At the Developmental Learning Centre we see many parents with children who are experiencing difficulties related to balance, gross and fine motor difficulties and learning. As a learning difficulties therapist, I am always interested in understanding the child’s history and if their natural movement was restricted as a baby. Restricting natural movement can inhibit the formation of pathways in the brain, which will later be used for learning. In this blog, I describe the importance of movement in a baby, how to encourage movement in the early years and how to give your child a second chance torepeat the early childhood movement patterns if they missed out first time round.
Why is encouraging movement important for babies?
From the moment of birth, the infant has an inbuilt urge to know where upright is in order to be able to stand unsupported. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the first 12 months of life is to be able to stand upright and then to walk. When we look and see how tiny the feet of a 12-month baby are, and how large their head is in comparison, it is indeed a miracle when the baby learns to balance and then take her first steps. Every healthy child in fact has an irrepressible need to move and struggle to attain an upright position. All of this early childhood movement builds a sensory “map” in the child’s brain of where they are in space at any particular time. Creeping and crawling on all fours, rolling on the floor, rocking to and fro, cruising the furniture, finally standing alone unsupported, rocking on Daddy’s knee or on a rocking horse, spinning, twirling, swinging and rolling down hills and are all activities most children love, and will repeat them over and over again.
The repetition of these movements results in a store of movement patterns which are processed by the vestibular nucleus in the brain and then stored for ready access in the cerebellum, the part of the brain, which coordinates our movements. When enough information has been processed and stored in the cerebellum, the toddler sets out on his journey of exploration of the world.
By the age of 5-6 years the young child has enough information and experience stored to enable him to run, jump, hop, skip at will and also sit still and listen when required. This ability to keep our heads still and upright enables us to think clearly and to concentrate. This is a key capacity, which each child needs to develop if they are to succeed at school.
It is therefore very important that as parents we do not interfere with this process. The struggle itself is important, and the infant should not be aided by the use of walkers, jolly jumpers, bouncinettes and the like.
These restrict the natural movement of the baby and inhibit the formation of pathways in the brain, which will later be used for learning. This fact cannot be stressed too much.
Getting it right first time round: Encouraging movement in a baby
The first and most important thing you can do is this:
PUT YOUR BABY ON THE FLOOR
When he is awake, put him on the floor each day and let him “ play” as nature intended. Floor time is essential for the development of neural pathways. Do not lift him onto his feet before he is able to lift himself.
Let him struggle to get upright himself, knowing that this process will build pathways and bridges in his brain needed for reading, spelling, writing and mathematics later on.
Giving your child a second chance: Encouraging movement in a school aged child
Give them the gift of a second chance. If we repeat the early childhood movement patterns that they either missed out of or did not do enough of, for whatever reason, the child’s brain still will develop new pathways.
Try the following developmental activities on a daily basis at home:
- Rolling on the floor 10 times across your living room. Start with eyes open and then when comfortable do with eyes closed. If your child gets dizzy stop rolling until the dizziness subsides, then proceed slowly, building up the number and speed of rolls gradually over period of 6-12 weeks.
- Roll down grassy hills as often as possible (Horizontal rolling is the first developmental step the infant takes to develop the vestibular or balance system)
- Get a Swiss ball from a sporting goods store. Choose the appropriate size for your child so that he can lie on the ball on his tummy and rock forwards onto his hands and then backwards onto his feet by himself (or with a little help from you). The head should be relaxed. Do 30 Tummy Rocks per day for 6-12 weeks.
- Get a Hammock. Encourage your child to use this for gentle side-to-side rocking.
Still worried? Get help from your local Early Childhood Development Agency
If your child is generally awkward, has been slow to master gross motor activities such as walking and running as a toddler, or hopping, skipping and jumping as a 5-6 year old, and is having learning difficulties at school, a referral to your local Early Childhood Development agency (funded by the Ministry of Education) would be a good idea.
Parents can self-refer for children 6 and under, or be referred by the school or GP. If accepted, a paediatric occupational therapist will most likely do a developmental assessment and give you a programme of exercises and activities you can do at home to help your child.
If your child is 7 years or older and you have concerns regarding balance, gross and fine motor difficulties and learning difficulties, look for a trained developmental movement therapist to assist you with an in-clinic therapy programme designed for your child’s specific needs.
Is your child experiencing difficulties related to balance, gross and fine motor difficulties and learning?
Call 0800 543 399 or Request a free call back with the Developmental Learning Centre to understand if how your child could benefit from our natural and holistic therapies.