The tummy time debate
There is a host of simple ways to help your baby or young child develop their movement and in turn, their sense of self. As child development expert Gill Connell explains, it’s as easy as getting down on the floor.
All learning begins with the body, and for little people the body is the brain’s first teacher. At birth a newborn has very little control over his body. But over time, and given the space to move and explore, it improves. Every move develops his physical capabilities while simultaneously building the essential sensory understandings and critical pathways in the brain necessary to reach his full potential.
It is well reported that within the first years of childhood approximately 90 percent of a child’s brain connections are set for life. These determine how he thinks and learns but more importantly, they shape who he becomes and his outlook on life. But here’s the problem: Compared with past generations, children today are living far more sedentary lives and are on the floor less and less.
The floor is where your child has time and the space to get to know his body, to experiment with movement and where he first gets to explore his new and wondrous world. His very own gymnasium! Your child is born to move and yet many of us are tempted to use ‘containers’ (baby aids) that needlessly confine him from an early age so he is unable to move at will.
While you may have these baby aids to help keep him safe in dangerous or uncontrollable environments, like moving cars and crowded malls, it’s important to provide a balance. Give your young child time to explore the floor so he can begin to develop important movement milestones independently.
Playing on the floor – why is it good?
- It helps him sense the weight of his body
- He learns to investigate how different parts of his body relate to each other and how they move together
- He begins to investigate the surface on which his body is resting and becomes more comfortable with his own weight against
- the floor
- He begins to experiment with different movements: rolling his hips one way and then the other; rolling over; pushing off with his feet; rocking and then crawling
- Rolling onto his tummy helps him develop other muscles that support his head, like those in his shoulders, arms and hands, which are needed for moving and later for climbing and manipulating toys
- Slowly over time he practises and perfects moving so he can now explore his world
- He begins to experiment with learning and trying ways to move
- And best of all, he develops independence
The Tummy Time Debate
In recent years, parents have been advised that it is safer for young children to sleep on their backs. Research shows clearly that this assists with a decrease in SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infants), but as a result some parents also notice that their child’s head can become misshapen. As a result, ‘awake’ tummy time is suggested as a way to combat this.
Latest developmental thinking however, suggests that babies, if allowed the space to be on the floor, will roll onto their tummy to play when they are developmentally ready. This advice is a clear message communicating to us that baby is in charge and just needs the time and freedom to move.
So how do I give my baby floor time?
- Provide your child with floor space in a room that is warm and with a floor surface that is flat, clean and covered. Play some quiet music while he enjoys stretching and becoming accustomed to the surface.
- Place baby on his back on the floor with as much skin exposed as possible. This helps him to sensorily gauge what his world feels like. Try blowing bubbles gently around him to encourage him to reach and move to catch them (taking care not to blow them into his eyes).
- Give him space to explore. Listen to what he wants – sit near him and provide eye contact if he seems unsure. Giving him alone time on the floor gives him the space to explore what he can do.
- Lay baby on the floor with bare legs and feet if possible. Hold both hips and rock him gently from side to side so he can feel what it’s like to do hip tips. As you play, talk about what you’re doing and how his little hips roll from side to side.
- Place enticing things around baby on the floor just out of reach to encourage him to move towards them.
- Lie down on your back with baby on your tummy and both of you looking to the ceiling. Support baby and gently rock him in your arms from side to side, singing, “Everybody’s rolling, rolling, rolling; everybody’s rolling just like me!” The side-to-side motion gives him a sense of how his body feels when it rolls to the side.
- He will enjoy exploring other flat surfaces inside and outside e.g. grass (when it’s warm and dry); different surfaces inside (carpet, vinyl, a sensory blanket). Ensure you are close to him if the surface has an edge and he could accidentally roll off it!
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