The toddler that rushes down the hall calling, “Mommy phone!” is dramatically different from the newborn you held in your arms a moment and an eternity ago. Astonishing and unparalleled growth takes place in the first two years – and it takes place in fits and bursts. Tomorrow’s complex skills build on today’s simpler ones, with countless interconnections.
To make sense of this dizzying affair, I like to sort growth into four storylines: the apprentice mastering hand-eye coordination, the athlete learning to run, the scholar’s saga of symbols of the mind, and the poet’s journey.
When a newborn fixes her eyes on something intriguing, she might swipe towards it with her arms and/or legs. Even though her swipe does not come close, this is the beginning of her training in hand-eye coordination that will one day enable her to master tasks such as tying shoes, playing the piano, or performing neurosurgery.
A baby can grasp an adult finger pressed into her hand on her very first day. It’s not until this automatic grasp starts to fade a few months later that she can learn to consciously take hold of the world around her. Babies become increasingly fascinated by their own hands and then by objects they can handle.
Over time, their grasping behavior will become more sophisticated and precise. Using the arm to corral a toy gives way to picking up a block in the hand. Usually, kids first grasp with the little-finger half of the hand and move to the thumb-side with practice. Then, about the middle of the first year, they’ll demonstrate their emerging mastery by passing toys from hand to hand. Then on to holding two toys at once, followed by banging them together! Next, they start peering at smaller objects, captivated by objects the size of a raisin as they are about to develop a precise finger-thumb grasp. By the time they are taking their first steps, they are ready not just to hold objects, but to build with them. When a toddler has built a stack of six blocks, or turned a doorknob to open a closed door, the apprentice has completed his journeyman training.
This is an excerpt from: The Experts’ Guide to the Baby Years