Promoting Your Baby’s Motor Development With Outdoor Play

The latest "Oh, Baby!" column
Col Ob Shutterstock 609552179
Image courtesy of graphic-line/

Summer is a great time to explore the outdoors to foster your baby’s motor development. Introduce your child to outdoor play while he is young and continue to provide those opportunities so you can raise an active child who has a love for physical activity.


Take in the Scenery

The change in scenery during summer provides a stimulating environment that will motivate your baby to move and explore. Young infants will be amazed by all the new sights, enticing them to hold their heads up and look around. 

The entertaining surroundings serve as an excellent distraction for babies who are not fans of tummy time. You can lay on a blanket with your baby to read a book, play, or just take in all the sights and sounds. If you need to contain your baby, a portable play yard will keep her safe while providing opportunities for movement. 


Stimulate the Senses

Babies learn through exploring with their senses. We are all taught about the five senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. But there are two more: proprioception (body awareness) and vestibular sense (balance). Going outside with your baby provides a sensory-rich environment that motivates her to explore. The smells of fresh air, grass and flowers will entice your baby to further examine her surroundings. She can lay on her back and look up at the leaves swaying on the trees, or enjoy tummy time while looking at vibrant flowers. 

If your baby has started on solid foods, treat him to a picnic with fresh fruits and vegetables. He can enjoy the sounds of chirping birds, babbling brooks and wind chimes. A ride in a swing will offer input to his vestibular system. There is an endless supply of new things to touch — hard rocks, smooth leaves, crunchy grass and slippery bubbles, to name a few. These natural, sensory play experiences help your baby learn and develop connections in his brain.


New Motor Challenges

Outdoors, there is a whole new world for your baby to explore. She will be eager to get moving so she can check things out. The terrain will provide new challenges for her to tackle. She can crawl or walk over the roots of trees, up and down hills, across rocks and through sand. All of these different textures may take some getting used to, so continue to provide opportunities for her to try them out. The outdoor environment will also present obstacles that she will have to figure out via trial and error, which strengthens her motor learning.

A swimming pool provides a refreshing opportunity for your baby to move in new ways. The buoyancy of the water helps support her weight, making it easier to move, while the viscosity of the water provides resistance to make her stronger. 


Play It Safe

Heading outside in the summer is a fun way to get your baby moving, but be sure to protect him from the sun with sunscreen, sunglasses, cover-ups and shade, even on cloudy days. Babies under 6 months of age should stay out of direct sunlight. Keep them in the shade and in lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs; and use a hat, rather than sunscreen, to cover their head and neck. It’s best to avoid peak sun hours —
10 a.m.-4 p.m. 

Keep your baby hydrated by offering typical fluids (breast milk, formula, water), or try an icy piece of fruit or breast milk popsicle to really cool him off. Fans, water sprayers, cold cloths and water play are great for beating the heat, too.


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 all abilities. Learn more about their services at


Categories: Baby, Development