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Human Hands

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Study the picture. It tells us many stories, doesn’t it? Three hands, all human hands, but each one different. You can tell easily which is the father, the mother, the baby. What do these hands say to you? Can you guess, just from seeing the hands, how each of these people may be feeling?

Human Hands, by H. Armstrong Roberts

Human Hands, by H. Armstrong Roberts

Do you notice how different each hand is? Look at the hands of each person in the class. Are they all alike, or are they different? Does anyone think he could name all the people in the class if he could see only one hand of each person? Try it. Let all except one person go quietly outside the door. Each person in turn will show his hand in the doorway. Did the person who stayed in the room name them all correctly? Does anyone else want to try?

Sometimes detectives, or others who have studied hands, can tell a good deal about a person just by looking at his hands. How do your mother’s hands look different from your grandmother’s hands? How are your hands and your father’s hands different? Can you tell something about age by looking at hands?

Suppose you were looking at the hands of a man who worked out in the woods all winter; would they look the same as your teacher’s hands? What other kinds of work do you think you might guess by looking at the worker’s hands?

But all of these hands have one thing in common — one thing that no animal paw except that of the chimpanzee and ape has. Do you remember what this was? Have you thought of things you can do with your thumb that you would not be able to do without it? Do you want to try some things that will show how much difference the thumb makes to you?

Take a piece of adhesive tape and bandage your thumb to your hand so that you are not able to use the thumb at all. Do this to both of your hands. Now try to write. Try to draw a picture. See how well you can pick up some dried peas or beans. Hold a book and read from it and turn the pages. Think of other things to try. Is your thumb very important to you?

You had to learn to use your arms, your hands and your thumb. When we watch babies who are learning, we find that they can first move the whole arm, then they learn to bend and use their elbows, and then they learn to use their wrists.

Watch babies of varying ages trying to pick up something small (give them a tiny bit of cracker or something their mother doesn’t mind their eating, because all babies will put it right into their mouths). You will discover that at first they try to use the whole hand (“cup it up,” we say); then they will try to get the object between their fingers (a “scissors grip,” we call it); and finally they will be able to use their thumb. We call this using an “opposable thumb,” and it is one of the things that has been very important to man, because it has meant he could do so many things he would never have been able to do otherwise.

This development of the ability to pick things up is what we call a “sequence of development,” meaning that every baby learns things in this order, although they do not all learn at exactly the same age.

There are several things that man can do that no animal (except sometimes the great apes) has ever been known to do: (I ) Man uses his opposable thumb to do things that only the great apes can do. (2) Man has a language that uses words which he can arrange in any order he wants for meaning, instead of just a few sounds and cries which mean only one thing. (3) Man has made and used many tools. (4) And man can draw pictures so that other people know what he is “seeing in his mind.”

Now look back at the “hands” on the cover, the “hands” of the squirrel in the first session and the human hands that illustrate today’s lesson. Try to remember during the week that your hands are human hands, and that they are controlled by your human mind. Keep noticing all during the week the things that a human hand can do.

Things to Talk About

  1. A very famous poet (Walt Whitman) once wrote a poem with this line in it, “And the smallest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery.” Talk about what you think he meant when he wrote it.
  2. Would you like to write a poem about animal paws and human hands? Perhaps you would like to divide into groups and some of you write poems, and the rest of you make illustrations for the poems.

Things to Do at Home

  1. Notice during the week the things that you cannot do without using your thumb, or things that are easier when you use it. Keep a list of these.
  2. Try to find as many pictures as you can of hands doing things, and bring them to class next week; we shall be using them for several sessions.
  3. If you are near any babies who are under a year old this week, see if their mothers will let you give them a little piece of food to pick up. Keep a record of how many times they “cup it,” 66scissors‑grasp it” or “use the opposable thumb.” Perhaps you could look over your old baby pictures and see if there are any where you were trying to learn to pick up things.