When you look at your new baby, it is hard to imagine them old enough to go to school, never mind consider how their experiences as a baby will influence their learning journey later in life. And yet it does. How a baby’s brain develops in the first few months of life gears them up for a life time of learning and the key to this is early movement.
Now the good news is that this doesn’t have to be difficult at all. Your baby instinctively knows what is right for them what will support their development; there is no need to panic or stress that you’re not doing enough. All you need to do is nurture your baby’s natural growth and curiosity about the world and how they interact with it.
Moving and the brain
Your baby will naturally develop their motor skills and move more and more each day when allowed time and space to do so. This will include reaching and grasping, rolling over or even pulling themselves up. Each time they do something new, connections are made in their brain (neural pathways), the more they repeat the tasks, the stronger these connections become, leading to these movements occurring without thought, they just become automatic. Literally, as your baby moves, they are changing their brain!
Think about it, it happened to you too, after all you don’t have to concentrate on walking anymore and someday soon neither will your baby.
The human brain does though, have a very specific order of development. For optimal growth and expansion it needs to go through each stage properly to move on to the next.
The Vestibular System Explained
When your baby is born they have already begun to develop their vestibular system (sometimes known as vestibular sense); in fact this process started when you were just five months pregnant. This little known but vitally important sense is the first to develop because without it, your baby would find it impossible to develop any motor skills at all.
The vestibular system allows us all to have an understanding about where we are in the world. Using gravity as a stimulus we are able to comprehend if we are up, down, left right, high or low etc… We are able to see an object and relate it to our current location, understanding how far away it is and how we could travel to it, balance, co-ordinate our movements and maintain focus while moving. The system co-ordinates and uses information from the fluid in the inner ear, as well as from the other senses, the bones and the muscles to make these complex calculations and tell us where we are.
As the vestibular system in the first one that starts developing it is laying the foundation for all other learning to come, without this process there would be little learning to follow. Just like with everything else though, the more the vestibular system is used the stronger it becomes and the more it supports the smooth transition through those developmental stages.
How can you help?
As a parent, we want to do everything we can to help our children achieve their best. When they are a baby, this can be a very simple task. The main ingredients are love and protection, when a baby feels safe and loved they will develop at a quicker pace. Lack of these things can halt progress and have a serious impact on their long term development.
When they start to show an interest in movement, give your child a safe place to explore the world around them, encourage exploration and don’t be afraid to let your child experience trial and error. Sometimes they need to fall to learn how to get up.
Movement to Stimulate and Soothe
While all types of movement are valuable, there are certain types of movement that act to stimulate the vestibular system and help it to develop and function effectively. A strong and well developed vestibular system makes it easier for your little one to transition through the stages of physical development (and brain development) more smoothly.
A further benefit is that for many babies and young children this stimulation to the vestibular system can be soothing and help calm them when they are unsettled or fractious.
When you think about how you would naturally soothe your baby in those situations it probably involves movement, perhaps bouncing them up and down, pushing them in the pram or taking them out in the car. All of these things are stimulating the vestibular system.
Every child is, of course, different and will respond to different types of movement, but here are a few ways to stimulate the vestibular system, to not only aid brain development but to also soothe or stimulate as the situation needs!
Hold your little one facing in towards you and simply spin around on the spot, or if you have a spinning chair (such as an office chair) you can sit and do the same movement. Experiment with spinning at different speeds as some babies like faster movements and others prefer them to be more gentle.
Lifts and Drops
Hold your baby out in front of you (support their head with your fingers if needed or just support around the rib cage) and lift them up high in a smooth motion. You can start with them at chest height and lift above your head, or crouch down so your baby's feet are on the floor and lift them high as you stand. Bring them back to your start position and repeat a few times.
You can also try holding your baby with their back to your chest, supported and held close by your arm around the front of their body, and bend your knees so you come down into a squat position, leading to a dropping motion for your little one. Make sure to keep your back straight while you do this though to protect it.
Another fun movement to try is swinging. Support your baby with one hand across their chest and the other on their lower body and use your arms to swing them from side to side. You can start with small swings and progress to bigger, wider and deeper swings if your baby enjoys it.
Simple to do, but so much fun, pop your little one on your knees and bounce them up and down. Try higher and lower and faster and slower and see which gets the most giggles!
All of these are a great work out for the vestibular system (and a bonus work out for you too!)
Expand Your Repertoire of Movement
As your baby starts exploring the world themselves keep offering more opportunities for movements of different kinds. A class with a range of movement and developmental activities can be a great place to get some ideas and set aside the time to enjoys these with your little one.
At Tots Play you can enjoy the benefits to the brain and body of baby massage and yoga from when your baby is just a few weeks old, progressing to action songs and physical play as they grow into a toddler, all in a warm, friendly environment with fun at it's core.
We know that you are the expert in your baby, and always encourage you to take things at your own pace. A class is a great way to spend time together, move and have fun. These simple things are monumental to your baby and allow their brains to prepare for the learning adventures ahead.
Why not come and try a class and see for yourself? To find a class near you, click HERE and start moving towards your first session today.
No Classes Near You?
Why not think about starting your own, via our exciting franchise programme? Find our more about how to get started HERE.
Whatever you are up to with your little one this week, add some fun movement games to get both the body and brain working and growing. Happy Playing!
Click HERE to Subscribe to our Blog for regular updates and activity ideas.