Play is not only a way to make your baby laugh and smile, but also a way to encourage his physical and mental development. Gross motor development refers to the “big” physical developments, such as controlling his head, sitting, crawling, and later, walking. Gross motor differs from fine motor, which includes the ability to hold a spoon and “pinch” an object between his thumb and index finger. You can begin gross motor activities in your baby’s first months of life.
Your baby begins to develop head control in her first few months. Encourage your baby to turn her head by moving around the room, calling her name and shaking toys that make noise, or turning on musical toys. You may notice your baby favors one side; sit on the opposite side so she must turn her head to see you. When your baby has “tummy time,” sit in front of her, singing and playing peek-a-boo, so she has to look up to see what you’re doing. When your baby is on her tummy, place toys directly in front of her and to her left and right to develop her neck muscles as she lifts and turns her head, while reaching for the toys.
Starting in the fourth month, your baby may sit with support. When your baby is first learning to sit, support him with a hand or pillow behind his back. Taller toys that stay stationary on the ground, such as activity tables or activity boxes, encourage your baby to sit up, as your baby cannot push the buttons to play the music or make the animals pop out when he is lying down. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading to your baby every day, starting at six months. Help your baby sit up as you hold the book in front of his eye-level and read. Once your baby can sit on his own, he may enjoy his own little chair with an activity tray, or a bouncer or rocker designed for his age, height and weight.
Your baby may start crawling as early as six months, or she may not start scooting until well after nine months. Either way, you can encourage baby to become mobile through play. Place your baby’s favorite objects out of her reach, so she has to move to grab them. The National Lekotek Center recommends using a sheet like a sling under your baby, to support her tummy while she crawls. Once your baby is mobile, set up pillows for your baby to crawl over. Cut holes out of boxes, so your baby can crawl inside and play peek-a-boo. Get down on the floor with your baby and show her how to push cars to make them move. You can play hide and seek by hiding a toy while your baby watches. Then she can crawl to find it.
Every baby is different. Your friend’s baby of the same age may sit a month before your own child, but that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with your baby. What’s important is that your baby continues to develop month by month. Your baby may favor one side, but he should still use both arms, both legs and turn to both sides when you encourage these movements through play. If your baby does not turn when he hears a sound, it may be an indicator of a hearing problem. Likewise, vision problems can delay crawling. If you have any concerns about your baby’s development, contact your physician.