By Ebube Umana
Actions which involve babies using their muscles are called Baby’s Motor skills. According to Wikipedia, “a motor skill is a learned sequence of movements that combine to produce a smooth, efficient action in order to master a particular task.”
Generally, there are two types; Gross Motor Skills and Fine Motor Skills.
While Gross Motor Skills use large muscle groups to perform specific tasks which include movements made by the baby using his legs, arms or body such as crawling, sitting, walking, and running, Fine Motor Skills use smaller muscle groups to complete tasks. Movements made by the baby to pick things up, write, use the tongue to taste things, are a few examples.
Most activities of a growing baby require the use of both Gross and Fine motor skills. The development of Gross Motor skills and Fine Motor skills occur sequentially and development generally starts from the head, then, progressively to the body.
Normally, you will find that a baby will be able to develop skills involving the head and arms before those involving the legs and feet, and he will learn to control his neck before his shoulders and control his shoulders before his back.
It is therefore crucial that as babies grow, they be exposed to plenty of activities that facilitate developing their motor skills. This can be achieved by creating opportunities for your baby to practice and strengthen his muscles. Find out what you can do:
During the first 3 months in a baby’s life, they are unable to support their heads or necks. This is because the muscles supporting the neck have not been developed. That is why parents or care-givers should support their baby’s head at all times when carrying them.
Gradually, as the muscle around the neck strengthens, the baby is able to raise both head and chest off the floor. To help the development of the baby’s head/neck movement, parents should:
1. Place baby on his stomach as this will strengthen the back and neck muscles.
2. Place attractive or reflective objects in front of the baby as motivation for baby to lift his head constantly, thereby gradually strengthening the neck muscles.
From 4-5 months, a baby is able to focus his attention on an object and attempt to reach and grasp with his hands. To encourage this development, parents are advised to:
1. Put an object such as a rattle in baby’s hand and pull back gently. While pulling back, the baby will attempt to resist your pull by holding on tightly to that object. This movement will gradually help to strengthen that muscle.
2. Place baby on back on a play gym. Typically, a baby will attempt to reach and grasp those dangling objects or take a swipe at them. All these movements help encourage the development of the muscles involved.
3. Place baby on stomach and place objects or toys within reach. Baby will stretch to reach them and may grasp the ones he can reach. This exercise will help strengthen baby’s back muscles and help coordination.
Crawling and Walking
Usually before a baby begins to crawl, he will likely attempt to get himself up on his hands and knees, and most babies crawl before they walk. To help your baby develop the motor skills needed for crawling and walking:
1. Give Baby Plenty of Tummy Time. To be able to crawl and walk effectively, a baby needs strong back muscles. To achieve this, babies should be encouraged to lie on their tummy while lifting their heads. With consistency, baby will be seen pushing up his arms while in this position, thereby developing the arm muscles.
2. Create Obstacle Course. To encourage your baby to crawl, place objects of interests on the floor in front of him, so he can attempt to reach for them. As you continue this exercise, he will soon be crawling over to reach objects. Be sure to keep a watchful eye.
3. Once your baby begins to show signs of walking which would usually start by attempting to stand up, encourage him by occasionally pulling him up. Support his walk by letting him walk in front while you hold his hands. After a few consistent practice, sometimes, let go of his hands so he can attempt walking towards you on his own.
4. Invest in toys like the Baby Gym or Crib Gym which has attractive dangling objects that your baby may want to reach out to grasp. Rattles, noisy and colorful toys will also attract your baby’s attention.
With time, your baby will realize that developing his motor skills is more fun when he has a frequent change of position and activity.
Make sure you create space and opportunities for your baby to practice because as the saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect!’