STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT: What are they; what’s “normal”, what can we do to help support healthy development? Is it really that important anyway?
Reference material: Emmi Pickler
Baby Moves – Marianne Hermsen-van Wanrooy
Your Child’s Self Esteem – Dorothy Corkille Briggs
You Are Your Child’s First Teacher – R. Baldwin Dancy
Your Self Confident Baby – Magda Gerber
The RIE Manual – Magda Gerber
The Out of Sync Child – C. Kranowitz
“It is the spirit behind the upbringing of our children, as a whole that is most important. What is important is to observe, make note, recognize what your child needs, if you feel what your child needs, what is causing him grief, then you will respond in the way that will equate to bringing up your child well.” Emmi Pickler
The importance of the development of movement. Should we teach the child correct movement; exercise the small child; what measures should we take to get good results?
The question is not how we can “teach” an infant to move well and correctly, using cleverly thought up artificially constructed, complicated measures, using exercises and gymnastics. It is simply a matter of offering an infant the opportunity – or not depriving him of this opportunity – to move according to his inherent ability.
The first two years of life are when the basic elements of movement are learned. In this period of time the helpless newborn, who can’t do anything but wave her arms and legs around, develops into a child who moves with intent, is able to grasp, stand, sit and walk.
How does that happen?
Stages of Development:
The child is born – lies on the back (more recently, in various cultures, newborns are being put on their stomachs as a general practice throughout their bringing up. Such children, of course, do not have the chance to practice the first movements described below – which are carried out while lying on the back, before spontaneously learning to turn over onto the stomach.)
Lies on his back with bent arms and legs, with closed fists, generally with the body a little asymmetrical. During first quarter of the first year, the baby moves the arms and legs more and more while lying on the back. Movements are abrupt and jerky, all the limbs seem to take part in all the movements at the same time and in the same way. These movements are accidental, without any purpose as yet; they simply accompany a good mood, or crying.
Turning of the head
The type of movement changes when an infant begins to follow an object of interest with her eyes and by turning her head. She is moving her head on purpose. The chaotic, hasty movements of the hands also change as soon as she begins to pay attention to the movement of the hands; we could even say she takes possession of them with her eyes. She discovers that these are her own hands. Under the constant guidance of her eyes she learns to move her hands with coordination and purpose.
Practices movements of the hands
During the second quarter of the first year the infant observes his hands with increasing interest, trying out and repeating individual movements. For instance, the infant may make a fist and then carefully open it again – or take hold of one hand with the other – over and over for days or more! Then comes mastering the movement of letting go – easily and reliably.
Turning on the side
When an infant is able to grasp well, he not only takes what happens to come into his hands, but stretches his arms more and more toward whatever interests him. Getting closer and closer to the bedrails, he will gradually get pulled over onto his side. He can, however, also get over onto his side by turning the pelvis.
At first lying on the side is a big undertaking. Balance is insecure. We can see that in the beginning, it is an effort for the infant to stay in that position, it is difficult. She returns often to lying on her back in order to rest. Later, after much practice, the child plays easily lying on her side. In this position she has a completely different view of things – including her hands. For weeks she plays, lying on her side.
Turning on the belly
As soon as an infant is secure while lying on the side and playing – so secure that he no longer has to pay attention to balance – he may just lose balance, fall over and land on the belly. Getting over onto the belly can also happen if the momentum of turning onto the side takes him too far, bringing him over onto the stomach. Often an arm will get stuck under the trunk – we help and turn him over onto his back – a few minutes later find him on his belly again. We can help in the beginning, but we do not do so each time – not even if he cries a little. It is better to let him find his own solution. Sooner or later he will help himself.
Turning over again, from front to back, is easy for newborns, but later on when he is already able to turn himself over onto the belly and lift his head, we notice that turning back again is not so easy any more. He will learn, in a few days or weeks.
The infant spends the next months lying on the belly, stretching and rolling, eventually coming to creep on the belly and on all fours.
Spending days lying on the belly
The infant turns onto the belly more and more often, and spends more and more time there. Lying on the belly is, however, something that must be learned, practiced, perfected over a long time. At first the infant only lifts her head, she then learns how to use her hands and arms while lying on the belly. From the beginning the feet tend to dangle freely in the air, but the trunk remains cumbersome and heavy in movement over a long period. The strong, mobile, flexible trunk – which takes part in all movements of an infant, which moves together with the head and limbs, often even guiding a movement is only the result of months of practice.
Now the infant is able to move with intent. As surprising as it may seem, lying on the belly or on the back, seemingly unable to move anywhere at all, sooner or later he will get near to the object or the playpen rails he is trying to reach. A child bends, stretches herself, makes minimal movements like a caterpillar. This slow and gradual stretching and reaching is one of the most important stages in the motor development of the infant. It goes on for months. During this time the asymmetry of the trunk with which the child is born disappears. Through these natural movements the spine becomes straight; the trunk becomes elastic, flexible and muscular.
Such an important stage of development – if infants are not forced to perform other kinds of movement – (i.e. to sit or stand up), and if sufficient space and time were given the children to move, then, day after day for many months they would stretch themselves, tossing and turning from the back onto the belly, from the belly onto the back.
During the third quarter of the first year the infant is learning how to roll, from the back onto the belly and then from the belly onto the back – rolling on and on in one direction, moving safely and quickly from one place to another, reaching an object that caught his interest. Soon he will be able to roll well enough to go directly where he wants to go. At this time the infant spends most of the day on her belly. She is kicking, slowly stretching, rolling – all day long, as she plays.
Creeping on the belly and on all fours
During the fourth quarter of the first year, the infant starts to creep on his belly. At first he usually slides backward instead of forward. Then he becomes more and more successful in moving forward. Sometimes the arms are more important in the action, sometimes the legs. Many children move forward using the arm-and-leg motions of swimming, as if they were doing the crawl-stroke. Sometimes they move so fast and skillfully that we adults could not keep pace with them if we wanted to move forward with the same motions. Each child creeps differently on the belly. It is not by chance that a child chooses a certain form, nor how long she practices different variations of a certain way of moving to get somewhere. As soon as she becomes strong through practice, she lifts herself up on her hands and knees, and swings herself into a hand-knee position. Later she begins to crawl on her hands and knees and, still later, eventually to walking on all fours, on the balls of her feet, like a bear. All this takes several months, during which time the child practices countless variations of these movements.
Children with weaker trunk-muscles move forward with their belly on the ground for a longer time. This strengthens the back and muscles of the trunk. Only after this do they crawl on all fours with the trunk lifted away from the ground. A child with a weak back will crawl on the belly for a long time – later, perhaps for months on all fours at the pace of an express train – without ever considering sitting or standing up. In time, these children, too, sit and stand up on their own, without our having sat or stood them up; it just happens later than average. They also learn to stand – to sit and stand correctly, although it may come later than with other children. If we are patient enough to wait for it to happen and if we do not urge them, they too, will sit and stand straight.
It is clear that a child needs space to be able to crawl, more than there is in a little crib or play-pen. Children will only develop as described above if they are given the opportunity to try out these movements when they want to.
“The opportunity to move is important, but to do so when they want to is even more so.”
Getting up into the vertical
The first attempts to stand up usually take place during the last quarter of the first year. A child never sits or stands up from the position of lying on his back. The sequence is always as described above. First he turns onto the belly. Then he begins to pull his knees in etc. Normally, development from independently turning onto the belly to the beginnings of getting up takes five to six months. Starting in a secure prone position (on the stomach), he turns half onto the side, supported by one arm, and with the head lifted. In this way he comes to a half-sitting position. Later on he will sit up completely. Or he gets up onto his knees, then uses the sole of one foot for support, and then stands up. However, every movement in this process demands weeks or months of practice, like all the other sequences described.
One who sits well, who is able to sit, not only sits upright, but also economically. Sitting does not tire this person; it is not a strain for him, but is more likely to be restful. Inappropriate, faulty, unhealthy sitting, however, demands a great effort and is exhausting. When children first sit up, they are not yet able to sit. They frequently sit with bent, crooked backs, holding on tight and making great effort. They tire rapidly and lie down to rest. We never force a child to sit. For some time they continue to play on all fours, or while lying on their front or back – if they are given the opportunity to do so. Later on they will sit while playing, more often for longer periods of time. But they move about, changing their position, constantly searching for a state of balance. They spread their legs out in front and back, they kneel, sit on their heels, squat on one or both feet, or sit on the ground in between their knees, etc. They try out the various kinds of positions in sitting, just as they have done in the other stages of their development. When they have found a good state of balance and have mastered sitting, they will play in the sitting position – their backs straight – without overexerting themselves or getting exhausted.
Usually the child tries standing at the same time as sitting. It can happen that children stand up first, not sitting until later. In a kneeling position or rocking on the knees, they grasp the bars of their playpen or some other stable object and pull themselves up. At first they hardly rest on their feet, although they are standing. Clinging to something with their hands they hold themselves up in a vertical position. To help support themselves, they may lean on something with their belly, pushing their lower back forward. They stand, sit, crawl, stand again, sit, crawl – repeat their movements, checking their balance, strengthening their spine and muscles as is appropriate for the child. In the beginning resting more on their hands and belly than their feet, until they are balanced themselves and stand playing without support. As soon as they stand up they practice “walking” beside a railing while they are holding on to it. Remember, they rest more on their hands and belly than on their feet.
Standing up alone
For months children practice standing up before they can get up without holding onto anything. As they practice, they look like four legged animals trying to stand up on their hind legs. They are very insecure at first, falling on their hands again and again until they succeed – for a few moments – in triumphantly remaining standing on both legs without holding on to anything. After a time, they stand up with a toy in their hands, and play in standing – more and more often without even noticing it. This is standing, and only in this moment when they are able to stand are they ready to start walking. Now the children begin walking freely. It usually takes four to six months for a child to learn to stand up, then to stand without holding on and finally to walk on his own. They need this time in order to become able to transfer the weight of their body to their footsoles, with stability. Standing up without a support and walking alone take place in succession. All the time in between, if they aren’t trying to stand, the children play, lying on the belly, sitting or crawling.
Walking about on their own
In general, a child starts walking freely during the first half of the second year, if no one has interfered with her motor development. However, this is still more a matter of experimenting. Not until later will the child use walking instead of crawling for the purpose of moving from one place to another. A child who can already walk well will, for a long time play mainly while squatting, kneeling or crawling. Many years later, children still like to kneel and squat when playing. To be sure, if we do not get in their way.
During the first phase of walking freely, children as a rule, move with legs spread far apart and their feet turned far inward – insecure, like a sailor on a rocking boat – holding their arms like a tight-rope walker. They keep their balance with their hand, and try to clutch the ground with their feet, taking small steps, often lifting their knees up high. That lasts only a few days. Soon the necessary assurance has been reached. It seems that they walk with more ease, although the legs remain spread apart and the feet turned inward for many months, even for years. If their feet, knees and hips are weak and poorly built, the children continue walking this way for longer.
This, too, will correct itself if we are patient enough to wait. We do not interfere in the way the child moves, but continue to provide him at all times, with the opportunity to move and play however he likes. We do not do anything to “straighten out” his legs or his gait. We let him walk with widespread legs as long as he is insecure, and with inward-turned feet as long as the soles of his feet are not yet strong. We allow a child to roll and crawl, even when she can already walk. We do not demand that she walk long distances!
For many years a child whose legs are weak will tire easily, and move with a peculiar foot position. However, if we don’t overstrain or make too great demands on the child, then the legs will become stronger and, without anyone making corrections or interfering, the feet will adjust their position to be more toward the front. The legs come closer together, the walking becomes beautiful and secure, the child as a whole has more endurance.
Early development, as far as a time schedule is concerned, is not the same for all children. In general the time differences for learning certain movements are very great, especially for those infants whose development no one wanted to force. Which movements an infant will practice, and when, depends on many factors including strength of the joints, level of development of his or her sense of balance and so on.
An infant’s own movements, the development of these movements and every detail of this development are a constant source of joy to him.
If one does not interfere, an infant will learn to turn, roll, creep on the belly, go on all fours, sit, stand and walk with no trouble. This will not happen under pressure, but out of her own initiative – independently, with joy, and pride in her achievement – even though she may sometimes get angry, and cry impatiently.
During the first two years, she is busy playing with each movement for days, weeks, sometimes months. Each movement has its own history of development. Each one is based upon the other. Carefully, and cautiously she makes progress. She has time. She gets to the root of things and likes to be completely sure of something. This is the way a child learns to sit and stand well – generally speaking, to move well altogether.
What is most important, is not the result, but the way to it. This learning process will play a major role in the whole later life of the human being. Through this kind of development, the infant learns his ability to do something independently, through patient and persistent effort.
While learning during motor development to turn on the belly, to roll, to creep, sit, stand and walk, he is not only learning those movements, but also how to learn. He learns to do something on his own, to understand, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction which is derived from this success, the result of his patience and persistence.
When children have not been pushed to try new movements, we can see the quietness, the attentive, deep concentration, the joy and satisfaction which characterizes the learning process. This child wants to learn in her own way.
To sum up:
We HELP infants when we dress them in ways that make it EASY for them to find their natural position. We remember that the goal is the child’s freedom to move.
We HELP infants when we give them enough space, and lay them on something that is firm, not too soft.
We keep the infant in bed during the day only as long as he is playing on his back. We put him in the playpen, (or safe area on the floor) as soon as he rolls over on one side. As soon as the baby begins to roll about, to crawl on the belly and later on hands and knees, we take her out of the playpen and let her move freely in a bigger area on the floor. We should always give more room than the baby is actually using.
We HELP the child when we REFRAIN from spurring her on and asking her to perform certain movements, acknowledging certain accomplishments in an exaggerated way. This breaks the child’s concentration and shifts his attention to pleasure his audience, instead of taking pleasure in his own development, for himself.
We HELP the infant when we keep him in the horizontal position as much as possible.
We HELP the infant when we watch, take note.
We HELP the infant by being informed, learning about their stages of development, not pushing, rushing, and just being patient.
We HELP by letting him just lie there if he is happy, without stimulation from elsewhere. Too much stimulation may undo the muscle balance he is developing.
We HELP by being aware of the infant’s environment; the surfaces we place him on, the smells and sounds we surround him with, the food we feed him, the loving hands that hold him. When we go about our daily tasks with him, we are aware of our hands. It is through hands that the infant gets his their first impressions of their world. Our hands reveal what we think we may be feeling. If we are feeling rushed or impatient, we can smile and muddle through, but our hands will express how we really feel and the child may become fussy and irritable.
Additional notes: “the well balanced child”.
‘Children who have too seldom run and jumped, who have had insufficient opportunity to play on a swing or in the mud, to climb and to balance, will have difficulty walking backwards. They lag behind in arithmetic and appear to be clumsy and stiff. These children cannot accurately judge strength, speed or distance; and thus they are more accident prone than other children.’ Dr Peter Struck an authority on child dev.
Of course, as parents we instinctively know that it is natural for children to be almost constantly engaged in movement. We cannot expect a small child to sit still for long periods as they are still learning to control their balance. Hopping, skipping, climbing, and balancing are all part of a child’s learning to control their balance and body. Without the opportunity to move and progress through the early developmental stages, the brain is unable to develop the skills that are necessary for intellectual development.
A society that does not promote the sensory development of its younger generation is at the same time diminishing its overall intellectual capacity.
Repeated movements help to strengthen the neural pathways that run between the brain and the body. This network of connections will form the main system of communication between the individual and outside world.
Movement is the first language and it is shared by every living thing.