One of the child’s priorities in his first year of life is the pursuit of physical independence.
Developing children will go through several Sensitive Periods as they grow, each identified by Dr Montessori. During each phase they will experience a preference for working on a specific skill. One of the child’s chief pursuits in his first year of life is that of physical independence.
“In this period between three and six years, it has been clearly revealed that movement and mind go together”
Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
The Sensitive Period for Movement
The Sensitive Period for Movement is from 0 – 4 years of age. During this phase the child will exhibit a determination to master physical acts and gain control of his body.
The phase is broken into two distinct phases;
- Acquisition of gross and fine motor from 0-2.5 years
- Refinement and coordination of movement from 2.5-4 years.
These physical skills are essential for both practical life and the future development of academic skills. Children who are not nurtured and stimulated sufficiently in their early Sensitive Period for Movement will encounter great difficulty in mastering intricate written work and even in relatively simple ways when they reach school.
Alfie was rather later at learning to move independently that one might expect, he didn’t roll over until he was 9 months! However he quickly made up for it and in the space of a week at 11 months of age he learnt to crawl and pull himself up, followed a week later by walking with assistance. When I say that he went from lying flat on his back to almost full mobility in a matter of days I am not exaggerating!
One day in the park my tiny baby simply stepped away from me and into the world of infanthood. (Quiet sob!)
Accommodating the Sensitive Period for Movement
- Loose Clothing – clothes without frills, buttons or thick seems allow for a full range of movement. Ideally no clothes is the best route!
- The opportunity to pull up – low, sturdy furniture is fine, if possible a wall mounted bar is ideal, low window ledges work just as well
- Firm, warm surfaces – fluffy carpets while providing a softer landing can catch on tiny dragging feet and knees, a blanket or low pile rug is fine.
- Enticing environment – the baby needs something worth moving for, in our case it was a chance to watch the lavender blowing outside the window which first prompted Alfie to pull up.
- Offering challenge – allow for a certain amount of struggle as the child learns to manipulate their body
- Avoid props – suspension walkers, bouncers etc delay natural movement and cause damage to still developing bones and muscles which are not ready to bear weight or pressure.
Pre Crawling Movements
In the days before crawling Alfie did lots and lots of planks! The baby planks are important in developing core strength and stretching out the muscles.
Do: encourage baby to stretch by placing items just at the furthest point of their reach. Lying baby on their tummy on a blanket and pulling them towards you is a fun way to stimulate movement and stretching as it provokes reflexes and he will usually extend arms and legs to balance himself…mostly however its just fun! Now is a good time to baby proof your house; plugs, stairs, edges, drawers, swinging doors all need to be considered.
Don’t: try to force baby to move by wiggling their arms or legs. Similarly avoid putting baby in positions or locations that he could not reach without your assistance.
Babies crawl in as many ways as people walk! The two most common types are commando crawling and classic crawling. Some babies shuffle on their bum, others do a one legged crawl, some crawl on hands and feet. The important aspect is the bilateral movement.
Once baby starts to crawl it’s important they have as much opportunity to do so as possible. They will also start to test their physical prowess by climbing and clambering over things.
Do: offer the chance to climb, the Pikler Triangle is good but cardboard apple boxes are a good alternative and especially good for babies who enjoy pushing.
Don’t: try not to helicopter your child, you can provide a safety net without stifling their natural desire to push boundaries or snuffing out their spirit of adventure.
Pulling up and walking
This is when the fun starts. Make sure everything in your house is sturdy and secured to the wall because baby will start to pull up on EVERYTHING (the oven door was a favourite in our house).
Do: clear your calendar, you’re going to spend the next few weeks following baby around! A walker wagon is about the only aid that baby should need for this stage.
Don’t: provide them with any aids that force them into unnatural positions their bodies aren’t ready for or suspend them on their tiptoes, put shoes on until baby is walking.