smaller items out of a container (wooden blocks, balls, even pairs of baby socks!)
  • Dumping containers out (and you can model how to put them back in!)

If your baby is having a hard time reaching out for toys, read our article How To Help Baby Reach for Toys

Letting go of an object on purpose may seem like a simple skill, but like all skills babies learn, it is actually quite complex and involves several different skill areas coming together! While it may seem just like a fine motor activity, it also requires strong cognitive skills as well. Babies also need to have strong gross motor skills to hold their body upright in order to manipulate small objects.

Of course all babies develop at their own pace, but if your baby is 10-12 months old and still not able to release objects on purpose, talk to your healthcare provider and have them evaluated by an occupational therapist! Questions? Contact us here!

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