As the basics of body musculature evolve, so does the baby’s motor skills development, the baby begins to respond to irritations in the form of contractions of particular muscle groups, or most commonly with specific body muscles, which is manifested by movements of the limbs, head or body.
Motor Skills Milestones
With the development itself, the baby’s motor skills become more diverse and they go from gross to fine:
When an object is moving in the baby’s eye area, it follows it with its eyes, lying on its stomach and raising its head.
Already reaching out for objects that are handed to it, holding its head firmly, monitoring the movements and turning its head, leaning on the elbows, and lifting the upper chest.
Tries to turn around, holds its head completely upright, can sit upright as long as it is assisted by support.
Holds the chest steadily and boasted, interested in observing the surroundings.
6th – 7th Month
Manages to reach the feet with the hands, turns its head in all directions, the eyes are focused, tries to turn around, can sit only on a chair with a backrest.
Can independently change position and turn around, stretching the arms to grasp objects in close proximity, it can sit on a chair without a backrest.
Can turn around on the stomach without any help, and after a while, it will try and sit down, it can raise the hands upright and move from position to position, sitting upright, rotate the body, tilt sideways, lower from a seated to a lying position, if assisted can stand on its legs.
Succeeds in lifting itself from a lying position on the back and remaining in that position, rising from a lying position on the arms and knees and trying to crawl.
From the crawling position can raise to a sitting position and tries to sit down.
12th – 14th Month
Can climb a ladder, on all fours.
Able to crawl, trying to stand upright, grasping its hand on the bed rail.
May lie down on the stomach and stand upright and walk without support.
The order by months from above of the baby’s motor development is according to the research by the pediatrician – psychologist Arnold Gesell.
The stated age is expressed on average. There are individual deviations from these values, which do not necessarily indicate that the child has developmental psycho-physical impairment if its unable to perform some of the activities.
For example, there are children who are 9 months old and walking, but there are also healthy and normal children who reach that at 12 months.
First 2 Years Overview
In its daily routine, the baby usually lies on its back, with its head turned to the side. While it is sleeping, its limbs are more outstretched on one side -Magnus posture. When lying on its stomach, it lies with the limbs beneath the body.
In the first 2 years of life, the child achieves coordination of the basic motor skills. Already standing upright, walking, and handling various objects. With these skills, it becomes largely independent of the total helplessness as a baby. These are its first successes that have given it some certainty, confidence, and encouraged it to its further full independence.
The rapid development of coordinated motor skills in the first 2 years has a significant impact on intellectual development. Along with mastering new movements, the baby’s psychological horizons are expanding. It notes an increasing number of objects and events around it, its experience is enriched, and thus, this forms the basis for the development of its thinking functions.
When the baby succeeds in keeping its head raised and looking in the desired direction, its notion of the environment in which it resides expands. This world will become even more diverse and expansive when it can sit by itself.
And when it starts to walk, it overcomes plenty of limits. Now, it can move around without anyone’s help, reaching and grasping what is at hand and in its immediate vicinity.
Pediatric psychologists, such as Gesell, Shirley, Bayley, McGraw, have thoroughly examined the development of the child’s motor skills.
They have come to the realization that the basic movements appear and evolve according to certain legality.
The motor skills development in the first 12 months of a child’s life progresses from the head down to the body, and from the body to the extremities.
The baby first gains the ability to control its look, then lifts and turns its head in different directions. Then it activates the upper body, from the shoulders to the pelvis, and the movement of the hands becomes more coordinated.
During this time, the child still cannot use its legs for their basic function, such as standing and walking. Even if it can sit independently and its lower limbs are sufficiently developed to support its body weight to hold it upright, then one can expect its first attempts to get up and later and walk.
At the very beginning of the baby’s motor development, there are still uncoordinated movements of the arms and legs resulting from the work of the muscles in the shoulders responsible for the hands, or the pelvic floor muscles responsible for the movement of the legs. Smaller muscle groups, on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet, are still underdeveloped. It takes some time for them to be activated.
With the baby’s muscle development, clumsy movements are becoming more and more refined. This differentiation of the motor skills in more upright motions can best be seen on the palms.
- A 5-month-old baby can grasp objects and hold them with its whole hand, but there is still no individual control over each finger
- For a period of 10 months, the child’s control of each finger individually and their combined use can be differentiated
- Already at the age of 15 months, it can grasp and hold objects with its thumb and forefinger, just like an adult
Gross Motor Skills
The baby motor skills abound with motions.
The first movements are reflexive in nature and occur at the fetal stage, while the baby is still in the womb. They are automatic and without the participation of thought.
With the formation of the nervous system and over time, more and more reflexive movements appear in the baby. They serve partially to meet its basic needs, and at the same time represent the organism’s defenses against environmental stimuli, or as physical aids to adaptation.
- Turning the head to the mother’s breast
- Sucking during breastfeeding
- Swallowing food
- Withdrawal of legs or arms because of painful irritation and the like
Grasping objects, cross-legged walking, crawling attempts, and other movements are the unconscious – gradual independence of the baby with the ultimate goal of being able to move and handle objects without anyone’s help.
The psychomotor is a muscle activity that is a direct reflection of human emotional events. In babies, the so-called expressive movements can be seen that represent the beginning of their psychomotor development.
After birth, the baby manifests itself with only one expressive gesture – crying, reflecting an uncomfortable feeling. At first, it is just a cry without tears, it is only after the 10th to 20th days, the baby starts to cry with tears.
The baby also has a smile, but in that period of life, it is just a reflexive expression. By the time of the 2nd month, the baby is already giving a smile to its mother.
Thus, the initially reflexive smile, as an expression of pleasure, is gradually transformed into a socially emotional response, i.e., the expression of emotions towards another person.
By the 4th month, baby laughter has been accompanied by vocals – by voice. Along with the psychological development of the child, its emotional life is increasingly defined, and its expressive movements become more diverse and numerous.
Reflex reactions are innate as part of the nervous system. They do not change or improve, they remain stereotypical. Later, reflex reactions become more controlled.
Reflex reactions in the baby at the beginning of its life occur spontaneously by themselves, without the use of conscious decision for which the baby is not yet capable. They reflect an instinctive reaction that stimulates the baby to begin to master the space around them on its own.
Fine Motor Skills
Harmony in Coordination
There are large individual differences among children in mastering coordinated movements as they mature, but the order of their occurrence remains the same.
Individual movements are increasingly refined, they become more precise. Unlike before, they are reduced to control smaller muscle groups and become more and more effortless with less effort.
Coordinated movements specialize in a specific purpose and begin to differentiate among themselves. At the same time, they are linked into a harmoniously coordinated set of complex activities with a clearly defined goal, consisting of a series of simultaneous successive movements.
By frequently repeating certain actions, we say that there is a coordinated action of consciously controlled individual muscle groups.
In addition, the motor skills development in the baby has been shown to have alternating coordination in the use of the hands and feet. At one point there has been a great deal of progress in the coordinated use of the hands which disappears when the baby begins to have a coordinated use of the limbs.
For example, when the baby more often uses its hands and begins to lift them from a lying position, the legs are proportionally inactive. When it starts to stand up again, its hands are disproportionately following that activity. During this period, not only a slowdown but also a certain setback in the motor of the hands is observed.
The developmental formation of coordinated motor movements is not consistent. That is why parents are often confused when the baby cannot repeat a movement that it has already mastered.
Conscious coordinated movements begin to occur when the corresponding neural pathways in the child’s body are functionally developed and matured. During this period, it has a natural need for repetition, development, and refinement of those movements.
Coordinated movements will take shape whether the environment has stimulated them or not. Their appearance is conditioned by the child’s general maturity, proper development of its nervous system, skeletal, and muscle structure. In that period of its life, control over consciously coordinated movements depends more on its health, physical, and mental state than on the environment.
However, the environment cannot significantly affect the development of the baby’s basic motor skills, as it develops in a naturally innate order of maturation of the nervous and muscular systems. Any major retardation in the motor skills development should raise suspicion that the child is suffering, perhaps from rickets or a damaged nervous system.
Improving a certain activity eliminates unnecessary – uncoordinated movements. In this way, motor activity becomes more effective, safer, and gets into the routine. This means that the child first makes a conscious effort for each individually coordinated movement as part of an activity, and then it gradually begins to perform it routinely, and it only deliberately performs complex activities.
With the full development of the nervous system of coordination, the child deliberately begins each activity, and all its constituents are accomplished without the participation of contemplation – routine. With such improved coordination of the torso and extremities, the child can independently perform daily activities such as walking, running, talking, swimming, cycling, etc. It performs these activities much faster and more sharply than before when every single movement needed thought.
Stimulation of Motor Skills
When the baby is already practicing a movement, the parent should help, shape, and give it the opportunity to perfect it as fully as possible. It is best to use various objects – toys, that will motivate it to use its limbs more actively and thus to strengthen the muscles.
During the first 3 months, it is enough to place hanging toys that will be in sight – above its crib. Toys should be varied in shape and color. The movement of the toys will attract its attention and will suggest it follow, first with its eyes only and then with its head. Between the 3rd and 6th month, the baby will try to raise itself to reach them.
Since during this period the baby puts everything in its mouth, it is necessary to have access only to items that are easy to wash and do not contain harmful substances.
When the child learns to sit on its own, from the 6 to the 9 months, it should place its grip on the crib so that it can sit upright.
During that time and in the bathtub while bathing, it may be allowed to play with rubber toys, without risking an injury when it reaches them.
While the baby is sitting, it is useful to have available toys that make sounds, to allow them to play with them as long as there is interest, to knock and toss them.
At the time when the baby starts to crawl, it is necessary for it to be on a flat, smooth, and large enough surface where it can practice the newly acquired skill. At this stage of development, the ball is ideal as a toy because it allows the child to change position frequently in space and to exercise muscles intensively.
When the baby starts to straighten its legs, between the 9th and 12th months, the crib should have a high lattice fence. So it is safe and there is enough incentive to practice, get on your feet, dig in the spot. As soon as it feels safe, so straight on its feet, it begins to walk independently but still sticking by the edge of the crib fence.
While not in the crib, it should be allowed to move around the room, holding it or moving independently holding furniture.
It goes without saying, the child should not be allowed to engage in activities that could put it in serious danger.
As a parent, if you find yourself in such a situation, you should act reasonably, without screaming, scaring, or threatening it. You should call after it calmly and without panic. If it doesn’t listen, approach it carefully and pick it up from there yourself. No more extensive explanation or illustration of any possible dangers in which the child may fall is necessary. All that is needed is parental supervision, caution, and a sensible assessment of the situation in a timely manner.
During this time, the child must be kept under constant parental supervision to avoid possible injuries. All objects that could injure, burn, or poison it should be removed from the environment where the child resides.
Most of the home accidents in young children are in the form of hot water burns and drug poisoning or chemicals such as detergents, which are also the most common cause of serious damage and even death.
Once all dangers from the immediate vicinity have been removed, the child should be allowed to complete independence of movement.
If it feels insecure it should be assisted with support. This makes the child feel safer and encourages it to pursue independence. Being held by its hands or waist, it should occasionally be left to itself in an attempt to sit, stand, or walk alone.
Balance in Supervision
Parents are often scared to think that something will happen to them if they fall. It will not be harmed by a simple fall on a flat surface. And if it does not have to rise immediately, it should be allowed to rise itself. These are great exercises for gaining greater independence, self-esteem, and freedom from the fear of space.
A child can only gain confidence in movement if it often encounters obstacles and difficulties in mastering space and persistently tries to overcome it. Only then will it learn to be cautious, to be able to properly assess and deal with dangers. If the parents are overprotective and protect the child from challenges, then it is not given enough opportunity to get to know them and overcome them.
It is impossible for the child to be protected from any inconvenience. It will surely find itself in a situation and only be forced to cope. It would not succeed if it had not had a similar experience before and was left to deal with such difficulty himself. Then the child can underestimate their abilities and overestimate the difficulty that can cause them to panic. Or, in reverse, it can underestimate the risk of injury.
In order to become a cautious, skillful, and brave child, it is necessary to allow it to self-manage in the event of adversity starting from its earliest youth. It should be allowed to face the many challenges that it often has to overcome with physical exertion and caution. Of course, parents should only allow what suits its age.
The child’s interests are the best indicator of what it is capable of. It shows an interest in solving the challenge only when it develops the ability to solve it. When a child first tries to overcome a challenge, it means that its body has developed a physiological prerequisite for a successful attempt, then only repetition is needed for that muscle function to fully develop and improve. Therefore, parents should allow it to exercise that muscle activity – ability, as often as possible.
The child has to move freely in the space, to control and navigate it. Parents often limit it because of fear, with constant warnings or unreasonable intimidation.
Fear is a major obstacle for the proper performance of any action. It is not a prerequisite for caution, on the contrary, fear slows down the motor skills development and even excludes the ability to assess a child’s own abilities. The child’s attempts to successfully master the space become uncertain, and the ability to peacefully and objectively assess the danger becomes less likely.
Therefore, instilling fear often results in failure, while courage and confidence are the best counterbalances to danger. Fear inflicts psychological damage that will only make it difficult for the child to walk alone.
It is also harmful to the baby’s mental development when the parents constantly help him with activities.
The baby needs to overcome the difficulty on its own with its own physical effort, as it can only realize its own abilities by itself. This is the basis for increasing self-esteem. Therefore, it should be allowed to climb the chair on its own, the stairs, on the furniture, and so on.
Independence is a natural need. The child should not be disturbed, frightened, or criticized if it fails, strikes, or falls in its pursuit. If it is upset, it is better to calm it down and encourage it to understand that it will surely succeed on some occasion, or that such discomfort will no longer occur to it if it is more cautious.
By mastering the space, the child develops its newly discovered abilities and acquires various skills. But, besides, it also knows the world around it, the properties of things, and their uses.
The parents’ task is to discreetly follow it, not interfering with its activity until there is a need for it, but they must always be close enough to support it in its intention, to assist it in activities for which it is not yet able to complete, or protect it if there is a danger of injury. It should be allowed to finish its actions with its own strength in order to experience the success or failure of its own activity. At a crucial moment, when the child is close to the goal and lacks the strength to accomplish it, only then can the parents intervene with the support that will allow the goal to be achieved.