INFANT & TODDLER LOCOMOTOR SKILLS

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1 General Infant & Toddler Movement Development Sometimes called traveling skills, locomotor skills transport the body as a whole from one point to another. Children acquire the ability to execute locomotor skills according to their own internal timetables. The following sequence represents a general developmental progression of locomotor skills. Crawl The crawl involves lying on the belly, with head and shoulders raised off the floor and the weight of the upper torso supported by the elbows. Locomotion involves movement of the elbows and hips. What to look for: Children should explore homolateral crawling (simultaneously moving the arm and leg on the same side of the body) as well as cross-lateral crawling (moving the limbs in opposition, for example, moving the left arm and right leg simultaneously). Creep This skill involves using the hands and knees or hands and feet to move the body through space. Creeping is a child s first efficient form of locomotion. Children who haven t achieved a mature level of cross-lateral creeping should be given many opportunities to practice this skill, even at ages 4 and 5 or older. What to look for: Children should be able to move easily with limbs in opposition; that is, moving the right hand and left knee simultaneously, followed by the left hand and right knee. 1

2 When working with infants, place a brightly colored object or favorite toy on the floor just out of the child s reach and encourage her to go get it. As long as she seems to enjoy the game (i.e. she s laughing instead of fussing), keep moving the object. Crawl or creep alongside babies, as though in a race, to motivate them to move! Pretend to be a mama animal and ask little ones to follow you as you move on all fours, roaring like a lion, meowing like a cat, or barking like a dog. To make crawling and creeping fun and seem less babyish for older children, invite them to pretend to be worms, seals, snake, or other more challenging animals. Challenge the group to become longer snakes by having one child hold onto the ankles of the child in front of her. The ultimate challenge is for the children to continue joining together until they ve created one long snake. Walk Walking moves the body through space by transferring the body s weight from the ball and toes of one foot to the heel of the other. During walking, one foot always remains on the ground and limbs are used in opposition. What to look for: By the time children are 6 years old, they can usually walk with a mature pattern. However, their posture and foot alignment should be monitored. A child s body should be kept straight and toes pointed straight ahead, with the weight of the body evenly distributed over all five toes on each foot. A common problem for children is called pronating a rolling movement of the foot in so that the small toes lift off the ground. 2

3 Be sure a baby has opportunities to pull himself up on sturdy furniture, like a sofa or heavy, low table. If you notice that the baby is trying to pull himself up with something that s not sturdy, simply pick him up and put him someplace more appropriate. And once he is up, he may need your help getting back down! Tiptoe with toddlers. Show them how to walk on tiptoes and then ask them to do it with you. Tiptoe as long as they stay interested! Move around the room with toddlers and preschoolers by alternating between tiny steps and giant steps. You can also ask them to try it on their own, giving them a cue that signals that it is time to switch from one kind of step to the other. To make walking fun for preschoolers, use emotional imagery: walking as though mad, scared, sad, big and strong, tired, or excited. Also use imaginary environments: walking on hot sand that is burning the feet, in a dense jungle, in a haunted house, or while trying to get through sticky mud or deep snow. Marching, which is essentially an exaggerated form of walking, around the room or outdoor space is a great fitness activity. You can provide an accompanying drumbeat, play a recording of a John Philip Sousa composition or a march from a children s recording. Challenge children to swing their arms and raise their knees while keeping the rest of their bodies straight and tall. What role do they want to play in the march or parade? Flag bearer? Baton twirler? Maybe they would like to pretend to play a musical instrument used in marching bands. Which instrument do they want to play? 3

4 Run Running transfers the body s weight from the ball and toes of one foot to the ball and toes of the other foot. The body should be inclined slightly forward and the arms should be slightly bent, swinging in opposition to the legs. What to look for: Running is one of the most demanding activities, requiring much of the heart, lungs, and muscles. For the young child it also makes demands on the nervous system for all parts of the body must be used alternately, symmetrically, and yet with synchronous timing; contraction and relaxation must alternate smoothly; an even rhythm must be maintained; balance makes new demands as strides lengthen and ground is covered rapidly (Sinclair, 1973). Jump A jump propels the body upward from a takeoff from either one foot or both feet. The toes, which are the last part of the foot to leave the ground (heel-ball-toe), are the first to reach it upon landing; landing occurs on both feet (toe-ball-heel). Knees should always bend to absorb the shock of landing. What to look for: Common errors include landing with the knees straight and on the balls of the feet only. To explore running with imagery, ask the children to run as though crossing hot sand, finishing a long race, playing basketball, trying to catch a bus, and trying to score a touchdown. Encourage them to pretend they are in an imaginary track meet, perhaps at the Olympics. Put on a piece of music in an even 4/4 meter and a tempo appropriate for running and ask the children to move to it. 4

5 INFANT & TODDLER LOCOMOTOR SKILLS Invite children to jump as though they were rabbits, kangaroos, bouncing balls, or frogs. They can also pretend to be reaching for something high above them, to be having a temper tantrum, or to be startled by a loud noise. Finally, ask them to show you how they jump for joy! Place a toddler on the edge of a low sandbox or a curb, and stand facing her. Hold out your arms and encourage her to jump. Repeat the process for as long as she remains interested. When she s ready for something a bit more challenging (something higher off the ground), use a sturdy plastic crate or something similar. Hum or sing Pop Goes the Weasel and instruct the children to move around the room in any way they want until they hear the pop, at which time they should jump into the air. Later, you can ask them to jump and change directions when they hear the pop. Having something to jump over makes practicing this skill fun for young children. Begin with a single jump rope stretched out on the floor, and ask the children to jump back and forth across it, pretending they re jumping from one side of a river to the other. Then progress to laying two jump ropes parallel to each other, at first only a couple of inches apart but gradually increasing the distance between them. Children also enjoy jumping in and out of a hoop lying flat on the floor. 5

6 Motor Milestones Motor development is merely age-related, rather than age-dependent. In terms of the development of specific motor skills, there is a range of ages that are considered normal or typical. Therefore, the motor milestones listed below are general guidelines that highlight some of the milestones in gross motor development. Birth to 6 Months Turns head from side to side Follows objects and sounds with eyes Sits with arms propped in front for support Reaches for objects with both arms Rolls from back onto side 6 to 12 Months Holds hands together Rolls over from front to back and reverse Crawls and later creeps Plays games like peek-a-boo Pull self up to standing Climbs stairs on hands and knees Walks with adult support Reaches for objects with one hand or the other 12 to 18 Months Walks without support Pushes, pulls, and carries objects while walking Able to roll and kick a large ball 18 to 24 Months Walks forward, backward, and sideways Runs with stops and starts, but unable to stop and start quickly Climbs stairs Jumps up and down, but often fails 6

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