There are so many important reasons why infants and children need to move. Early movement experiences are essential to the neural stimulation needed for your child’s healthy brain development. An infant’s brain is full of brain cells at birth and overtime these cells form as many as 15,000 connections with other brain cells. It is during the first three years that most of these connections are made. Physical activity and play during early childhood has a crucial role in the sensory and physiological stimulation that creates more of these connections in the brain.
Infants are spending upwards of 60 waking hours every week in things- walkers, carriers, car seats, etc. Not only is this confining to your child, it doesn’t allow them to have the ever important tummy or floor time. Placing your child in the upright position rather than on the floor tells the brain to start thinking walking rather than rolling over, creeping and crawling. Playing on the floor, your child is able to throw and reach for objects and toys which he will repeat often. This is how your infant discovers rolling and finally starts to crawl.
All parents accept that crawling is a milestone but many do not realize why it is so important. Crawling not only means a new way of locomotion but it allows the infant to create connections between the two sides of the brain. When the baby coordinates his movements to move in one direction, he moves the right arm and the left leg and then the left arm and the right leg; this is called a cross crawl pattern. This pattern allows both sides of the brain to communicate and interchange information very fast. These are the same patterns that later in life will be used to perform more difficult tasks like walking, running, passing one object from one hand to the other, or even taking notes in class while listening to the teacher.
When crawling, the infant’s body must remain in equilibrium or balance. This helps to strengthen the spine and properly develop the curves in the neck and lower back, setting the stage for proper spinal development and posture.
As the infant moves, he touches different surfaces and textures that will help to develop the senses on his palms and fingers. This will allow him in the future to grasp and hold objects like a pencil or crayon to draw, or play a musical instrument.
Another area where crawling is important is the visual aspect of the infant’s development. Crawling helps the infant measure the world around him; the distance between his eyes and hands, at what distance an object is located, its volume and its size. This ability will be important in the future to clearly see things that are near or far. Knowing the distance and volume of objects will also help him with puzzles, brain teasers, solve problems, jump obstacles, understand spatial relationships and will also set the basis for reading and writing skills.
It’s a parent’s responsibility to stimulate their child’s developing brain and nervous system with every motion and activity. In the busyness of your day to day life, it is easy to sit your child in front of the television to watch one of the many “educational” videos available today but it is important to remember that these videos do not stimulate the same neural pathways in the brain as active play activities. Play activities should include stimulation of all five senses (sight, touch, sound, smell and taste).
- Sight: Blowing bubbles, using both hands to draw shapes and letters, or tossing soft objects
- Touch: Different textures (smooth, rough, uneven), splashing water in the bathtub, building blocks or petting and feeding animals
- Sound: Dancing or moving to music, beating rhythm on instruments, musical chairs or singing sounds where words needed to be added (“B-I-N-G-O”)
- Smells and Tastes: Introduce your child to different tastes and smells and look for the appropriate reaction or have your child name different smells
- Equilibrium and Balance: Spinning in circles, walking on uneven surfaces (sand, grass), crawling through small spaces, balancing on a teeter-totter, or tummy time
- Proprioceptive (sense stimuli): Pushing and pulling toys or wagon, playing catch with a ball, getting in or out of seatbelts, jackets, shoes and socks, stretching up to the sky, or pouring water or sand from one container to another
We are all hardwired to move and play. Start incorporating these active play activities into your child’s daily routine and most importantly, have fun with your child. Good play routines can last a lifetime. Always remember your infant or child is never “just moving” or “just playing”. Every action improves upon your child’s development in some way!