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, their grasp does become 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 can drop things on purpose. And by 9-10 months they will be learning how to release objects into a specific target.
Over time your child will go from intentional dropping food from their highchair, to helping put toys away, to putting puzzle pieces in a puzzle. All of these activities require the skill of voluntary release.
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. By 18-24 months, your child should be able to do the most difficult.
- Intentionally dropping objects or putting objects down
- Release objects into a large target (such as a box or basket)
- Release objects into a small target (such as a small cup or bowl)
- Ball drop toys
- Ring stackers
- Start with large pegs like this
- When they are ready you can move onto smaller pegs like this one from Learning Resources
- Stacking cups like this super affordable option from The First Years
- Stacking blocks
- Larger blocks like these are easiest
- Smaller cubes like these ABC blocks are great as they get closer to age 2
- Putting a ball into a basketball hoop
- Toy piggy bank with large coins
- Shape sorters
- Circles are the easiest shape and shapes with the most edges (such as stars) will be the most challenging
- The fewer shapes, the easier it will be
- This 3-piece shape sorter from Battat is one of my favorite young toddler toys. It makes a fun sound when the shape goes down, which is a motivating factor!
- Start with large puzzle pieces and only a few pieces like this 3 piece simple shape puzzle
- As their skills improve, you can offer puzzles with more pieces, smaller pieces, and more complex shapes like this farm theme puzzle from Melissa & Doug
Other Activities That Support Release and Grasp Skills
If your baby is having a hard time with voluntary release, practice other lower level fine motor skills that typically come before voluntary release. This includes:
- 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 objects out of a container
- 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 objects.
If your baby is 10-12 months old and still not able to release objects on purpose, have them evaluated by an occupational therapist! Questions? Contact us here!
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