Infants and toddlers are highly motivated to use their bodies to move and to use tools. These skills do not develop automatically, though. Some strategies you can use to support motor development follow.
- Provide opportunities for young babies to play on their tummies. Tummy time helps babies strengthen their trunk and neck control.
- Limit the use of swings, infant seats, bouncers, or other furniture that contains infants. When caring for several children at once, offer toys on the floor for tummy time, space for crawlers, or hanging toys for reaching from supine. Containing babies makes them passive and discourages active exploration. Think of using their bodies as active, contingent learning opportunities.
- When young babies are playing on the floor on their backs, offering toys a little off to the side and above the head encourages reaching and turning, which develops into rolling over.
- Create an environment that encourages movement at every stage of motor development. Think about how you can help babies develop an active lifestyle from the beginning, countering the possibility of childhood obesity.
- Firm, washable cubes, pads, and inclines can be arranged to create interesting and challenging surfaces for crawling, creeping, walking, and climbing.
- As mobile infants begin cruising, they need long, low, stable surfaces to hold. In homes they use sofas and coffee tables. In centers, if they are using shelving units, be sure they are bolted.
- Small stairs with platforms, climbing bars bolted to walls, and sturdy structures encourage toddlers to climb. If the stairs and platform provide access to a window or the climbing bars face a mirror allowing the toddlers to see themselves, there is even more motivation for climbing.
- Use music for movement, not just as background sound. Infants love being held while you dance with them, swooping and spinning to the rhythm. Toddlers love singing and playing instruments while dancing or marching.
- Spend as much time outdoors as the climate allows.
- Be aware of the child’s changing abilities to handle objects and offer materials that match these abilities. Young infants need lightweight rattles, older infants need small objects they can pick up with a raking grasp but large enough to prevent choking when they mouth them.
- New walkers enjoy carrying objects in each hand. Older toddlers enjoy the precision of fitting rings on sticks, stacking cups, or fitting pegs in pegboards.
- Use small chairs and tables for meals, allowing toddlers to sit and rise by themselves.
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