Infants are born with a series of reflexes which help them to survive in their early months of life. There is actually a stepping reflex, a grasping reflex, a reflex that means when the side of a babies check is brushed gently, the head turns to the side.
These reflexes, so research indicates, help babies to adapt to and respond to the environment before they can actually think or reason or make decisions within their own mind. Research indicates that babies and toddlers require lots of opportunities to practice moving, grasping, reaching, pulling, teething, sucking, rolling over, pulling themselves up, crawling, standing and of course walking (Newberger J. J. 1997; and Shonkoff J., & Phillips D, 2000).
Why is this important?
Children need practice at these things so that as they start to lose the reflexes they are born with their actual muscle tone, abilities, coordination and skills become filled with intention, purpose and are not just accidental or because of a reflex. The skills of crawling for example provide lots of practice at what is known as bilateral coordination as well as spatial awareness. The movement of a left /right movement fires up the brain and stimulates thousands of neurons.
Grasping and pulling and holding onto things is early practice for later in life when they will learn how to hold cutlery, to coordinate their eye/hand movements and to hold and write with a pen. Everything that the young baby and toddler are practising in relation to their physical skills is promoting the stimulation of their thinking, their reasoning and understanding, the concrete skills of walking and coordination and the muscle tone and strength and development overall. The early years of physical development sets patterns and coordination that helps throughout a child’s life.
Children don’t have to participate in organised sports or exercise programs as soon as they are born.
Giving children practice is highly relevant in the 21st century. It seems we give our children less chances to play, to climb, to do some rough and tumble. We are often too careful and don’t give children enough time to practice these skills (NAEYC Position Statement 2009, Walker 2007).
The role of the parent and home life
Children don’t have to participate in organised sports or exercise programs as soon as they are born. In fact, sometimes, we rush young babies and toddlers into classes way too quickly. Babies and toddlers can gain practice at physical skills through ordinary life experiences within the home, outdoors, at parks, the pool or beach. As long of course, as their parents or carers are present to ensure safety at all times.
Appropriate experiences to promote physical skills
• Ensure your young infant has a blanket or rug that is comfortable to lie on the floor. This helps them to roll over without slipping and to gain some strength to lift themselves up from the floor without slipping.
• Ensure your baby and toddler has lots of rattles, bells, hoops and toys to grab, to grasp, to hold and to manipulate with their fingers. This provides auditory stimulation, gives practice for eye tracking and fine motor muscle control.
• Give children practice at reaching out for some of their toys so they are stretching and reaching. This helps them to learn and experience spatial awareness and perception.
• Provide time and space for toddlers to go to the park to run, to play games like hide and seek and chasy. Motor control, stretching, grasping, climbing, left/right coordination are all important skills for life.
• Try to allow toddlers to practice climbing the rungs of a ladder for the slide without you just lifting them onto the top of the slide. This gives them practice at becoming independent, trying out new things, having a go and developing motor control and coordination.
• Help them to walk by holding your hands, taking one step at a time.
• Ensure once they start walking that they play outside, run alongside them, encourage them to follow you. This helps them to extend their developing skills and to continue to refine their skills.
Kathy Walker has been working with children, parents and teachers for over 30 years. “What’s the Hurry”, her book for parents, was an Australian bestseller and she has a new book on positive parenting due out in 2010. Kathy’s consultancy, Early Life Foundations, provides support to families, government, educational institutions and the corporate sector.
For further practical tips on promoting rich language skills, visit www.fisherpriceexperts.com.au