Brain Dance for Babies
Anne G. G.
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18, No. 2, March-April 2001 pp. 44-46
Movement is the key to learning! Movement and dance activities such as crawling, creeping, rolling, turning, walking, skipping, reaching, and swinging are essential for baby's brain development. These specific and intensive motor activities make full use of babys complicated nervous system and follow a plan. The nervous system of each new human being must go through a series of developmental stages before the brain can operate at its full potential. Using her whole body, her movements, and all her senses, the baby "programs" her motor/perceptual equipment, her nerves, and brain cells.
This process, called neurological organization, describes the development of the central nervous system, and takes place between birth and six to eight years of age. The first year is critical. By twelve months, many children are doing tasks that are easily recognizable as leading to the development of adult skills, particularly walking and talking. By twelve months, the brain has grown to 50 percent of its adult size.
Neurogenesis, the birth of brain cells, takes place in the womb, and the cells move to the areas of the brain where they are needed. The brain continues to grow and develop after birth, as baby's movement patterns and other experiences actually help create connections between nerve cells.
When placed on her tummy, a new baby may appear to move her arms and legs randomly. However, this pattern is common to all normal babies and is called core-distal movement. The baby is reaching out to discover her new world. Gradually, her movements while lying on her belly will turn into a more organized pattern called head and tail movement. Around two months of age, she will begin to stretch her head up to see the world, which helps develop important neck and shoulder strength needed later for sitting up and standing.
Between two and a half and seven months, most babies will begin to organize their upper and lower body movement. They learn to hold the lower half stable so that the upper half can move and vice versa. They also learn to keep the right half stable so the left can move and vice versa. This allows baby to travel toward and away fiom a noise or object by squirming on her behy. This early belly crawling will evolve into more skilled crawling, and as baby learns to get around, she will also improve her ability to track objects with her eyes in a horizontal direction. This will later help her read. Her back and hips also become stronger and more stable, laying the foundation for the next stage of creeping on hands and knees. During this time the vestibular system in the inner ear, which helps to orient baby in space and aid with balance, is also being developed through rouing, rocking, and swaying movements.
Sometime between seven months and a year, the baby puts distance between herself and the floor by pushing up onto hands and knees. The curvy litde baby legs begin to become aligned with hip sockets and feet in preparation for standing. As baby moves up to creep on hands and knees, the ability to track objects vertically with her eyes improves. Coordinating vertical and horizontal eye tracking is an essential skill for reading and writing.
While these observable changes are taking place, countless other neurological tasks are being stimulated and organized through movement. These include more detailed visual perception and focusing, the stabilization of body temperature and waking/sleeping cycles, and the gradual disappearance of newborn movement patterns. More mature human movements and behaviors begin to emerge.
If babies do not have the opportunity to roll, crawl, creep, rock, turn, stretch, clasp, focus, babble, and do many more movements such as these, little gaps in their development may appear in the years ahead. Yet babies sometimes don't have many chances to practice these instinctive activities. In the interest of convenience, love, and safety, babies are sometimes kept off the floor for much of their first year. A baby who spends too much time being restrained in a car seat, jumper, or walker, or being held or lying on a blanket on her back (during awake periods) will not move through the important fundamental patterns of the first twelve months of life.
The fear of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has caused a widespread campaign to put babies down to sleep on their backs. But this does not mean that babies should stay on their backs even while awake. They can sleep on their backs and play on their stomachs!
Babies spend a lot of time in their car seats. Even when not riding in a car, babies spend lots of time sitting in car seats in homes, in stores, and waiting at lessons for siblings. A baby can't move much while sitting in a car seat. She also can't see much, since she is tipped back at a 45-degree angle. While car seats are very important in saving lives, they can hinder normal growth and development when used too often as a playpen or holding area.
Babies need to be on their tummies in order to go through the fundamental patterns that wire the brain and lay the foundation for reading, writing, socialization, and healthy behavior. When a baby is prevented through illness or through social or environmental obstacles from moving through these patterns, she may later encounter problems in school with learning and behavior, no matter how intelligent she may be. Missed or disorganized developmental stages can create barriers that make learning difficult. The good news is that movement activities that take children back through these missed stages and fundamental patterns can often correct flaws in their perceptual processes and enhance learning.
One way to enjoy movement with your baby is to dance together. Dancing with your baby provides brain activity, stimulates growth, and also brings joy and laughter to this wonderful relationship!
Moving naturally through fundamental movement patterns (raising the head, rolling over, creeping, and crawling) during the first year is essential for healthy brain development. Mothers can help make sure their babies have the opportunity to learn and practice these movements simply, just by giving them enough time on the floor on their tummies to enjoy time to play. It's a great way to meet your baby's needs while helping your babys brain to grow.
Here are Some Suggestions for Babies From Birth to Twelve Months
- Let your baby's arms and legs be free to move.
- Put your baby on her tummy on the floor for exercise and play.
- Provide a smooth surface that your baby can move across when she is ready (wood, linoleum, a piece of cardboard from a very large box). Kitchen floors are great and usually cleaner than rugs! Lying on blankets or quilts makes it harder for your baby to travel when she is first learning.
- Let feet and hands be bare so that baby can use them for belly crawling—an important fundamental pattern. Socks and long sleeves are slippery and make it difficult for baby to crawl.
- Get down on your belly facing your baby and coo and talk.
- Mimic your baby's movements—stretch head up, crawl on belly, creep on hands and knees, roll over, and sit up. Moving through the fundamental patterns is good for everyone's brains!
- Do not teach your baby to walk. Belly-crawling and creeping on hands and knees (in that order) may be essential for creating a healthy person emotionally, physically, socially, and intellectually. Between 12 and 15 months is a fine time to start walking.
- If baby begins to pull upon furniture before crawling and creeping, remove some of the furniture so that there is a big space for baby to move on tummy and hands and knees.
- Nurse baby, hold baby, touch baby, and massage baby, swing, sway, turn, dip, and dive with baby.
- Sing to baby and dance with baby!
Simple Dance Activities
- Do simple stretching exercises with your baby, moving arms, then legs, right side and then left side, and finally cross-body movements (right arm to left leg and vice versa).
- Sing or say rhymes for accompaniment. Get down on the floor with your baby to encourage creeping and crawling as appropriate to development.
- Explore ways of carrying, rocking, swaying, swinging, and turning with your baby. Experiment with holding your baby in different positions and on different levels.
- Use props. Swing or pull your baby in or on large pieces of material such as table cloths or sheets. Swing baby side to side in a hammock or bounce up and down in a large thick piece of stretchy material.
- Dance around your baby with brightly colored scarves, touching her and playing peek-a-boo. Try other sensory activities with different textures and materials.
- Carry your baby while doing different locomotor movements. Walk, run, jump, bop, turn, tiptoe, slide, gallop, and skip. All these movements have different rhythms. Dance with your baby to a variety of music and meters. Try music from cultures around the world, such as African, Latin, Japanese, or Indian music. Find music with different rhythms, such as waltz, tango, salsa, polka, and rock and roll.
- Play instruments (bells, shakers, drums, rhythm sticks, pots, and pans) in front, next to, above and behind, and gently on top of baby. Encourage her to focus on the instrument and eventually hold and play the instrument herself.
- Play instruments to children's songs and world rhythm that have a strong beat.
- End dance sessions with baby massage, or just lie down on the floor and relax with your baby lying on top of you, breathing slowly, and rubbing your baby with long gentle strokes.
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