Re: When do babies start using a spoon by themselves?
Personally, I never encouraged self feeding with a spoon until closer to 2 years old, just because of the mess and waste factor. BUT, they are typically able to grasp the concept somewhere between 12-15 months, I think.
As far as encouraging finger foods? I'd offer things like baby goldfish, cheerios, pieces of bread or rolls, beans (mine always loved kidney beans), pieces of cheese..... all "pieces" meaning cut into VERY small pieces they don't have to bite, but they can chew up easily.