When we talk about physical literacy for kids, we are generally referring to the set of fundamental movement skills that we associate with school age children, such as running, jumping, catching and throwing. However, it wouldn’t be possible for our children to develop these skills without first developing even simpler motor coordination skills during child infancy and the toddler years.
And it all begins with “tummy time”, with your infant becoming comfortable lying on their stomach.
In the last 10 years, tummy time has become the buzz for parenting newborns for good reason. From the day your baby is born, the brain begins developing the different neural networks that build your child’s sensory awareness of the surrounding environment and their relationship to it. This includes building the neural networks that support basic motor coordination so your child can move and interact with their environment.
Tummy time provides important physical stimulation to promote this brain networking and motor development. Tummy time activities with mom and dad during the first few months of life encourage your baby to use their limbs to reach, push, pull, kick and twist. As your child does this, the neural networks that drive their motor coordination and physical balance are stimulated to make new connections and grow in complexity.
Being on the stomach also means your baby develops strength in their neck muscles as they practice keeping their head up. And as their limb coordination and overall strength improves, your baby is being prepared for crawling and other developmental milestones.
Think about it. Many of the milestones your baby will achieve in their first year of life require that they be on their stomach. From lifting and turning the head, to rolling over, to pushing their chest off the ground, to getting up on hands and knees, progressing to scooting and crawling.
Tummy time has received special emphasis in recent years in the wake of efforts to ensure babies sleep on their backs to avoid SIDS. An unintended side effect of getting babies onto their backs has been that some infants may now be spending too little time on their stomach during waking hours. As a consequence, their motor development can suffer. And tummy time gives the back of your baby’s head a break from being in contact with surfaces, which can lead to flat spots forming on the skull.
A 2012 study in Britain examined some of the delayed physical development that may occur when infants are not appropriately stimulated in physical activity. It even suggested a possible link to poor academic achievement.
The key to tummy time is to make sure that it is always parent-supervised. For safety reasons, infants should never be left unattended on their stomach. Parents should also be prepared to tolerate some complaining from their baby, as infants often experience frustration while they struggle to learn new movements. For this reason, make tummy time periods short and intermittent through the day, and see our tips for making tummy time a happier experience.