RATTLES AND MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Larger rattles require more movement of the arms and hands from baby. Previously, we discussed the importance of smaller rattles for babies from birth to three months. The rattles need to be small enough so their little hands can hold them, and light enough that they can shake them. As baby grows, she can eventually handle these larger rattles. Usually by around seven months of age these larger rattles are well manipulated, as the baby in the above photo demonstrates. They are excellent for her motor skill development since they require much more use of the arms and hand-eye coordination.
RATTLES VS. ELECTRONIC TOYS
In today’s nursery, the toy selection often includes an abundance of electronic toys. Although the fun sounds and twinkling lights may provide a long stretch of entertainment, it is important to be mindful of motor skill development. Pushing buttons with fingers does not develop the muscles of the arms or the hand-eye coordination nearly as much as shaking a large rattle with bells. To make a sound with a rattle, baby has to physically pick it up and move it several inches up and down or side to side. When baby stops moving, the sound of the rattle stops as well. Although some variety with both electronic and non-electronic toys may be ideal for some parents, it is important to keep baby’s motor skill development advancing with the manually operated toys: simple rattles.
THE POPULAR MARACA RATTLE
One of the most popular baby shower gifts is the rattle, even though a newborn baby is not able to hold and shake the rattle for a few weeks. The majority of rattles on the market are easy for the older babies to hold and play with. They have a thicker handle, are bigger in size, and require more movement to create the sound than a 2 month-old baby can manage. The yellow maraca rattle in the above photo meets our requirements for baby’s first rattle:
- has a small handle
- easily makes an interesting sound
It is necessary, however, to watch the point on the one end of the maraca. Use should be supervised.
CLASSIC SILVER DUMBELL RATTLE
This rattle design is often sold in sterling silver or pewter, giving the rattle a bit more weight. It is also available in wood variations as well as plastic, however baby develops more strength from the silver or pewter material. This rattle is best introduced after some time with a lighter weight rattle. Otherwise, it is too heavy for her to play with. The diameter of the stick handle is still small enough for her tiny hand to grasp and shake it. Another virtue of this classic design are the rounded ends, as baby now avoids the potential hazard of the pointy end of the maraca-style.
EARLY BENEFITS OF RATTLE PLAY
Baby benefits tremendously from playing with a rattle in her early months. The skills learned are both fine and gross motor skills as baby learns to both grasp the rattle with her hand and fingers (small muscles=fine motor) as well as shake it with her entire arm (large muscles=gross motor). The feeling of holding the firm material of the stick handle in the palm of the hand develops proprioception. The interesting sounds facilitate the hand-eye coordination since it gives baby an obvious clue as to where in space the rattle is. Baby learns to match the proprioceptive feeling with the sounds she hears.
A UNIQUE BABY SHOWER GIFT
These two styles of rattles, purchased together, make a unique baby shower gift. I guarantee you that no one else thought to pick out something for the earliest days of rattle play. For a more elaborate gift, choose an additional two or three rattles of larger size and with thicker handles for when baby is a bit older. Try to select a variety of weights and sounds for your gift.
A FAVORITE TOY FOR 9-12 MONTH OLD BABIES
In a recent post about cruising, we discussed the importance of placing intriguing objects on the coffee table in various locations to motivate baby to cruise. We recommended choosing colorful, lightweight, and non-breakable items. This toy, the Oball, meets all of our requirements. A favorite among 9-12 month old babies, this toy also has tiny handles all over it for easy gripping.
OBALL, A CHAIR, AND A GAME
The extreme lightweight plastic material is perfect for one of the games baby enjoys playing at this age. Put the Oball on the seat of a chair. When she is standing near, show her how to take her hand or arm and push it off the chair seat. Next, you pick it up right away and place it back on the chair seat. She will knock it off again. Once again, immediately pick it up and put it right back on the chair seat. She will think this is fun and want to continue.
A DEVELOPMENTAL ACTIVITY: REACHING VS. PUSHING
This is an important developmental game for baby at 9-12 months. Babies learn at a much earlier age to grasp things and shake them, and now they learn to release objects from their hand and to push them. This is another dimension of the skill of grasping and reaching. It could be called “releasing and pushing.” Previously, baby reached to get something that she wanted. Now she is extending the arm in a similar way to reaching, but it is called pushing because the object moves away from baby.
SOME REPETITION FOR LEARNING
Often parents think it is an accident when the baby drops the toy she is holding, and they reflexively pick it up and hand it to her again. It takes awhile for the parents to realize it is a new action baby has learned, and through repetition, the learning is deepened. Repetition gives baby a chance to be very clear about how to make that action happen. Again and again, baby will repeat the action until the novelty has worn off.
ROCHEL’S FAVORITE TOY
Although technically not a baby rattle, this teether which doubles as a squeeze toy is Rochel’s favorite. It is made by Vuilli, the same company that manufactures Sophie the giraffe teether that many babies adore. Like Sophie, this alien cousin is made of natural rubber and colored with vegetable dyes. Unlike Sophie, it makes a delightful squeaking sound when you squeeze it. The babies laugh and smile when they hear it!
FINE MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Because the construction is so soft and filled with air, babies need to use their fingers quite precisely to squeeze it. Up until now, babies created sound with rattles by moving their arm up and down. As Rochel demonstrates in the above video, this baby rattle requires use of the fingers in a complex manner. She squeezes the toy by bending her fingers at many joint locations and at various speeds. Sometimes she squeezes the toy slowly and discovers a slow “Squeeeeeeeak,” and other times she squeezes it quickly and hears an abrupt “Squeak, squeak!” She may squeeze with just her thumbs, just her fingers, or with both thumbs and fingers. This develops fine motor skill – specifically manual dexterity which is the skilled use of the fingers and hands. This is an essential developmental milestone for handwriting and operating computers when she eventually starts school.
Observe Rochel play with the squeaky baby rattle for awhile and then spot a green bottle cap on the floor. It captures her interest. She picks it up and notices that it is not nearly as interesting. It can not be squeezed, it does not make sound, and, therefore, it is not as interesting. So, Rochel puts it down and resumes playing with her favorite toy.
This toy is highly recommended for babies 9-12 months of age. You can find it on the “Best Baby Gear” listmania list under “TOOLS FOR PARENTS,” which is located at the top in the right-hand margin of the home page.
We love this toy because it is:
- doubles as a teether
- develops manual dexterity
Most of all babies love it too!
ROCHEL LEARNS TO SAVE FOR A RAINY DAY
By about twelve months of age babies begin to master one of the most advanced motor skills of infancy–the true pincer grasp. This is the skill of using the thumb and first finger to hold something. Babies usually learn to wave their arms at first, then later they develop the ability to move their hands and fingers independently when grasping and reaching for objects. The pincer grasp is used to manipulate smaller objects such as food for eating, and as they grow older for buttons on clothing or a pencil for writing. This grasp is a fine motor skill. Fine motor skills are defined as movements involving the smaller muscles of the hand, fingers, and arms.
I decided to see what Rochel was interested in playing with and then observe what skills we could learn or improve from there. Rochel enjoyed playing with some rattles, putting some blocks in a box, and then rising to stand a few times. Soon, she showed me a piggy bank. Her mother told me that she was learning to put pennies in it. I watched her little fingers skillfully pick the flat pennies up off of the flat surface of the floor. Rochel tried putting the pennies in the slots which were not much wider than the width of the penny. Once in a while she got the penny in the slot, but not often. I saw that her fingers were getting in the way of the slot. I picked up a penny and held it between my thumb and first finger very clearly, by pulling my other fingers a bit backward so she could see that only these two fingers were in contact with the penny. I held my hand very still and said to her, “Rochel, hold the penny with two fingers.” I saw her closely look at my hand, and then she reached out to the penny and took it from me with her right thumb and first finger–a perfect pincer grasp! She held it just right between these two fingers! Then she began to put it in the slot, which was still not so easy, so I turned the bank around to line up the slot with the angle at which she was holding the penny. She was able to put the penny in a bit easier this time, and then continued using her pincer grasp to put pennies in the slot. But, the narrow slot made it difficult to succeed.
We found an empty water bottle, of average size, and began to use that as a bank. The opening is much wider at the top, yet small enough to create a challenge. Rochel began putting pennies into her new bank by using her pincer grasp to hold the pennies, place them inside of the opening, and then releasing them into the bank by opening her pincer grasp. These are the beginning, middle, and end components of the skill. Previously, the opening of the pincer grasp could not be developed with the bank which had narrow slots because it was too difficult for her to get the penny in the slot in the first place. She was very happy! Penny after penny went down into the new bank! She could also see what she was doing because the water-bottle-bank was see-through due to its clear plastic material. Rochel, therefore, developed an understanding of what she was doing. She could see where the pennies she released landed. After awhile, I picked up the bank with the more narrow slots and held it for her to try. This time she succeeded in putting the penny in the slot. She learned how to hold the penny with her pincer grasp, put the edge of it in the slot, and then let her grasp open so the penny could fall. She mastered the components of the skill. Previously she could pick up the penny and move it around until it would go in the slot only randomly. Now the skill is more of a developed skill with a beginning, middle and end. I turned to her mother and said, “Please tell her grandmother that today Rochel learned to save for a rainy day.”
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
When I arrived at Rochel’s home today to give her a lesson, her mother proudly showed a mess of toys on the floor. “Look,” she said. “I left this out to show you. Rochel did this all on her own, just now. She has been playing here for the last forty-five minutes. I am so proud of her!” I looked down and saw Rochel looking up at me mid-pull of another toy off the lower bookshelf. She was smiling! Toys surrounded her while she examined how to open and close the top of her latest acquisition. There should be a motor milestone called “pulling all the toys off the shelf.” This “milestone” represents movement that is the preparation for crawling and is motivated by both curiosity and determination.
It is important to remember that Rochel learned the Z-sit position two weeks ago. From one position, baby uses the Z-sit to transition to another position, allowing for more movement. Prior to the Z-sit, Rochel was static in one position. Now she is very comfortable with the Z-sit and uses it to explore the world a bit more. She has figured out how to get something beyond her immediate reach, and she feels quite victorious! At the end of Rochel’s lesson today, I reminded her mother to put the toys very close to her yet out of her reach so she will move to get to them. The location is critical. The toys should not be so far away that she thinks it is impossible for her to get them, because she will not crawl. If they are close enough to her, or she is close enough to them, her curiosity drives her to the place of determined movement and she will crawl that small distance. She knows she can do it. She knows the toys are attainable. She tries and succeeds!