MOVE: Movement, Opportunity, Variety and Experience
The cornerstones of healthy motor skill development
As adults, we know what we need to do to stay healthy — be active, eat well and get plenty of rest. As parents, we encourage these habits in our children as well. Physical activity is important for the entire family — even our infants.
During the first year of life, an infant works on developing gross motor skills and, through this process, strengthens muscles, builds bones, stimulates the senses and learns how to move. The trial and error of early movement and independence, developed by learning how to move, builds an infant’s confidence and sets the foundation for a lifetime of movement.
We can encourage movement in our babies by providing a stimulating environment for them and interacting with them. The way we hold our babies, the positions we put them in, the equipment they spend time in and the toys we give them to interact with can all influence the ways our babies learn to move. When parents help infants strengthen their muscles from early on, this assists them with learning to roll, sit, crawl, stand and walk, which builds the foundation for playing sports, dancing and exercising as they grow up.
Babies have an innate drive to move. When we give them opportunities to move without containment, and allow them to spend time in different positions, we allow them the freedom to learn about their world from a new perspective. Avoid exposing them to a prolonged time in anything that restricts their movement. Rather than focusing on spending one extended period working with our babies, we should offer them various opportunities to be uncontained and play throughout the day. These small moments add up, providing babies with a rich experience of practice and learning.
For infants, variety is the spice of life, just as it is for adults. When babies spend time on their backs, it helps them strengthen muscles differently than spending time on their stomachs. Sitting up gives babies a new vantage point, compared to being on their sides, and standing opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Each of these different positions encourages babies to use their muscles in different ways, and offers them new sensory experiences, opportunities and challenges.
A variety of environments for babies to explore will also stimulate their desire to move and play. Remember that for infants, a small change in environment can offer lots of new experiences and information. Switch up the room in your house where you play with baby to give him or her new things to look at. Take a blanket outside and let your baby enjoy playing in the fresh air, too.
Moving infants through a variety of positions and environments throughout the day keeps boredom at bay, and also provides them with opportunities to gain the experiences they need to learn and master new skills. The more experience they have, the more confident they will become in their movement abilities. Just as adults learn to master skills by practicing, your baby will practice movements over and over to fine-tune his or her abilities and move on to new challenges.
Every developmental position provides infants with opportunities to strengthen muscles, acquire different sensory information, and see their world in a new and different way. Without all of these experiences, the path for motor development can be bumpy because babies will have difficulty mastering new skills.
So the lesson here is, when you play with your baby, don’t forget to move!
Rebecca Quinones and Rachel Gandy are founders of Babies On The MOVE, a Cary-based organization committed to helping children excel in motor development with in-home pediatric physical therapy and community-based infant movement classes for children of all abilities. Learn more at babiesonthemoverdu.com.