The first three years of life are considered the most important years for the development of young children. This is the time when your baby will develop rapidly, going from a helpless newborn who’s movements are governed by reflexes to an interactive toddler who is master of his world.
At birth your baby is curled up and unable to work and move against gravity. Over the next eighteen months he will master gravity and control his body as he engages with the world. Most motor development is pretty hard wired and the milestones are clear for all to see. There are certain activities that you should be doing in the first two years of life that can enhance motor skills.
After being curled up in utero, your baby will spend the first three months of life strengthening his tummy and back muscles. By 4 months, if these muscles are strong enough, your baby will start to roll, first tummy to back then back to tummy.
Since the first step towards rolling is to build the strength of the back muscles. Place your baby on the floor on his tummy often in the first few months.
As he gets older, ensure your baby has loads of floor time to activate both his flexor and extensor muscles and put toys just out of reach, near his head so that he has to roll to get them if he is on his back or lift his chest if he is on his tummy.
Sitting is actually the most ‘straight forward’ of the milestones as it just requires good head control and adequate muscle tone – no co-ordination is really needed. So almost all babies sit unsupported by 6 to 7 months.
Make sure your baby has load of opportunities to sit supported as he approaches 6 months and then challenge him a little by removing some support. Just hold the back of his clothes gently to support him in sitting as he learns to get it right.
Babies should crawl between 7 and 10 months and should do so with coordinated reciprocal movements of the arms and legs. However, crawling is possibly the most controversial of milestones because some babies don’t crawl at all and others get around with a strange bear crawl or even a bum shuffle. Crawling is the ideal because not only does it allow your baby to experience moving “in and out” and “under and over” things – which is vital for establishing spatial awareness, but in addition it works the shoulders and hands in a way that is hugely beneficial for fine motor tasks later.
The foundations for crawling are laid down in the tummy time that is vital for rolling too, so the principle again is loads of time on the floor. At around 9 months, if your little one isn’t crawling, help him by supporting him in the four-point position. You can also place your hands behind his feet so he has a boundary to push off from, if his tummy muscles aren’t strong enough to keep his knees under his hips. Just putting toys out of reach should trigger the interest to get them.
Walking is a very variable milestone – it emerges between 10 and 14 months in most babies but there are babies who walk as early as 9 months and as late as 18 months.
Cruising (walking holding onto furniture) precedes walking and is the best way to prepare your baby to walk.
There is nothing cuter than a toddler trying to jump. It’s a difficult milestone and most toddlers only jump with two feet off the floor closer to three years old.
Tools that hamper development
There are certain baby paraphernalia that while useful can be over used and thus hamper development. With the exception of the short periods when these items are essential, such as in travel or feeding, limit the use of gear that constricts movement and exploration:
Infant lounger pillows
Baby bouncy seats