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 their confidence and sets the foundation for a lifetime of movement.
We can encourage MOVEMENT in our babies by providing a stimulating environment 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 that our babies learn to move. Helping our babies strengthen their muscles from early on will help them to learn to roll, sit, crawl, stand and walk as infants 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 the OPPORTUNITY to move without containment and spend time in different positions, we allow them the freedom to learn about their world from a new perspective. Prolonged time in anything that restricts their movement should be avoided to afford them these opportunities. 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 to create a rich experience of practice and learning for baby.
For infants, VARIETY is the spice of life, just as it is for adults. Spending time on their back helps babies to strengthen their muscles differently than it does when spending time on their tummy. Sitting up gives a new vantage point compared to being on their side, and standing opens a whole new world of possibilities for our infants. Each of these different positions encourages our babies to use their muscles in different ways, as well as offering them new sensory experiences, opportunities, and challenges. A variety of environments for baby to explore will also stimulate their desire to move and play. Remember that for infants, a small change in their environment can offer lots of new experiences and information. Switch up the room in your house where you play with baby to give him new things to look at. Take a blanket outside and let your baby enjoy playing in the fresh air too.
Moving our infants through a variety of positions and environments throughout the day not only keeps boredom at bay but it is also provides them with the EXPERIENCE they need to learn and master new skills. The more experience they have, the more confident they will be in their movement abilities. Just as adults learn to master skills by practicing, your baby will practice movements over and over as they fine tune their abilities and move on to new challenges.
Every developmental position provides our infants with opportunities to strengthen their muscles, get 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, with babies having difficulty mastering new skills. So the next time you are playing with your baby, don’t forget to MOVE!