By Dr Orly Zuker, Chiropractor works at Restore Health in Frankston, Melbourne
(B.App Sci: Comp Med, Masters: Clin Chiro, B.Nursing, Webster Certif)
Our complexly designed nervous system was designed with movement in mind. In fact even bone density is maintained with movement. This is why young children love to move and why you can't keep a 1-year-old still for even a quick photo. With very little scientific knowledge in those days, in 1895 D.D Palmer, the founder of Chiropractic also stated that; “movement is life, and life is movement”. We can learn a lot from observing children. They innately know that is it important to interact with others and develop a social network and they know that activities that involve movement will promote and encourage their motor development.
Sometimes babies and children need a helping hand to development their gross and fine motor skills and we as parents and health practitioners can assist. The following activities/games may be used to promote and encourage motor development, neurological integration and brain development in young children.
1. Chasing Bubbles
Who doesn’t remember enjoying this!! Take your child outside and invite them to catch the bubbles you blow (when they are a little older they can try to do it themselves). When they appear tired or bored the game is over. This activity is not only good for their gross motor development, but also fine motor skills, eye sight, patience, perseverance and fitness.
Place your infant/ or have your child stand on the bottom of a step / edge of a low sandpit/ or a curb, and stand facing them. Assure them that they won't fall and that you are there for them and then encourage them to jump. Repeat the process as long as they remain interested. When they are ready for something more exciting, use a sturdy plastic crate or something similar. This activity encourages motor development as well as neurological development (accuracy/aim, courage, reaction time & judgment).
This is a fun good old fashion game. You may like to change the lyrics of the song to be more positive too! If there are at least three people available (two children and an adult), you can play this game for the practice of sitting & standing movements (proprioception/ spatial awareness).
4. Follow the Leader
This game offers a great opportunity for practice of various motor skills. 1+ people are required (it can just be parent & child too). Take this opportunity to go outside and enjoy some fresh air and vitamin D. Make sure you perform as many different locomotor skills/ actions as you know your child can replicate. Don’t’ forget to vary your movements with the elements of movement, including changing direction, and also including; twisting, stretching, bending. jumping and shaking the body.
5. Supine (on back) bicycle
This is a great activity for facilitating/ moulding the neuroplasticity of a child’s brain. It requires co-ordination, exercise of the spinal and core muscles for stabilization. This activity can be made into a game where you (the adult) plays and stops music, directing your child to ‘stop’ and ‘go’ with the music. They will enjoy this and if your child is a boy, more than likely they will end up being quite competitive!
6. Crawling like an animal
This is a lovely game as it utilizes the imagination, gets you (the adult) out of your comfort zone and allows both you and your child to express yourself. For all the hours that we (including children) sit today, crawling around on the ground using your voice to animate different farm, zoo or jungle animals will facilitate neuroplasticity, promote gross motor skills and build self-esteem. Perhaps after this activity pay a visit to a farm or zoo, your child will love visiting the animals!
7. Piggy back rides
If you have 'grown out' of loving a good-old piggy back ride, then you’re not telling the truth! This is a fun activity for all ages and requires balance, co-ordination and spinal muscle activation. You can't help but belly laugh when trailing on someone's back.
Other activities which are helpful in promoting fine and gross motor development:
- Climbing and balancing (with trees, stairs, and anything really)
- Kick-to-kick/ throw-to-throw
- Reading laying on your tummy (to activate spinal muscles and proprioceptors/ equilibrium receptors which are found in the neck)
- Jumping on a small trampoline
- Skipping (when older)
- Cross crawling activities (when older)
Healthy Tips to Remember:
1. Meet your baby, toddler or young child where they are at in terms of milestones: If we encourage and push them to perform any activity that they are not ready to do we are essentially interrupting & possibly hindering their physical development and neurological evolution. This means no ‘Jolly-Jumpers’ or ‘baby-walker’ devices. Encouraging your baby to sit, stand and walk prematurely (whether they love and enjoy it or not) can have devastating effects on their musculoskeletal system and posture in the future. The overuse of ‘jolly-jumper’ devices has in fact lead to achilles tendon contracture, requiring surgical correction. Just remember that a baby will roll, sit, crawl, stand and walk when they are neurologically ready, they don’t need force, only love, nurture and encouragement.
2. Limit Screen time: This includes TV, computer and video game devices of all kind. With today’s technologically driven society our children are being exposed at too early an age to a complex array of radiation emitting devices and sitting far too long with terrible anterior head and slouched posture. The good-old-days of climbing trees, digging holes and outside play are now being dominated by inside activities. For their health and development, we as parents have to encourage our children to get outside!
3. Ensure optimal nervous system, spine, pelvis and cranial function: Birth and the early years of development (with all of the bumps and falls) can cause great stress to a baby’s delicate spine and may lead to dysfunction of the nervous system. Chiropractic doctors are highly trained in assessing the spine & nervous system and correcting dysfunction (vertebral subluxation) from birth to old age, to allow full health potential.
4. Love, touch and nurture are essential. Research suggests that when baby mammals are not touched frequently or nurtured that they fail to thrive and develop poorly. Loving touch is like oxygen to a baby, toddler and child. This may include fun wrestling and tickles for an older child, cuddles with an infant or toddler and baby wearing within the first year.
These activities can be practiced daily or twice daily, however a minimum 3 times a week is highly recommended. A child up to the age of 6 or 7 has a brain like a sponge… They can learn, unlearn, form habits, change habits, have preferences, change preferences and adapt. As a child’s caregiver, it is you that has to be committed and dedicated to these activities, because a child needs no excuse to play and interact.
For further information or support, feel free to discuss the topic of milestones and motor development with your chiropractor or chosen healthcare provider.
Dr Orly Zuker practices within Restore Health in Frankston, Melbourne.