Sensitive period for movement – encouraging gross motor skills

“A sensitive period is a time of a spontaneous, often intense or irresistible, impulse toward or interest in certain objects and activities.  During a sensitive period the ability to acquire new skills (in that particular area) is at a peak.  Learning is spontaneous, joyful, and virtually effortless.”

– Little Tree Montessori

All babies between birth and two are in a “sensitive period” for movement, or motor skills, both gross (sitting, crawling, walking) and fine (utilising their hands). This period is where children learn to control and connect their movements, and is very rewarding and exciting for both babies and their parents!

At nine months we are most definitely witnessing a burst of new gross motor skills with Frida at the moment. She has started crawling and kneeling in the last two weeks, and is enthusiastically trying to pull herself up on furniture (success depends on what she is trying to pull up on), clambering over things, performing impressive yoga stretches, and generally experimenting with her body to see how it can move.

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Crawling is widely considered to be important as a preparation for walking; for developing balance and hand-eye coordination; gaining more spatial awareness and using binocular vision; aiding sensory processing; developing a stronger sense of self and growing independence; and of course strengthening muscle tone. In addition to these benefits, these new gross motor skills are making Frida much less frustrated now that she can move by herself.

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We are encouraging her to develop these gross motor skills, not by trying to move her body and “help” her into doing things before she is ready, but by:

  • Giving her the time she needs to practice. This may sound simple but when schedules are busy and there are endless “to-do” lists of things to do, it can be tempting to swoop in and pick up your baby, or to “help” them to reach their goal. Sitting back and quietly observing is probably the best thing parents can do to encourage the development of these exciting gross motor skills. Another reminder to be present and mindful in my parenting!
  • Providing her with materials which encourage her to move. There is no need for anything in particular – just space and some low furniture will suffice perfectly well. However we have found balls are great objects for her at the moment, as she rolls them and then crawls after them.  We have also bought a play tunnel from IKEA which I hope she will enjoy for months to come. At the moment she is a little bit suspicious of it but likes playing peek-a-boo with me at the other end.
  • Ensuring her space is safe and appealing. We are still in the process of making our house as safe as it can be for her to explore, but we are getting there. We are trying to do a room at a time so she has spaces where she can move with no restriction, with her materials and books in easy reach so that she has beautiful things to aim for and move towards.
  • Setting up “obstacles” for her to engage with. A couple of cushions, my legs, or a backpack all make a good mountain to conquer and climb on or over, and demand balance and a little bit of problem solving.

I would love more ideas of how to encourage gross motor skills at this age. I am also enjoying setting up activities for Frida which encourage fine motor skills which I will write about soon.

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