Regular exercise causes the kind of development that may be critical for health in later life. Infancy and the toddler years is a crucial time when the brain is developing pathways and connections to the muscles.
Children who do not receive enough exercise may miss out on the opportunity to make strong brain-muscle connections that make physical activity easier and more enjoyable. As the child grows and matures, physical competence makes exercise more likely to become a life-long habit.
Play and why it’s crucial to motor development
Play is crucial to the development of children’s gross and fine motor skills. Through play, children practice and perfect control and coordination of large body movements, as well as small movements of hands and fingers.
Play helps your baby:
- Strengthen the neck and upper body muscles that they need to hold their head up and move around
- Practise reaching and grasping
- Strengthen muscles for movements like rolling, crawling and pulling to stand.
Play ideas to encourage movement:
From 0-6 months, you could try the following ideas:
- Encourage your baby to move to music and sound by singing songs and rhymes or shaking rattles.
- Place your baby on their tummy to play – for short periods several times a day.
Babies aged 6-12 months might like the following activities:
- Place toys just out of their reach in all directions, to encourage reaching and moving. You can also use simple toys like rattles to encourage touching and holding.
- Give your baby wooden spoons to bang on pots and pans, or sealed containers with beads inside to shake.
- Sit and support your baby upright on the floor and move a ball or toy in front of them. This encourages your baby to follow the toy with their eyes, reach for it and grasp it.
- Encourage your baby to pull to stand. Sit them near furniture and encourage them to pull themselves up (placing toys on higher stable surfaces encourages your baby to pull up to stand to play). Make sure that your furniture is sturdy and won’t fall over.
- Encourage your baby to squat from standing. Place some toys on the ground in front of your standing baby so they must squat to pick them up – if this is tricky, start with them standing holding a surface.
- If your baby can stand with support, try push-and-pull toys like block wagons. If the wagon goes too fast, put some heavy books or a bag of rice in it to slow it down.
- Make tunnels out of chairs or cardboard boxes for your baby to enjoy crawling and moving through.
Quiet, gentle activities are also important, especially for developing your baby’s fine motor skills. For example, picking up small objects or putting pegs into a bucket is good for practising small finger movements. And when your baby spends time just looking at things like colourful books or pictures, it helps them get better at moving their eyes.
It’s tummy time!
Tummy time can help your baby develop strong neck and shoulder muscles and promote motor skills. This is done by placing a baby on their stomach only while awake and supervised —tummy time can also prevent the back of your baby’s head from developing flat spots (positional plagiocephaly).
If a baby’s head is left in the same position for long periods of time, the skull bone plates might move in a way that creates a flat spot. While it’s recommended that you place your baby on his or her back to sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), tummy time gives a baby the chance to experience a different position. This can help reduce the risk of flat spots.
Tummy time can also help your baby build strength needed for sitting up, rolling over, crawling and walking.
Grow your child’s future
Gross and fine motor skills are an essential tool that children use in the classroom, at home and on the playground.
Play is one of the best ways to strengthen motor skills. When given ample opportunities to play with a variety of interesting materials, young children will grow many new and exciting ways.