First Step

“The ultimate goal of physical motor development is to make the human organism as independent of gravity as is possible within the limitations of the human body.”

When babies begin to participate and engage in the world around them it is indicative of them becoming more and more independent. From the moment a baby is born into this world she will begin the process of developing the motor skills that are necessary for her to take command of that which is around her and for her to relate with her environment.

Because of this a baby who has mastered the motor skill of sitting up without help, for example, will have a completely different outlook on the environment that they are a part of than a baby who has not yet mastered this skill and needs assistance from objects or adults to help them up.

You will find as your baby begins to stack skill upon skill that her experience of the world, and in turn the complexity of newly learned skills, will grow exponentially. As your baby’s motor skills grow and become more complex, so will your baby’s overall interaction with her environment.

Physical development can be broken up in to three-month intervals and divided into two categories: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills are the term used to describe your baby’s ability to control different parts of her own body. Fine motor skills refer to your baby’s level of coordination of different body parts, such as picking up an object with her thumb and forefinger.

Infant muscle development starts at the head and works its way down. Your baby will first develop control over the neck muscles. Soon after that she will learn to control the torso, and finally the leg muscles. Your baby will then start sitting up on her own, crawling a bit, and turning over by herself.

She will enjoy being bounced on your knee, which is an excellent way for your baby to begin to develop balance. By the time she is around eight months old she will start learning how to stand up on her own and will try to pull herself upright by holding on to objects with your help.

Typically, a baby will start walking between nine and fifteen months, with the majority of babies walking just after the age of one (around thirteen to fourteen months). If your baby cannot walk but has no problem crawling, standing, or sitting upright, this is completely normal. Some babies skip the crawling phase entirely and can start walking as late as seventeen to nineteen months.

There are things you can do as a parent to stimulate your baby to begin the process of learning to walk. Although many parents believe that they need to get their babies expensive toys and walking aids to facilitate early development, this is completely untrue.

What you need to do most is interact with your child as much as possible; this is to facilitate brain development. Babies love to hear stories. This is not just recreational or for entertainment, but very important for helping along your baby’s brain development.

Instead of telling your baby a story and making it up as you go along, try reading it aloud to her from a book. This will help her develop her vocabulary. Play with her, talk to her, sing to her. The reason younger children in a family develop at a faster rate than their older siblings is that they have someone to interact with constantly (not just mom and dad, but big brother or big sister as well).

As far as toys and walking aids, walkers are definitely NOT recommended, because babies tend to rely on them too much. As a result of using walkers their upper leg muscles will not develop as well as they should and this could lead to a delay in the development of motor skills necessary for walking. Furthermore, each year there are around 200,000 injuries sustained to babies due to walker use.

Around 30,000 of these injuries are severe and include fractures, dislocations, and broken bones. Canada has banned the use of walkers and the American Medical Association, as well as various other organizations, has proposed a ban on walkers in the United States. Do not get a walker for your baby.

There are some things you can do to help your baby along in the process of developing the motor skills necessary for walking on her own. Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t let your baby wear shoes indoors. It is much easier for a baby to learn to walk barefoot.
  • When you are holding your baby while trying to assist her in walking don’t hold her legs or hands. You can hold her by the torso.
  • Try to encourage your baby to develop walking motor skills by calling her to come to you or by placing a favorite toy just out of reach so that she crawls towards it. This will help her engage in these actions on her own volition and will expedite the development of several necessary skills for independence.
  • Make sure the floor is not too slippery; your baby may not find it easy to balance on a slippery floor and this can be dangerous for a baby just learning to balance.

Motor skills are not exactly the same thing as hand and eye coordination but they are pretty closely related. The development of hand-eye coordination often parallels and/or compliments the development of gross and fine motor skills. There are some activities your baby can do to increase her coordination and develop her motor skills, such as:

Puzzles: Get your baby started on jigsaw puzzles. Let her start off on small puzzles of 4-5 pieces. There are baby-styled puzzles available that have little handles on them for babies to grip. As she gets adjusted to the idea, start her off on puzzles of a higher level. Don’t get very complicated puzzles for her as she may get frustrated if she can’t do it and this could make her develop feelings of frustration.

Baby-sized Lego Blocks: These types of blocks are the kind which require construction and which require pegs to be placed and fitted in certain places. These big blocks are excellent for developing motor skills.

Plastic building blocks: These types of blocks allow babies to stack and build things that require balance and use a different set of hand/eye coordination skills and motor skills.

Peg and hole toys: These are toys that are made of plastic and have holes fitted to plastic pegs for the baby to differentiate different shapes and also to develop motor skills and hand/eye coordination.

Plastic “Doughnuts”: Another popular toy for encouraging the development of motor skills is the graduated soft plastic Doughnuts that fit on a plastic center pole. Your baby can stack these and will soon learn more about shapes, sizes and colors, and how they relate to one another.

Below illustrates a rough timeline for milestones you can expect your baby to cross in the first year and half:

1-3 months
Baby’s hand is curled into a fist that instinctively holds onto objects that are put into her palm. At two months the grasp is less reflexive and more controlled. At three months, the palm is weakly open but with little strength to grip objects.

5 months
• Baby begins reaching for objects such as toys.
• Baby might briefly grasp and hold toys.
• Baby will enjoy sucking her own hands.

6 months
• Baby is beginning to follow objects with her eyes.
• Baby is sucking her feet and grasping objects between both hands.

7 months
• Baby is developing the ability to transfer objects from one hand to the other.
• Baby’s finger-thumb grip develops and she can simultaneously grip objects in both hands.

8 months
• Baby keeps hands open and relaxed most of the time.
• Baby is starting to have the ability to pick up small foods, like Cheerios.

10 months
• Baby is able to release an object voluntarily.
• Gives toy to caregiver when asked.
• Baby should be able to hold more than one object in her hand.