Are you, like many parents, concerned about your child’s future success in school? Do you wonder if your child will learn to read and write with ease? Here’s one simple strategy to help nurture your baby’s development of writing skills later in childhood: Tummy Time.
Every parent has heard of tummy time and the important role this specific activity plays in helping our babies develop strong neck and upper-body muscles. The strength built during tummy time allows babies to achieve later milestones like rolling over, sitting up, and crawling. Spending time on the tummy also helps babies to develop hand strength, neck stability and visual tracking skills.
But did you realize that tummy time plays a greater role in long term physical and cognitive development? In fact, the musculature that babies develop during tummy time helps them become able readers and writers during elementary, middle, and high school.
Before I interviewed my colleague, friend and accomplished Occupational Therapist, Stephanie Valdeon, MS, OTR/L, I only understood a small part of the importance of tummy time.
In lifting their comparatively enormous heads from the floor, babies get a big workout! We’ve all had or met little ones who hate tummy time, like my youngest daughter did. She would yell and holler and carry on – anything to get back into mom’s arms with an easy, upright view of the world.
Ms. Valdeon and occupational therapists everywhere agree that frequent experiences on the tummy help infants and babies develop strength in their shoulders and core, and it’s also the perfect compliment to a baby’s natural course of development. Humans and other primates develop muscle strength, stability and control from head to toe, as well as from the midline out to the extremities. Until the core musculature develops as expected, the arms, legs and fingers have to wait for their turn in the developmental sequence.
Core Workout for Babies?
Tummy time is all about the core, and it gets babies ready for crawling, which is a heck of a core workout! Core strength is vital for later milestones like sitting, standing, and walking. “It is also very closely related to student performance in the classroom, as students with good core strength are those who are capable of sitting with appropriate posture for extended periods of time.” explains O.T., Stephanie Valdeon. As we know, the ability to sit at a desk and work independently has become increasingly important for kids in the academically demanding classrooms of elementary, middle and high school.
In addition to core strength and stability, tummy time is a critical component in the development of hand strength. As babies push down against the floor during tummy time, bearing weight on their hands, they develop strength and stability in the arches of their hands. “Arch support allows young children to skillfully hold a tool like a crayon or pencil and use a pincer grasp to pinch small bits of food,” Valdeon describes. “In the elementary school years, a strong hand arch allows kids to hold a pencil with a tripod grasp, write without tiring, and type skillfully.”
Tummy time is also directly related to the development of neck stability. Until neck stability is achieved, babies are not able to visually track using just their eyes. “The ability to disassociate the eyes from the head, in other words, to scan the environment without moving the head, is an essential skill for reading and writing, as well as most athletic activities,” states Valdeon. Kids who have yet to achieve this milestone become easily disoriented as they have to turn their head every time they shift their gaze. This overuse of the head to orient vision overstimulates the vestibular processing system and can cause a child to become dizzy and easily distractible.
Visual tracking is a skill that we don’t think about very often, but we use all the time. In the classroom, students track while they read words in a line and/or in lines on a page. They copy notes from the board to their notebooks and navigate crowded hallways at school. Visual tracking skills are used nearly constantly during virtually all sports activities, and even during conversations.
So what should you do if you are a mom, like me, whose baby hates tummy time? Thankfully, there are some easy ways to help your baby engage in daily tummy time activities without tears. “Sometimes, pressure on the gut is uncomfortable, particularly in gassy babies,” suggests Valdeon.
One solution: adaptive tummy time
Lay your baby on an incline, like your chest. Your baby will appreciate the close proximity to mom or dad, and will be able to practice lifting her head and flexing those developing core muscles. Additionally, it’s perfectly fine to prop your baby up on a rolled towel or blanket. This is often a more comfortable position and allows babies to get in their tummy time routine with less stress. Finally, get down on the floor with your baby and do some tummy time of your own while providing enthusiastic encouragement and eye contact for your little one.
Occupational therapists, physical therapists and pediatricians agree – there is no replacement for tummy time. Particularly in the era of sophisticated baby carriers, strollers and baby seats, it is especially important to provide time for babies to develop the core, shoulder, and hand strength needed for achievement of later milestones. Tummy time sets the stage for healthy physical and academic development in the coming years and will help prepare your baby for the demands of school.
Remember the ABC’s of tummy time
A – Always supervise
B – Be creative to maximize tummy time
C – Create new opportunities to sneak it in
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Stacy Rosenblum, M.A., is a mother and Learning Specialist at MyloWrites with 20 years of experience teaching writing and literacy. After graduating from Columbia Teacher’s College, Stacy taught at the Churchill School for students with learning disabilities and helped found the Aaron Middle and High School in New York City. Currently in private practice, Stacy specializes in helping bright, young students who face the challenges of dyslexia and other learning disabilities learn to read and write effectively.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.