Before babies are born, they spend their final few months in a very tight space, in a curled up position. When they are born, they then need to spend time adjusting to the freedom of being able to move, and the effect of gravity. As they move their arms and legs the movement will look uncontrolled and jerky to begin with.
Most of a baby’s day should be spent where they can explore and play on their tummy and their back. This way they will strengthen their muscles, discover their bodies, develop their response to sensations and reactions, and learn to move by themselves with your support for their safety. Long periods in buggies and car seats should be avoided.
Tummy time (Prone)
On their tummies, babies will develop their ability to hold their head up, and strengthen the muscles needed for sitting, rolling and crawling. Often babies don’t like this position as it is hard for them to lift their head initially, and they often can’t see you when flat on the floor.
If your baby can’t lift their head up when lying on their tummy by 4 months old speak to your Health Visitor and look at our self help resources
NB: Tummy time may be unfamiliar to babies at first, but can be increased gradually, starting from a minute or two at a time, as the baby becomes used to it. Babies should not sleep on their tummies.
Being able to roll over is often a baby’s first experience of being able to move towards a toy by themselves. Babies usually learn to roll from their front to their back before they learn to roll from their back to their front. By giving your baby plenty of time throughout the day on their back and their tummy with toys around them they will start to try to move to get them…but put the toys too close to them and they wont need to move at all!
- To help your baby learn to roll over
If by 6 months your baby is not showing any signs of trying to roll and you have been trying these ideas, please contact your Health visitor and look at our self help resources
At around 4 months your baby will start to realise and notice their hands. They wont use them accurately, but may bump things or grab their feet. At around 6 months they start to use their hands more effectively and can grab more accurately. At around 9 months you might see them starting to pick up things using their thumb and index finger( their pincer grip)
Babies enjoy sitting up to play with toys, and look at their world from a different view instead of being flat on the floor. Babies are often held sitting on parents and carers laps, and as they get older and stronger giving them less and less support when you are holding them will help them to develop their ability to do this by themselves.
But be careful! Babies don’t develop their ability to save themselves with their hands, when falling to the side when sitting (saving reactions) until after they have learnt to sit independently
Bumbo style seats don’t allow babies to sit by themselves or use their muscles to encourage independent sitting, or then develop their ability to move in and out of sitting they can only do this through practice with you. So limit the amount of time your baby is in a bumbo or high chair and instead let them practice to sit on the floor.
If your baby is not showing signs of being able to sit by 6 months and you have been trying these ideas, please contact your Health visitor
Moving from lying to sitting
You move your baby frequently throughout the day from lying to a sitting position every time you change their nappy, or pick them up from the floor. When a baby is able to move from lying to sitting by themselves, they will develop good muscle strength in their tummy, back and shoulder muscles, which they need to crawl and walk. They also need to crawl to develop the hand muscles and as we said shoulder muscles, this leads to developing stronger hands for holding objects and eventually learning to hold a crayon. As a baby develops their head control and sitting ability, they should start to join in with you, for example every nappy change you can practice.
Babies learn to sit up in 2 different ways
On their tummies (usually first) by pushing up through their arms and moving their legs to the side to sit on their bottom
On their backs by using mostly one arm to push through, and their tummy muscles to sit forwards.
A baby needs to be happy on their tummy and pushing themselves up on their hands and knees before they can start to crawl. Sometimes babies commando crawl on their elbows with their legs on the floor, before crawling.
Crawling is excellent for developing muscles and sometimes older children who never learnt to crawl continue to have some weakness in their muscles. Babies need a surface with grip to learn to crawl, such as carpet or a large rug, so they can push themselves without slipping. Sometimes babies who have laminate and wooden flooring at home tend to bottom shuffle instead of crawl which can delay walking. Once a baby has learnt to crawl, crawling up stairs is a good way of helping babies learn to push up on their feet to get into standing and walking (but always need close supervision for their safety)
If your baby isn’t showing signs of crawling by 10 months and you have been trying to help them, please contact your health visitor and see our self help resources. Remember they need to be strong enough to push up with their arms and legs when lying on their tummy to be able to crawl, so you may need to help them achieve this first
Between the age of 2- 4 years, toddlers will not only be making huge leaps in their gross motor skills, behind the scenes in the gross motor development they are also learning how their body works, how it fits through spaces, how high they can climb. Their brain is developing a map of their body and this will help in the development of many academic abilities in the future.
Toddlers will also be developing their fine motor skills, such as using both hands together, developing a dominant hand, learning to dress themselves, feed themselves and make meaningful marks on a page.
Your toddler will now be able to use their hands more accurately to learn and explore new things. At around 2 years you may introduce mark making on paper, beware of your walls. Fat stubby crayons or chalk are ideal at this stage.
As the move through this stage they will develop more accurate tool use, feeding themselves with a spoon or fork. Encourage where possible the use of their hands in everyday activities, like putting their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, opening containers and wiping their face after meals.
Page last reviewed: 9 September, 2021