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BLW - Perfect Preparation For Pencils

Posted by admin Sunday, August 12, 2012

Baby-led weaning (BLW) involves allowing your child to use their hands to eat their food and you may find people criticising you for making such a mess – after all, the puree spoon-fed babies are eating off spoons which is the goal, right? In fact, you are giving your child so many opportunities to developmentally work on their motor control to encourage them to use cutlery properly which will set them up for pencil control. 
Food is an extension of toys. Your child sees a toy, is interested and puts it in their mouth and the same process occurs when eating. Toys are used as an education and development tool and food and mealtimes are no different.
The hand development to use cutlery is the same as gaining control of the arm and hand in order to write so gaining good hand control will set your child setup for good pen control. Here’s how:
Inhibition of the grasp reflex. Your child is using their hands each time they eat and in order to get the food to mouth, they need to let go of it, which is the beginning of grasp reflex suppression. Remember how your little one would grab on to your hair and not let go? Those days are being left behind as your little one learns to let go of things voluntarily. Be prepared for phases of dropping food from the highchair as they go through this – it is a developmental phase and not (always) naughty behaviour.
Fisted grasp refinement. First weaning foods are often big sticks of roasted veggies or broccoli spears. Serving up a selection of foods of different weights, textures, which need different degrees of muscle recruitment to pick them up, help improve the control over the muscles of the arm. Learning how tight to hold the fist so the sweet potato chunk doesn’t squidge everywhere, or how much shoulder muscle recruitment is needed to hold the empty cup versus the heavy one are all essential lessons. Even now, you may find yourself picking something up expecting it to be heavier than it is and flinging it high in the air – but you will learn and probably not do it again.
Multi-Grasp-Release. Initially, your baby will grasp with one hand and the other will automatically do the same. This will over time change and they will, given the opportunity, grasp an object with one hand whilst picking up another with the other hand. Offer you child a choice of foods on a plate and they will pick up one thing they like with one hand and be putting it in their mouth whilst they reach for another with the other hand. We see this commonly with children who maybe love strawberries and so have several slices on a plate and are reaching for the next whilst the other is being popped in – gobbling it down. Only once this skill is mastered, can your child move on to the next stage of refining finger movement.
Suppression of the Babkin response. Initially, as your newborn suckles, their fists will clench (Babkin response) and this is because in the early days the hands and mouth are your baby’s main ways of expressing themselves. This neurological link needs to be suppressed else you may find your child sticking their tongue out when they write (hands and mouth still linked) and other developmental skills won’t be able to come forward. We sometimes see speech development delays since the mouth can’t be controlled independently of the hands. Your child will need to use their hands and mouth independently through self-feeding in order to pick up other foods as they eat, helping this response to be suppressed.
Development of the Pincer grip. Picking foods up of different shapes and sizes will encourage hand dexterity and development of different grasps. Picking up peas, sweetcorn and blueberries will probably initially be done as a side-sweep but over time the pincer grip will come through – a massive developmental leap for the fingers and so the muscles of the fingers now being put in a different position will start to strengthen - perfect preparation for pencils.
Copying. With everyone eating the same foods and enjoying mealtimes together, your child will learn that using cutlery is how you eat and to try different positions to get the arm in to. This strengthening of the hand and arm and early manipulation of the fingers are all warming-up the motor control of the hand ready for writing.
Hand dominance. From around the age of 2 your little one will develop a dominant hand. Some parents mistakenly think that being ambidextrous is the goal but in fact it is much better for your child to develop strength and dexterity in one hand so it flourishes in fine motor skills and the other one to work on being a supporting hand. Think about it – it is far better to have two specialised hands that do their jobs well rather than a pair of mediocre hands trying to be everything to everyone. Allowing your baby to self-feed gives them a head start, since self-feeding develops their sense of bilateral co-ordination.  For example, holding the pod steady whilst he picks out the peas, holding the plate whilst he helps himself to another serving, holding the orange whilst he peels the skin, are all ways your little one is starting to rehearse their sided dominance and their hands are rehearsing their jobs already.
Hand control and spatial awareness are intrinsically linked and so being able to grasp objects in the hands coming from different directions will help with the hand development. Having foods on a plate or spread across a highchair table improves spatial awareness since they will need to reach for the food, pick it up and put it in the mouth. That’s a lot of things going on and your 6 month old is rehearsing it through self-feeding.
Hand awareness is another key part of development of the hand, so allowing your child to explore different shapes, textures and objects with their hands will encourage this. Children often have lots of toys but repeatedly use the same 6 or 7. This is not enough and so self-feeding with hands from the moment a child is weaned is ideal since each time a child eats, a variety of foods are made available – all with different colour, texture, size, shape.
As an aside, making new foods available to your child will encourage speech since they will be interesting and encourage them to try it (improving willingness to accept new foods) as well as improving speech since he will be encourage to describe it or name it in order to request it
So, you can see that allowing your child to feed themselves a variety of foods of different shapes and textures from the moment they are weaned can help develop their hand control enabling them to grasp the basic skills, suppress the relevant reflexes to enable them to manipulate cutlery and pens.
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