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10 Facts On Motor Development In Infancy And Early Childhood

By: Alexis Catibog (HDFS 301, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

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An infant is never born with a full set of motor skills like crawling, walking, or jumping. Instead, infants and children must acquire these skills! Here are some facts on children's gross-motor progression from birth to early childhood.

Following the cephalocaudal trend, the head develops more rapidly than the lower part of the body during the prenatal period. In fact, at birth, the head takes up one-fourth of total body length (Berk, 162). It is not until about 6 weeks that a baby will gain full head control when held upright (Berk, 184).

Motor mastery involves intense practice! Rolling is not usually accomplished until 4 ½ months of age (Berk, 184). Until then, babies will try and try again before being about to roll from back to side.

Crawling is usually achieved by 7 months of age (Berk, 184). In trying to crawl, babies will often collapse on their tummies and move backward. With time and practice, babies will learn to propel themselves forward by alternately pulling with their arms and pushing with their feet (Berk, 185).

Before being able to walk with ease, a child must learn how to balance on his feet and try again if he failed. Soon, his small, unsteady steps will progress into a longer stride, moving his feet closer together and keeping his legs symmetrically coordinated (Berk, 185). Practice makes perfect!

Parental and caregiver encouragement is important for a child’s motor development. In order to keep babies away from cooking fires and weaving looms, other cultures like the Zinacanteco Indians of southern Mexico discourage rapid motor progress. Therefore, these infants achieve motor milestones at much later ages (Berk, 186).

On the other hand, among the Kipsigis of Kenya and the West Indian of Jamaica, babies hold their heads up, sit alone, and walk much earlier than babies in North America. Because parents of these cultures support babies in upright postures and rarely put them on the floor, some infants skip crawling and learn to walk first (Berk, 186)!

Early movement opportunities and a stimulating environment are also important contributors to motor development (Berk, 186). In Iranian orphanages, the constant experience of lying on their backs led them to scoot in a sitting position rather than crawl on their hands and knees. These babies were also delayed in learning to walk (Berk, 186).

As children learn to balance and become steadier on their feet, their arms and torsos are freed to experiment with new skills such as throwing and catching balls. In learning to catch, two-year-olds usually extend their arms and hands rigidly, using them as a single unit to trap the ball (Berk, 308).

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