Get moving, baby! Playful games and activities build important cognitive and motor skills.
There he is, lying on his back, arching his neck to look around — it’s an important part of baby development. He spots a nearby toy and reaches for it. Success! That toy is now headed to his mouth, the usual spot for pre-crawlers. All his wiggling and moving around on his back is helping Baby’s muscles develop and aid in his early development. He’s unknowingly preparing his body for the next phases of his life … crawling, cruising and walking!
We Have Movement
“Babies can’t go to the gym and work out, but they can engage in a number of fun physical activities that involve parents and caregivers and are easy to do at home,” says Joseph Gigante, M.D, associate professor of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. He suggests playing peek-a-boo, playing with toys within reach and tummy time activities to help promote baby development. You can also encourage reaching out, grasping, pushing, pulling, leg kicking and head lifting.
“Increasing floor play for infants, either on their back or tummy helps promote physical activity,” adds Gigante.
When Baby shows signs of crawling, which is typically around 7 – 10 months, tummy time is a good starting position for him to develop his crawling technique. With him on the move, your job now is to be there for him to encourage and cheer him on.
In an effort to encourage further crawling, consider putting a favorite toy just out of his reach so he can crawl to it. Keep in mind that if you put it too far away, he may show no interest in retrieving it. Save the farthest placement for when he’s beginning to master the skill.
Add a little fun to this area of development, too. You don’t want to bore him by being too repetitious. Bring in a small ball that he can hold with this tiny hands. Just picking it up and pushing it around is fun for little ones. He’ll enjoy this activity while working his teeny arm muscles.
On His Own Two Feet
Crawling’s a thing of the past for your little guy now that he’s around 12 – 18 months old. He’s independent and kicking up the dust. Help his development by adding a toy or two into his new-found play.
One of the easiest ways for your mobile baby to learn to pick up his walking speed is by having a toy he can stand behind and push. Not only does it offer him support and a little confidence, but the wheels on the toy will have him walking faster just to keep up. Watch out for your little guy at this stage, though, as he may push the toy faster than his feet can keep up with and wind up crashing face first onto the floor.
Once he’s mastered the walk and has learned to balance himself, help him develop his movement with simple activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says between the ages of 2 and 3 he’ll have become better at running around and has much more coordination. He’ll also be able to kick around a ball while walking, go up and down steps without any help from you and climb into a chair to sit down. You’ll still want to be close by to come to the rescue should a fall take place.
At this stage, give him space to run, play, dance, walk, jump, skip, hop, tumble and roll, suggests Gigante. “Exercising all the major muscle groups will help promote improved coordination, movement, muscle tone and balance,” says Gigante. “Toddlers can play simple ball games to help develop catching, rolling and throwing skills. Active toddlers tend to be more confident, happy, do better in school, eat and sleep better. Allowing toddlers to have unstructured play time gives them the opportunity to aid in their mental development as they use their imagination to be creative and develop games and activities,” he adds.
You’ll see his cognitive skills develop during this stage, too. For instance, the ball you’ve been playing with just rolled past him. He’ll chase after it in an attempt to kick it and soon realize that if he stops to kick the ball, he’ll be too late. He’ll think more of it next time and decide to run past the ball in order to turn around and try kicking it from the other direction.
The important thing as Baby grows is to just have fun with it and enjoy each moment of together time, cheering your little one on all the way.