Children’s hands progress from reflex to purposeful use and intricate control. They progress from unconscious movement to conscious movement. When you first place something in a baby’s hand, the hand closes and holds it tight. This is not something the baby thinks about. It just happens.
Also at this time, the baby cannot let the object go. The grasp reflex is in place so that whenever the palm is touched, the fingers have to bend inwards.
The hand then moves to intentional releasing. Once this occurs then the hands make a choice whether or not to close on an item placed in the palm. This is in the first 8 months of a baby’s life. Mouthing of whatever is in the hand starts around 4 months. Therefore it can be proposed that babies innately want to feed themselves, to bring items to their mouth for exploring and eating.
So babies learn to manipulate food in their hands so that it gets into their mouth. This is an important skill. The natural progression is then to use cutlery. This is an essential progression if children are ever to hold and use pencils with skill when they get to school. We cannot expect a child to hold a pencil when they cannot hold a spoon.
Infants and young children need time and repetition to gain skills. The more difficult the skill, the more practice required.
Without adding to parent’s already busy lifestyles, the eating of a meal at a table with cutlery is how to prepare a child for school. Infants need to eat, so this will not be an extra activity to put into a full day. The number of times an infant or child eats per day will be the number of times this child practices and gains this invaluable skill.
As with any new activity, initially it will be messy. Be prepared for the mess and allow it to happen, through for example placing a plastic table cloth under the infant’s chair, having wet face washers readily available or using paper towels if you do not want too much washing.
Give the infant a spoon that has a moulded handle for easy gripping and let him/her play with it. Let him or her explore how to hold this new utensil so that it stays in their hand and not fall out unless they want it to. Let him or her explore how to pick up food with this utensil, how to keep the food on the utensil and how to place this food where they would like it to be.
Give your baby a great start. Please give them a spoon!