Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Balance and Strength - Critical Movement Skills of Infants

By: Steve Sanders, Author of “Moving Matters” and Professor at University of South Florida

When a new baby comes into the home parents naturally ask questions related to the physical development of their infant. Why should my baby be physically active? What types of and how much physical activity should I do with my baby? Infants go through the greatest rate of physical development during the first year of life, and being physically active every day is important for healthy growth and development.

During the first five years of life movement plays an important part in all of a child’s learning. Children learn about the world around them through movement. Those who are more efficient at moving are better able to explore and learn about their environment. Playing with and being physically active with an infant every day will help develop critical movement skills.

Infant Reflexes

When a child is born he does not know how to move and has to learn about and develop physical skills. Movement is first initiated through reflexes. From reflexes children learn to reach, grasp objects, pull and push, and move the head and other body parts. Each time a reflex moves infant muscles a message is sent to the brain and the brain sends messages back to the muscles. This initial process helps the infant to learn how the body can move.

Developing Balance and Strength 

At about 6-8 weeks of age emphasis on activity turns from reflexes to strengthening of muscles and development of balance. Parents should be encouraged to create a stimulating activity environment for their infant that includes a daily activity routine, space for movement, daily tummy time, and lots of appropriate equipment to manipulate.

The future development of all physical skills is based on early learning of balance skills. One of baby’s greatest accomplishments during first year is to stand up and walk. Although walking is all about having the strength and coordination to stand up and move the feet forward, the most important ingredient is balance. Balance comes from the vestibular system located in the inner ear. As fluid in the inner ear moves back and forth a signal is sent telling the brain where the head is and if it is upright. The brain then sends signals to the child’s eyes, muscles and bones to work together to make adjustments to keep the body balanced. The system helps the child to remain steady and upright.

Although muscular strength is not a physical skill, to develop physical skills an infant must develop muscular strength to move his body and body parts. Strengthening muscles does not happen overnight. For example, it typically takes about three months for an infant to have the strength to hold his head up on his own.

A great introductory balance and strength activity for infants is to use a large exercise ball or beach ball (about 24-30 inches in diameter). You can begin this activity at three to four months of age. Place the infant on his back or stomach on the ball. Hold infant with your hands around the child’s middle. Gently and slowly at first, rock back and forth, from side to side, and round and round. Start with slow and steady movements. Do two to three minutes at first, then increase time as baby gets older or increases interest. Learning balance does not happen overnight. The maturation of the balance process is not generally achieved by children until about age 12.


For more information reflexes, balance, and development of strength in infants please read Encouraging Physical Activity in Infants from Gryphon House Publishers.

About the Author: Steve is a professor at the University of South Florida where he is currently involved with the preparation of physical education teachers along with conducting research related to curriculum and instruction in early childhood physical activity.  His most recent project is the book series “Moving Matters” in which he outlines for parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers a variety of fun physical activity experiences to assist children in developing the needed physical skills to become physically active and healthy throughout life.   

56 comments :

  1. This is such important info for new parents. Things have sure changed a lot since my boys were babies.

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    1. Even in less than 10 years things have changed so much!

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  2. My boys love the exercise balls. I love learning about how these activities advance their strength and balance.

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    1. That is awesome to hear you used it!!

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  3. It has been a long time since my children were young. They both were very active. But my son was hard of hearing, so at the age of 3 we had different activities to mold to. Each person or child is different and we all age at a different pace. Patience and determination is the key.

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    1. You are exactly correct in that everyone is different and different things will work for different people.

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  4. We have a few bigger sized exercise balls and my 2 year old LOVES playing on them! Will definitely have to have the new baby start using them earlier on, he's coming in June!

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    1. Congrats on the baby! And yes, it can be a fun game to get your 2 year old involved with the baby too!

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  5. Great information!

    Balance, as far as I'm concerned, is the key to life (in addition to physical movement).

    This also looks like a cool way to interact with your kids. The baby looked like she thoroughly enjoyed that stability ball. Fun to watch.

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    1. Love that you say balance is the key to life! Exactly what we were thinking here at Choosy Kids!

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  6. Who knew exercise balls had such benefits for babies. I really love this idea, it's very inventive.

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  7. I guess in the old days our bouncing hips were used instead of balls! What an interesting concept, one I'm looking forward to researching more

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    1. That is an interesting thought, Cynthia! You are likely correct!

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  8. This is a great article about kids and how they should be developing. I don't have kids but still found it interesting.

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    1. That is OK that you don't have kids, Ricci! You, as an adult, can even relate to this information.

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  9. That makes a lot of sense, it's important to keep a child active. That helps their body develop in a way that will make them more able to move as the time passes.

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    1. Yes, we can't let kids, no matter the age, just sit around. We know what happens then...

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  10. I've done the exercise ball with my kids when they were babies. I took them to a music and movement class.

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    1. Music and movement classes are awesome!!!

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  11. It's interesting to see how kids develop as they age. There is more to those motor skills than I thought.

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    1. So much more! Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Great information. With the twins, we had physical therapy, so we learned many techniques to encourage movement. It's so important.

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    1. I am sure you are an expert by now at movement techniques. Did you use an exercise ball?

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  13. those ball time is so cool! thinking of buying this ball for me and my daughter to have fun with and for exercise as well

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    1. There are a variety of sizes so find one that is beneficial for you both!

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  14. That ball is a great idea. Small movements until they get used to it. The little people have so much to learn. I do enjoy them on their belly. At first very little movement, maybe a bit of dribble and a few kicks. But that wobbly head rise - its a delight to see.

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    1. You painted a beautiful picture of babies and their first movements. Thank you for that!

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  15. This is great info and new for me too! AS a parent, this is absolutely helpful. Thanks for sharing.

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  16. I love the ball idea, especially getting the kids to stretch, so cute!

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    1. There are SO many things you can do with the ball. Hours of fun!

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  17. Great information. I never knew exercise ball had so much benefit. Will share with friends.

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  18. Thanks for the info. That sounds really good. The ball idea is so cute.

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  19. This is chalked full of fascinating information! I especially loved the ball time!

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    1. Did you do any form of ball time with your kids? Great idea, huh?!

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  20. This is a lot of great information! I took a few college course related to development in adolescents and it was fascinating the things I learned!

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    1. There is SO much information out there! So glad you find all of this interesting! Stay tuned for more from Steve and please check out his book!

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  21. This information is so important for new parents. Development is so important!

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    1. So so so important!! These are things that are either common sense or, in the case of a new mom with so much on her mind, a great reminder.

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  22. Such a great info, I would love to try the exercise balls for my boys

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  23. these are some interesting and helpful information especially for first time parents. Thanks for sharing.

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  24. The ball is so adorable! This would be helpful for parents. Great information.

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  25. This is so important! What a great post, sharing with my SIL! :)

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    1. Thanks for passing it on. Be sure to have her check out Steve's book too!

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  26. I didn't know that it was so important for babies to work on their reflexes and how important it was to movement. There's some great info here.

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  27. Hi,

    one of the best article related to infant development. Motor development is parts of most of important developments which affect the development of brain activities.

    Every important information for the first time parent.

    Stella Chiu

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  28. And I thought exercise balls were only good for adults! I learned something new today, thanks for sharing : )

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    1. Haha...exercise balls can be used for so much more than exercising!

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