One of the things that adults resort to is the belief that they have to guide the gross motor development of infants and toddlers. I have seen it over and over, and every time, I shudder. It's “anti-nature” at its core. The underlying assumption is that infants and toddlers need our guidance to do what they are naturally intended to do: sit up, crawl, and walk. This feeds right into the problem that adults view babies as helpless, incapable of learning without our assistance, and without intrinsic self-motivation. Rather than trusting the development process, we force it along. As Magda Gerber once said, “nature has a perfect plan.”
Gross motor development is the control and refinement of core muscle movement. For infants and toddlers, gross motor development is everything. From 0-2 years, it is the curriculum. It is what they are learning. Gross motor development is cognitive growth. When adults refrain from hurrying the process by propping up babies and removing bouncers, walkers and rockers, then the following happens:
1. Babies are more confident in their movement
Bouncers, rockers, and swings help adults to manage the movement of the baby, but don’t help the baby to manage his own movement. More often than not, these contraptions render the child immobile and put unnecessary weight in parts of the body where nature has not intended it to be – such as the hips. When an infant cannot sit up on his own, it’s because the back muscles are not yet strong enough to support his weight. Therefore, the bouncy chair or bumbo transfers weight towards the hip joints. (This can lead to hip dysplasia or hip problems later in life.)
When left to develop without assistance, babies have a more fluid movement detectable to the trained eye. They are confident crawlers, walkers, and even fallers. This makes them safer...
2. Babies are safer
Items used to make a baby sit up or walk are a hazard; this includes the hands of a well-intended adult assisting the child. Imagine this: when an infant learns to walk with the assistance of an adult who holds his hands above him, weight shifts higher than the natural center of gravity. Used to being supported from above, an infant becomes unstable and wobbly when attempting to walk unassisted. When he falls, he hasn’t refined the protective response of throwing out of his hands in front of him from the "normal" center of gravity. This makes that fall more dangerous.
3. Babies learn more
The “perfect plan” refers to the small failures and frustrations that ultimately lead to an accomplishment, like standing up. When a child has learned to walk unassisted, he’s begun to control movement in his major muscles, developed sensorimotor awareness, and understood spatial relations, among other skills.Emotionally, he’s shown the motivation to learn, fail, and try again. This is the definition of tenacity. Intermediary steps are where learning happens: Everything he is doing is the perfect exercise, preparing him for the next milestone. Bouncers, rockers, swings and walkers -- and propping up children to sit or stand -- rob them of these fundamental learning opportunities.
Avoid buying unnecessary equipment. Instead, I would encourage you to place your baby on his back on top of a soft surface such as a blanket, carpet or mat. This is the “position of greatest competency” whereby the baby can view his surroundings from the most vantage points. Refrain from propping him to sit or stand where he is rendered immobile.Observe what he is learning as he moves and see how he finds his own balance; it’s a lifetime process and you can’t teach it. As Magda Gerber said, “learning to fall, get up again, and moving on is the best preparation for life.”
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