*Disclaimer - this article was written for Modababy.com and is based on the experiences I had when my son Reese was an infant, which were firmly grounded in his doctor's recommendations for tummy time and other kinds of physical activity. This is not meant to replace any advice or directions given to you by your child's physician. Always follow your doctor's instructions, and let your parental intuition be your guide!
1. TUMMY TIME:
In a day in age when the importance of baby sleeping on his/her back is so imperative (as it has been proven to dramatically reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - commonly known as SIDS), making sure that your baby gets adequate practice moving around on their tummy is a crucial step to helping them begin to lead active lives.
At first when my son was born, I wasn't sure when to begin the tummy time practice, but as it turns out many physicians recommend starting tummy time beginning at just a few days old. Practicing "tummy time" to strengthen the neck and head muscles and assists with motor skill development. To get the full benefit, make sure that your baby practices tummy time a few times a day while supervised for several minutes at a time, or until you sense that your baby has reached her limit. Once baby is a bit older and stronger, they will begin to explore crawling movements, scooting, and rolling.
Baby not enjoying tummy time? Get on the floor with them! It gets lonely down there on the floor! By joining them, you give them company and help them enjoy their time on tummy all the more.
2. SET THE STAGE
This might go without saying, but baby proofing your home in a thoughtful manner is an essential component to setting the stage for a physically active baby. When you feel comfortable that your home is a safe place for your baby to explore (supervised, of course), you will feel more peace of mind in letting your baby wander. Set up a specific room(s) to be a dedicated play space or "family area." Cover outlets, pad fireplaces, put up baby gates, and secure heavy furniture and televisions to the wall.
BUT, don't eliminate everything that makes your home yours - a child has to learn about hearing "no" sometime! – but you’re going to want to make sure that you remove and/or cover obvious safety hazards. A nice potted floor plant? That stays. A fragile glass vase sitting on top of a side table? Get it outta there!
3. ENCOURAGE UNLIMITED MOVEMENT
So now that you've set the stage for baby to have a safe environment to play, let them get to it! Include a variety of textures, pillows, books and toys to keep things interesting. Perhaps even play music that you both enjoy.
Encourage independence by letting them move around on their own with minimal help from mom and dad. For me, I would do a few things in the kitchen or catch up on a book while Reese played nearby, always keeping my eyes and ears on alert for Reese in case he was getting into more mischief than necessary. I believe that taking this approach helped him to learn self-directed play and to develop a sense of independence away from his dad and I.
Now when it comes to stairs, don't say "no" to crawling up and down stairs, but make sure baby is well supervised for this activity and that you have a baby gate in place for when it shouldn’t be used. Above all else – please avoid putting baby in the pack-and-play for extended periods of time! Yes we all have those moments when they just need to stay put for a moment, but it needs to be temporary. It always makes me cringe when I see a parent keeping their child in a playpen for a whole afternoon!
4. A LITTLE FRUSTRATION IS A GOOD THING
A little frustration is a good thing! Don't rush to your baby's side at the first sign of angst or frustration. This sort of delayed assistance teaches baby much-needed problem solving skills and it allows them to test the limits and powers of their own strength. Plus, letting baby experience frustrations helps to fight against the concept of instant gratification and encourages the virtue of patience, which you will be happy baby began to get a taste for once they're a little older!
5. DRESS FOR SUCCESS When baby is starting to be mobile, be mindful of the clothing you're dressing him or her in. Make sure their clothing supports and does not hinder playtime activities by outfitting them in clothes that allow for free movement and are not restrictive. Save things like denim or dresses for another time. Also, avoid faulty crawling "assist" products like kneepads made for babies, as the padding actually impedes a child's crawling efforts. Instead, give our GripStart Leggings™ a try. The gripper fabric integrated into the knee and seat area of the leggings gives baby just the right amount of "grip" on all those potentially slippery crawling and climbing surfaces we have in homes these days (think hardwood floors, tile, etc.), and the quality fabrics that we use will hold up to pretty much anything your babe will put them through. Win - win!
6. MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO
Babies learn by example, so if you want your child to live an healthy, active life, get moving yourself! Let baby see you take care of yourself by eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep (well, maybe trying to at least), and speaking positively about yourself. Make exercise a bonding experience for baby by participating in local mommy/daddy and me classes at your local yoga outpost or Barre Evolution studio. And, pretty please, try to limit time in front of the TV and the smart phone, and seek quality time spent outdoors to explore new textures, sights and smells. The possibilities are endless, so get moving!