What does an infant need to foster ideal motor pattern development?
The good news it’s actually very simple, requiring no additional things, subscriptions, or fancy techniques.
Neutral contact with the ground
For ideal motor development to occur, babies just need abundant contact with a flat, safe surface from day one of life. Whether on their backs or tummies, on a mat or a blanket, in a flat bassinet or crib or just the floor, the developing infant’s ideal position is completely horizontal. No pillows, no props. Just a free-range space from which baby can begin to learn what it means to be and move.
Appropriate sensory experiences
From a position on the ground, infants have the opportunity to experience sensory inputs in a neutral environment. The ability to receive sensation from a flat surface is crucial for the developing infant: Metcalfe and his team describe in their article in Developmental Psychobiology that “Sensory perception is a prerequisite for motor function.”1 In other words, an ability to sense precedes the ability to move.
Every time a baby’s back, legs, head, hands, feet, and stomach make contact with the floor, their sensory receptors send information to the brain about the interaction. And they learn how to move, one neurosensory input at a time. Why is a flat, safe surface the ideal place to receive this sensory input? Because it is a neutral, gentle position for their underdeveloped bodies. Their spines, necks, and joints have the benefit of the least amount of artificial stress as possible so they can build strength gradually.
Freedom to activate the natural progression
Babies must also be able to activate movements in sequence, achieving the right quantity and quality, and developing the right muscles at the right time as the Central Nervous System matures:
“It is critical that all stabilizers are proportionally activated in order to ensure good movement patterns for functional activities or skill execution. If one link (muscle or a portion of a muscle) is insufficient and/ or weak, another muscle(s) in the kinetic chain may be recruited to make up for the loss of stability or movement.“2
What we must remember is that development of movement is a longitudinal process, occurring step-by-step as emphasized by Vojta: “The development of life is characterised by its gradual adoption of a vertical stance…” [emphasis added].3
Like reading a book one chapter at a time, in sequence, babies develop best when they can master one skill at a time, in order. That way, they can gain appropriate strength, coordination, and understanding of their bodies before advancing to the next skill set.
Ample time in these positions
Most importantly, infants need the opportunity to move naturally from the ground up as often as possible. When given lots of time to experiment with free-range, unassisted movement from their station on the ground or other flat, safe surface, they then have the chance to move through the neuromotor sequence predetermined by evolution.
This sequential development happens naturally with this baby-led approach.
Metcalfe, J.S. et al. Development of somatosensory-motor integration: an event-related analysis of infant posture in the first year of independent walking. Dev. Psychobiol.
Kolár̂, Pavel. Clinical Rehabilitation. Alena Kobesová, 2013, page 100.
- Krucky, Vaclav. “Chapter 3 – Physiological Developmental Kinesiology.” The Vojta Method of the 2nd Generation, Ostrov, Czech Republic, SVR – Society for Developmental Rehabilitation, 2017, page 41.