Babies are born with a grasping reflex. They will hold onto something (like your finger!) from the day they are born.
As sweet as this is, it is not intentional. Babies start to reach and grasp with purpose between 3-4 months of age. This means that by 4 months, they won’t only hold onto their blanket or clothing right next to them, but actually reach out for something!
Early Reaching Activities
While we do not expect newborns (0-3 month olds) to reach, offering early opportunities is beneficial! The earlier on you offer opportunities for baby to become interested in the objects around them, the earlier they likely will begin to reach.
Of course, mom and dad’s faces are usually the #1 object of interest in the early days! You can get close to your baby and help them to touch your face and see if they try to repeat the action.
I also like to provide baby with frequent opportunities throughout the day to reach for things. You can use opportunities such as when baby is in the car seat, stroller, or bouncer to offer reachable toys.
Toys that hang from the car seat or stroller are great because they offer baby the chance to work on fine motor skills while you go about whatever you are doing. Infantino and Skip Hop have great options on Amazon. Bouncers or swings that include hanging toys are great options as well.
Reaching While Laying on Their Back
It is ideal to minimize use of devices that contain your baby and try to get baby on the floor as much as possible. Our article Why Floor Play is Important For Babies can help explain why. Baby gyms are one of the best ways to work on reaching during floor time.
Of course it is important to set time aside daily to interact with your baby. But sometimes you need to step away to wash a few dishes or fold the laundry. A baby gym can provide independent entertainment and opportunities for motor skill development while you get something else done.
If you discover that the hanging toys are too high for baby to reach, you can try using connecting links. If the hanging toys are removable, you can add a few links to hang them lower. And if they are not removable, you can just add some links wherever they will clip on.
Connecting links are my favorite first toy for babies because they are so lightweight, versatile, and provide a great sensory experience for babies. Their shape makes them very easy to hold onto. Not only are they great for baby to reach for, but also to bring to their mouth, hold with both hands, and pass from one hand to the other.
Reaching in a Sidelying Position
Reaching while laying on their side is often the easiest way for baby to practice. This is because gravity is less strong in this position so it is usually easier for baby to control their arm. Try placing a toy in front of them at or just below eye level. You can touch the toy to their hands initially then bring it an inch or two away from them and see if they reach for it.
Reaching During Tummy Time
Around 5 months of age babies will start to be able to shift their weight to one side while on their tummy and reach up with the opposite arm. You can hold toys a few inches off the floor to encourage this. Make sure you offer toys on either side.
If baby is having a hard time lifting their arm up, you can provide moderate downward pressure at their low back in the direction toward the feet. This can help to stablize their lower body, making it easier to lift their arm off the surface.
Reaching in a Sitting Position
Once baby starts sitting up, reaching becomes a totally different activity! Around 5 months of age, you can start working on picking objects up from a table surface. This is a completely different experience from when baby is laying on their back!
I love working on reaching for toys on a table because it helps baby practice the skills needed for self feeding! You can place small toys on the tray of their high chair for them to try to pick up. If you don’t yet have a high chair, baby can sit on your lap at a table.
By 5-6 months of age, babies will pick the toy up from the table or tray and bring it to their mouth. The same motor pattern they will soon use for picking up food and eating it!
Offer toys of different shapes and sizes so baby can practice different grasp patterns. Megablocks and Shape Sorter pieces are great options that can also be used later for their standard purpose as baby’s skills develop.
Strategies if Baby Has Difficulty Reaching
If baby is not yet reaching for objects, there are a few tricks you can try.
- Support baby’s arm at the shoulder or elbow to bring their arm closer to the object, but encourage them to move their wrist and fingers to finish the task.
- Briefly touch to object to baby’s hand then move it away. You can do this several times quickly and it usually cues baby to move their hand closer.
- Try placing the object on their chest or stomach when they are on their back. This tactile cue often gets baby to bring their hands in to grasp the object. You can then slowly try raising it up off of their body.
Babies usually have a natural desire to explore the world around them. If they are given frequent opportunities to reach, they will learn to do it!
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