Answer: Whenever they reach for one.
This seems too simple to be true, but I can speak from experience that babies can start to learn to use a spoon much before we adults “think they are ready.”
The picture on the left is mine. This is my son, at about 8 months old, using a spoon to feed himself.
Is there oatmeal in his hair?
Is it all over his face?
But some of it also went in his mouth, and he did it himself, and he was proud of himself.
Nothing about caring for babies makes me more upset, and more likely to speak up than when parents consistently bat their child’s hand away when they reach for a spoon. They are trying to tell you they want to try what you are doing for themselves!
I can’t understand the logic of stopping them.
Yes, it is messy, there is no denying that. But isn’t every new endeavor messy? A child’s first picture isn’t going to be a perfectly drawn picture of a face. We let them scribble because it is fun, and is learning about the world, one crazy stroke at a time.
A child’s first steps are likely to be wobbly, and with repeated falls, but we let them try. No one pushes a baby down and says, “No, no, you are still at the crawling stage.” That would be absurd. Everyone roots for their kid to walk as early as they can. We rejoice over their first steps wherever those steps fall on the spectrum of early to late because we want them to succeed, and we are willing to encourage them through failure.
Why, oh why is using a spoon so different?
I have a guess. I think it is because allowing the experiment creates more work for us, the adults.
Caring for a baby is hard, there is no denying that. There are diapers to change, trying to get them to nap, having to get up with them in the night, and all of the messes they are going to create just by playing and exploring their world.
Giving a baby a spoon with a bowl of baby food seems to spell more work in big bold neon letters.
And it is. But it’s worth it.
A spoon is typically one of the first ways that babies practice fine motor skills, along with using their fingers to pick up food.
For the record, CDC officially encourages parent to allow babies to start using a spoon between 10–12 months. However, they do also acknowledge that we should give them a chance to learn, even before they will somehow magically eat perfectly.
Your baby can start to use a spoon by himself or herself at around 10 to 12 months old.
Your child will continue to get better at using tools like spoons and forks. Give your child a chance to use spoons and forks — even if it is messy.
An Australian website thinks that proficiency will come much later, but still agrees to hand them the spoon.
Most babies won’t be able to use a spoon until they’re about 18 months old. But it’s a good idea to let your child use a spoon from a much earlier age. Usually babies will let you know when they want to start, by constantly reaching for the spoon.
The better fine motor skills a child has, the better they will be able to start to learn to write, draw or do complex fine motor tasks like Legos.
The sooner you start allowing your baby to use a spoon, the sooner they will be able to master it, freeing up your meal, but also allowing them to get a bigger ratio of food in their mouth and less on the ground.
We want our kids to have fine motor skills.
We want them to be independent.
We want them to succeed in the world, and not be discouraged and think of themselves as incapable- so don’t push away their hand when they reach for a spoon, hand it to them (plastic, not metal).
And this, by the way, can be a metaphor for many other things in parenting too.
It is okay to let your child try and fail at something. It is good for them.
They will learn more from failing than they would from you preventing them from trying. Just keep that in mind the next time you try to stop something because you can predict the results won’t be good.
But back to my main point. Babies are washable. The floor is washable. The table is washable.
Please, let your baby try. Give them the spoon when they reach for it.