Purposeful Hands

For the past 10 months I have watched the development of my son's relationship with his hands. From first discovering they were there to working out he could move them. From batting at objects to holding and exploring objects. He has worked out that he can not only touch things but that he can pick them up and on top of that, that they feel different to each other. He can pick big objects up with his whole hand and smaller objects up with his thumb and forefinger. He has spent so long discovering what they can do, so long exploring them, that he has now become quite proficient at using them.

Now his hands have moved past the stage of exploration and into the stage of being useful. He has worked out that he can actually use them to do the things he wants to do. At the moment this new found skill is being directed into organising the things around him, anything will do, as long as he can move it!

One of his favourite activities is to put a ball inside my mug and then take it out again. He will repeat this for a long time. In and out. It seems so simple right? But to him it is a wonderful accomplishment of actually putting the ball in a particular spot and he really is so very proud of himself when he does it, every time he does it. If the mug is upside down then he balances the ball on top, puts it on the floor again, then balances it back on top. Who would have thought that a mug and a ball would provide so much entertainment?!

However, this is more than play to him, as Maria Montessori describes it, this is his 'work'. Play is a child's way of learning, in fact it is the best way for them to learn. His play has purpose to him, he wants to master a new skill. He will do this by practicing and repeating simple actions and in the future these simple actions that he has mastered will help him to accomplish bigger goals. Play is his way of learning not only how our world works, but how he can become a functioning person in our world.

Maria Montessori describes this period as the time where he no longer needs toys simply for manipulation and exploration, his toys should now serve a purpose to accomplish a goal. I'm not talking about extravagant and expensive toys you must go out and buy, they do not need them at all, simple everyday objects from around the house will do just like the mug and ball. And I'm not talking about a goal far beyond their ability or a predetermined one set by you. Children will find their own goals and when you watch them closely you will see them too. Then you will be able to help them practice the skill they are trying by offering specific materials for them to use.

For example, my son also likes to take cellophane out of a basket and then put it back. Take my papers off of the coffee table and then put them back. Move my washing from in front of him to behind him, and then put it back. Are you seeing the pattern here? He will use anything that he can move and he will practice and repeat putting it where he wants. So what materials can you offer to help practice this skill? Now is the time to introduce activities of filling and emptying containers, cause and effect toys, balls and ramps, store bought or hand made, it is up to you. I will write about the sorts of things we are doing in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for some ideas!

If the constant moving of things is bothering you then just think of this... once mastered this skill will be used to tidy up their own toys!



  1. Great information Ali, thanks! Leo is not quite at this stage yet, but he thinks his hands are pretty amazing, so I'm sure it won't be long :) I love how you use simple things from around the home; babies and children usually prefer things that aren't toys the best anyway!

  2. Cheers Amanda, I think it's so cute when they stare at their hands in amazement, so much joy for them!!


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