Providing baby with ample stimulation will promote mental and physical development. Engaging baby in play can improve her motor skills—an infant's ability carry out most physical activities. Some activities that parents naturally do are actually helpful in strengthening muscles and improving coordination. The University of Michigan Health System points out that infant milestones exist for both gross and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills require the use of large muscle groups, such as those used for sitting and walking. Fine motor skills include using the hands to carry out intricate tasks like eating and writing.
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Getting Baby's Attention
From birth, a caregiver can put noisy handheld toys 4 to 6 inches from an infant's face to attempt to gain the baby's attention. Shaking a rattle off to one side of baby's face can encourage him to move his eyes or head and neck to see the toy. Playing like this encourages a baby to reach for or grasp onto a toy, which is an important activity for infants who are 12 weeks old, explains HealthyChildren.org. Any sort of play that puts the enticing toy just outside of baby's reach, at any age, can promote motor development as he uses whatever skills he has to get to it. Transferring a toy from one hand to the other is a fine motor developmental milestone for 6-month-old babies, according to theBabyCorner.com.
Talking to your baby improves language development but it also gets a baby's attention. Parents can call out to a 4-week-old baby from across the room to encourage him to turn towards the sound. Waving or clapping with baby will help him to learn these fine motor skills.
Tummy Time Activities
KidsHealth.org states that tummy time, sitting and standing are the three most effective positions for helping improve a baby's motor skills. Placing baby on her tummy with engaging toys, lights, mirrors or caregivers to look at can help baby build gross motor skills. She can improve neck, back and arm strength from this position. Short, frequent sessions of tummy time will eventually help your infant learn to crawl. From here, your infant can learn to kick her legs and flap her arms. She can reach and do pushups when she is strong enough. Eventually she will learn to roll over to her back from her tummy.
Activities to Develop Standing
By about three months, an infant can be held under the arms and allowed to rest his feet on a hard surface or a parent's legs. Even though this activity has nothing to do with baby walking, it can give him an opportunity to flex his feet and legs. The baby's neck muscles have strengthened at this point and he is able to hold his head up fairly well. Similar to tummy time, this standing activity can help an infant strengthen gross motor skills.
As baby ages, this activity will become important in his motor abilities required for walking. He will soon be able to support his own weight and learn to pull himself up using stable objects for balance. Enticing baby with praise or placing a toy just out of reach can be a fun activity for baby. From the standing position, your baby will learn to cruise or walk by hanging onto objects. Once this skill is mastered, he will move on to walking. This can be encouraged by leaving baby just a small distance away and calling her name or cheering her on as she attempts to reach the caregiver.
Sitting Develops Large Muscle Groups
Once baby is able to hold her head up on her own, it is time to help her sit. Baby can be propped up with pillows or held into a sitting position. Commercial baby chairs or pillows exist to help baby comfortably sit up. By putting baby in a position such as this, the parent is forcing the use of baby's large muscle groups in her back and abdomen. Even with support in the sitting position, the baby is strengthening her motor skills to eventually sit unassisted.
Spoon Feeding Develops Fine Motor Skills
Parents can fulfill nutritional requirements as well as encourage motor development by spoon feeding baby. By about 6 months of age, an infant may be ready to start eating infant food. By feeding baby while she is sitting, the parent is forcing her to use her motor skills and a great deal of coordination as the infant opens her mouth for food. This activity has many benefits, as the process of tasting and swallowing food uses several fine motor skills. Allowing baby to feed herself finger foods when she is older promotes other fine motor skills like grasping.