There are a fair number of recipes around here that work on pincer grasp, even though the grasp emerges around 8-10 months. So why, at 2.5 years, is it still important, and what exactly is pincer grasp anyway?
Pincer grasp, generally, is using the thumb and index finger to pick something (usually small) up. It starts with inferior pincer grasp, where the pad of the thumb punches the object against the pad or middle joint of the index finger, and progresses to neat pincer grasp around 12-18 months, which uses the tips of both fingers. It also develops from power, used for heavy objects or those that need force to get out of their hidey-hole, to precision, for things that are easily crushed. [note: I haven’t seen power inferior or precision neat, etc, combined in my low-level research, but since it makes sense, I’ll use it here.]
Adding a third finger moves to a rigid or dynamic tripod grasp, as used in standard adult handwriting. It is entirely normal for a four year old to still be mastering dynamic tripod grasp, which means it’s also entirely normal for a 2.5 year old to be developing strength for a power neat pincer grasp or a delicate touch for the precision neat pincer grasp.
Experience is the best teacher for learning what grasp to use for a particular object or task, and it ties into visual processing of objects. What material is the object? A marble cutting board is heavier and needs more strength than a wooden or plastic cutting board. Paper is more easily crushed than cardboard…but a cookbook operates more like cardboard when it’s closed. How big is the object and where is the weight concentrated? Is it slippery or rough, and does that mean you need to adjust the grasp? Decorating nonpareils – those tiny slick balls of candy – require slow but powerful movements to keep them from flying out from between the fingers. Is it in a place that’s hard to reach, where using too much power will knock it out of reach entirely?
Beyond figuring out what grasp to use in a particular situation, children also need to build endurance and strength in their hand muscles to be able to hold a writing instrument at school. This involves sheer repetition with different weights and textures, and variation to keep things interesting.
To gain that experience in the kitchen – where I operate with Belle – I try to have her as hands on as possible while we bake.
- Any recipe with teaspoons can use inferior pincer grasp, which is a little easier than a palmar grasp (one that uses all the fingers to hold a spoon against the palm) when tipping ingredients into the mixing bowl.
- Any recipe with measuring cups can use inferior or neat pincer grasp to work on power holds, since the weight is concentrated in the cup instead of the handle. I usually can’t correct Belle’s holds on anything, because she’s Miss Independent, but I can model how much heavier it feels when my fingers are at the end of the handle instead of near the cup.
- Sometimes, Belle chooses to measure out chocolate or butterscotch chips one at a time. It’s not a particularly efficient method if we’re looking at the clock, but it is great for developing the neat pincer grasp (and release). The repetition involved builds endurance for those little muscles.
- When we roll out dough and cut out cookies, Belle is practicing a precision inferior pincer grasp as she transfers cookies to the baking sheet. Too much power, and the cookie gets crushed. Too little and she drops it.
- As an adult, I usually use spoons for drop cookies, but I encourage Belle to just pinch out some dough because it’s more fun and gives us a chance to use sensory language. It also gives us a chance to build endurance and strength for the inferior pincer grasp.
- Decorating cookies or gingerbread houses can also be an opportunity for precision neat pincer grasp as Belle picks out particular candies for her plan.
- Belle grabs the cutting boards with a power pincer grasp in order to get them out of storage between the knife block and wall during our ingredient explorations. Or, you know, whenever she wants to make a mess.
- Sealing a top crust on a pie can be an endurance task for the precision neat pincer grasp.
- Flipping through the cookbook for the recipe involves the precision inferior pincer grasp to turn pages and not rip them.
- Using tongs to transfer hot items (like donuts or fritters) uses precision inferior pincer grasp.
- Sorting soft ingredients, like berries, involves precision neat pincer grasp to avoid squishing the ingredient.
Recipes and activities that target pincer grasp:
Occupying Belle While I Finish, Part 2
Ingredient Exploration: Pomegranate
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