Waiting for the birth of your first child, you have hundreds of questions. You wonder about nutrition, sleep routines, feeding and even the best place to buy diapers. They all boil down to one thing: how can you provide your baby with the best possible environment to grow and develop?
Physical literacy is another key element.
In the first year, physical literacy refers to your baby developing basic motor skills. Long term, it means that your child eventually develops proficiency in a wide variety of fundamental movement skills that will promote an active, healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activity is connected to better health, greater happiness, positive self-image, better school grades and improved social well-being in general.
Physical literacy begins the moment your baby is born. In the first year especially, regular movement is essential to healthy brain development. Your job is to stimulate and encourage age-appropriate movement in the right ways at the right times throughout the year.
The good news is you are already watching for the typical stages of infant development. You might not think that those milestones have anything to do with physical literacy, but they are key to your baby becoming a physically literate child. As your baby gets older, the physical skills they learn later will be built on the ones they learn in their first year.
Keep in mind that the age ranges specified below are flexible. Every child develops at different speeds and different times. If your child doesn’t seem ready for some of these activities, there’s a good chance you simply need to wait a bit.
Why it’s important: Your child is born with a grasping reflex from day one. However, she will actually begin to grasp things intentionally at around 3 to 4 months. The ability to grasp objects is an essential motor skill. It also requires the development of hand-eye coordination, and it needs to be stimulated and supported in infancy.
Tip: Make sure your child always has age-appropriate toys to encourage her to practice grasping.
Skill: Rolling over
Why it’s important: Your infant should be able to roll over onto his stomach between 4 and 6 months of age. Rolling over requires the development of basic core strength, and continued practice develops greater strength and coordination in order to progress to sitting and crawling.
Tip: Give your infant regular tummy time so he becomes familiar with the sensation of being on his stomach.
Why it’s important: Infants will generally be able to sit up unassisted at 6 months. Sitting requires core strength and coordination, which is developed earlier through regular tummy time.
Tip: When your infant starts to sit up on the floor, make sure that there are no sharp or hard obstacles present. Never leave her sitting unattended on beds, sofas or chairs. If she loses her balance and tumbles, serious injury can result.
Why it’s important: For the most part, infants begin to crawl between 7 and 10 months. It sometimes begins as an ‘army crawl’ with him pulling his body forward using his hands. Crawling requires your baby to have the strength to push himself up onto his hands and knees, and then maintain balance in that position as he propels himself forwards or backwards.
Tip: Encourage your child to crawl and reach by placing toys on the floor around him. While some infants don’t ever crawl, but instead go directly to cruising, don’t be in a rush for him to walk. Crawling is important for both motor and cognitive development.
Why it’s important: Cruising describes how infants begin to learn how to walk by holding onto furniture for support. Your child develops strength, balance, and coordination by cruising.
Tip: You should ensure that your child is safe to cruise by removing floor obstacles such as toys and cushions, and removing any furniture that has sharp edges or hard angles.
Why it’s important: At around 13 months, most children will be walking without support. That is, they will be ‘toddling’ as they take their first steps without assistance (that’s where the term ‘toddler’ comes from). 13 months is an average: some children may walk sooner, and some as late as 16 months.
Tip: As with cruising, you should ensure that your child is safe for walking by removing obstacles on the floor’toys and cushions’and removing any furniture with sharp edges or hard angles.
Jim Grove is a senior staff writer at Active For Life and a consulting editor to national sport organizations on physical literacy and Long-Term Athlete Development. He holds a teaching degree along with NCCP certification as a youth soccer coach. Married with three children, he has 15 years experience coaching children and youth ages 5 to 18.