Is your little pioneer “body smart”? Find out how you can help to develop their motor skills in the first five years.
A child’s very first steps are a moment every parent treasures. That precious first toddle is just one of the exciting milestones you will cherish in the first few years of your child’s development.
In the first five years your child’s brain will grow to 90% of its size1, which makes it an incredibly important period to learn.
Research suggests that physical activity in early life will lead to increased activity levels throughout school and into adulthood, so it’s also an important time to get moving.2
As adults, we all know the benefits that an active lifestyle can bring, but it’s sometimes hard to understand how encouraging motor skills in children who are only just learning to stand on their own two feet will help. Recent studies suggest that physical activity in early childhood can improve children’s health in both the short and long term,3 which includes better bone and heart health3 plus helps to improve children’s management of their own behaviour and social skills.4
Did you know that that while robots and artificial intelligence (AI) systems have proved themselves more capable than humans in performing complex tasks, they struggle with simple movement?4 In fact according to AI experts, AI systems find it hard to perform simple sensory tasks that come naturally to toddlers, especially skills like locomotion that allows them to move from one place to another.5
Read on to find out how you can improve your little one’s motor skills.
The “Let’s Get Moving” Months: After 6-12 months
After 6 months your baby will begin to roll over in both directions and start to sit without support. Over the following months, you’ll see them start to lift up their head, crawling and even pulling to stand. Soon you won’t be able to stop them moving!
You can help encourage the development of early-stage gross motor skills by giving them plenty of “tummy time” each day. Some babies may not like this at first but it helps to give them the strength they’ll need to eventually crawl and walk.6 Crawling helps your baby to strengthen their hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders and can even affect their ability to hold a pencil down the road, so make sure you’re encouraging them by giving them things to look at and move towards, like a favourite toy.7
When Moving Becomes Fun: 1-2 years
In the first year your child’s motor development is focused on goal-orientated motor behaviours such as reaching, grasping, sitting or standing.8 From your little pioneer’s first birthday, moving starts to get much more adventurous. While there will be an increase in activity, don’t be surprised if your little one is eating less.9 A balanced diet is crucial at this stage. Milk may form a part of their diet because it contains essential nutrients like calcium to help build strong bones. It also contains essential fatty acids needed for overall growth and development.10
A simple way to improve your child’s fine motor skills is by adding actions to nursery rhymes and encouraging your little one to copy your movements. Songs like “I’m a Little Teapot” and “The Wheels on the Bus” are fantastic learning tools for motor skills development.11 To switch things up, try doing a rendition of the same songs by giving them little drum sticks or shakers they can grasp to develop their pincer grip. Wooden spoons and a few saucepans can also work in place of musical instruments – be creative and use what you already have in your home.
You can also make bath-time fun with shaving foam! Try spraying words or shapes on a tiled wall and encourage your little pioneer to follow the shapes, one hand at a time.12 Story-time, a usually passive activity, can also be turned into an opportunity to develop your little pioneer’s fine motor skills simply by getting them to turn the pages.13
There’s No Stopping Them Now: 2-3 years
Once your little pioneer has mastered the art of walking, you can expect her to start moving much more quickly. It is crucial to feed your child with foods that contain protein, calcium, iron and vitamins to support the development of motor skills and brain and bone development.14 These nutrients can be found in food groups such as grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein foods.15
When your child is able to walk confidently without falling over and can understand basic verbal instructions, it might be time to enrol them into games or sport classes.16 This has the added benefit of encouraging social and communication skills amongst their peers too. Through play, children learn important skills such as how to respect others, cooperate and take turns.17
Top Tip! You can help their motor development by limiting the use of strollers at this age. Encourage your little pioneer to walk short distances with you and use the stroller only when necessary.18 Make walking fun by setting end goals, interacting with your child when you walk and making sure the environment is fun for her to explore.19 If you have a small dog, encourage your child to help you hold the lead (and teach them about responsibility at the same time!)
Speed On Wheels: 3-4 years
Before you know it, your little pioneer will be comfortable on three wheels as well as two legs. Tricycles or small bikes with stabilizers will help their motor development between the age of 3 and 4 as they get used to moving in entirely new ways.20
This is the time to start inculcating good eating habits as it’s the age where they start developing strong food preferences.21 Since they won’t be eating in big portions, it is important that they get foods that contain many essential nutrients.22
This is also an incredibly important period to focus on the development of their fine motor skills, as they will be dependent on this foundation when they join Primary 1 in a year’s time. The sky is the limit when it comes to teaching fine motor skills, and there are plenty of household items that can transform into fun games and learning tools for your little pioneer.
Practise, practise, practise: 4-5 years
At this age, your little pioneer will be experimenting with all sorts of different movements – skipping, bouncing, hopping, somersaults and maybe even the beginning of a cartwheel. Whether they’re a budding gymnast or not, children in this age group have an innate natural tendency to move a lot.23 Look for lots of opportunities to keep them active and on the go but remember to ensure they are adequately hydrated, with water or milk.24
Reduce screen time and take your kids outside or to a playground where they can improve their motor skills and also nurture their creativity and imagination. However, don’t assume that your little one is getting Vitamin D just because of our sunny climate. Sticking to the shade, sunscreen and covering up are just some of many factors that can prevent the production of this important vitamin.25 Foods such as salmon, tuna, yogurt and milk are some of the best food sources of vitamin D and should be incorporated into your child’s meal wherever possible.26
Fuelling their movement
The more your child starts to move, the more energy they need to support their growth and development. It is incredibly important that you choose a diet that provides a balanced blend of nutrients to help support their journey.
Support their learning journey through nutrition and stimulation
Nutrition and stimulation play an equally important role in supporting overall mental and physical development at every stage.
Click on the next page to find out how Enfamil A+ Stage 2 and Enfagrow A+ Stage 3 can support your child.