Your baby’s motor skills include those needed to move and discover the world. They are usually broken up into two groups called fine motor and gross motor. Fine motor skills refer to smaller movements (think hands and fingers) and gross motor skills refers to large muscle movements (whole body strength and coordination).
All children develop differently so know that if your baby is not doing the exact same things as another baby, that is ok. However, if you are concerned about your little one’s development always seek out the Early Intervention program in your area for a free screening or evaluation. In this post I will give you information about what motor skills look like and how to encourage motor skills in babies from birth to three months.
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0-3 MONTH MOTOR SKILLS INCLUDE:
Your baby starting to lift their head is a sign that they are gaining strength. You may notice this while they are resting on you or when they are held at your shoulder. When your baby is laying on the floor or a play mat (like this one) for tummy time they may start to bring their head up as well. From birth on up you will seem them be able to hold it up for longer periods of time. They will also start to turn it from side to side in order to see what is around them.
MOVING LEGS AND ARMS
You will notice your baby kicking, moving, and stretching their legs and arms from the very beginning. When on their backs they may show excitement to a toy or a person by moving all of their limbs. As they get older they will start to push up with their arms while on their tummy. All of these movements require coordination and strength which is a lot of work for your little one!
FOLLOWING WITH EYES
Your little one’s vision is blurry at first but becomes more clear throughout the first year of life. Your baby will use their eyes to take in information about their world and process their surroundings. Your baby will start look at colorful items in the first few months and then gain the ability to track an item both vertically and horizontally. They will start to move their arms and hands near desired objects or toys they they find interesting. Click HERE for an example of a toy that would work well for this!
HOW YOU CAN ENCOURAGE MOTOR SKILLS:
Tummy time is essential for building and strengthening muscles throughout your baby’s body. Make sure your child is awake when doing this and well supervised. Start with just a few minutes at a time to see how your baby tolerates it. Watch their cues and if they are not a fan, just use shorter increments throughout the day. By doing tummy time consistently you are preparing your little one to roll over, crawl, and even walk someday!
You can entertain your little one by lying in front of them so they can see your face. Take this opportunity to talk, sing, or read a book to your little one (this encourages language, cognitive, and social skills as well)! Check out this link for more tummy time tips!
Hold toys or interesting objects up for your baby to see. Try different toys such as rattles or balls to see which ones they like the best.
You may notice they even respond to different colors! Hold the object about 8-12 inches away from your infants chest, as this is where they can see the best. Move the object slowly across their line of vision to see if they follow it.
Just playing with your baby will help them to develop and refine their motor skills. Shake a small rattle (like this one) in front of them and watch for their response. Do their eyes widen? Do their arms and legs stretch out in excitement? Watch their responses to find out what they like and what they don’t.
Everything is new to a baby, so look around your environment and explore something new with them. Gently place a rattle into their hands and let them grasp it, or let them grasp your finger! During bath time let them try and grasp the wet washcloth as this is something new and interesting to them. Enjoy this time with your little one and see the world through their eyes!
3-6 MONTHS MOTOR SKILLS INCLUDE:
Holding Head Up
Your baby’s neck muscles are getting stronger everyday! You may notice that your baby is starting to lift their head while doing tummy time for short spurts of time. The increase in neck strength will also allow your baby to hold up their head in a supported sitting position.
I still remembered the day my son rolled over…such an exciting milestone! Your little one will most likely roll from tummy to back first and it could happen anytime now. Back to tummy rolling usually comes a bit later, however all babies are different.
Remember when your baby was first born and always kept those little hands balled up into fists? Now your baby’s hands are starting to be more in an open position…ready to grab! You may notice too that your baby is able to grasp small toys (or your hair!)
HOW CAN I ENCOURAGE MOTOR SKILLS?
Playing is the best way to motivate and encourage your baby to get moving! Rattles (these are my favorite) are a great simple toy to use at this age to encourage fine motor skills. They fit snug into your baby’s hand and are motivating to move because they make an interesting sounds.
Baby gyms at this age are great because they give your baby something to reach and bat at. This is the one we had and we loved it because all of the toys were removable which allowed my son to play with it even longer. He loved to look and feel the toys during a diaper change or just while playing on the floor. Baby gyms are great for visual skills because the brightly colored objects are fun to look at and follow with their eyes.
Always make sure the floor is picked up and cleared of small objects as babies will pick up things and put them in their mouths. Check out this post on baby proofing if you need some help with that! Baby’s learn a lot from mouthing objects so giving them some safe ones (like these) are a great way for them to learn and sooth sore gums as their teeth start to come in.
If you need more ideas on what toys work well for babies check out this post about 7 essential toys that help encourage development.
Tummy time is still VERY important at this age. Doing tummy time on the floor or play mat (this one would work well) allows your baby to strengthen the muscles needed for rolling, crawling, and WALKING! Always supervise your baby while they are on their tummy for play time.
Watch your baby’s cues during tummy time. If they do not like it then try to do it in shorter amounts of time more frequently throughout the day. Get down on the floor with them and play to help distract and encourage them. Using a simple unbreakable mirror (like this one) also works well to entertain your little one during tummy time.
Reading is not only great at encouraging cognitive and language skills at this age, but also motor. When looking at books with your baby show them how to pat and point out pictures. This is a great way to encourage early literacy skills.
Soft and squishy books (like these) work best for this age as your baby will enjoy feeling and exploring the different textures. Your baby will more than likely explore the books using their mouths so being able to through them in the laundry makes it a toy that is easy to clean as well.
If you are looking for a different early literacy option you can try out magazines designed for babies like these!
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