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Physical Development in a Baby's First Year

A baby's first year is dramatically transformative. In 12 months, your sleepy little newborn grows into an excited explorer, raring to go forth and make a happy mess of your home.

We reached out to Pediatric Physical Therapist Dr. Rebecca Talmud and other early childhood experts for the low-down on what to expect and when to expect it when it comes to a child's physical development.

The first 4 months of a baby's life are marked by increasing amounts of wakefulness and awareness of the world around them. This awareness motivates them to use and strengthen their muscles. Babies learn to hold their heads up and turn towards sounds and voices. They discover their hands and bring them together to clasp and to their mouths to suck.

Here's a tip!

When you get down on the ground with your baby at tummy time, try periodically switching up your position in relation to her. Switch from laying on her right side to her left and then in front of her. This will encourage her to turn her head to each side as well to pull her head up and look straight ahead. Beyond being fun for your baby, you will find it eye-opening to see what the world looks like from your baby's perspective.

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Setting up a soft cushy floor mat with lots of bright, colourful toys for baby to look at and, eventually, reach for. Small washable blankets or mats are great to bring with you to the park or to a friend's house. They provide your baby a safe, clean spot to stretch and roll around.

The second half of your baby's first year is when he will likely begin to sit unassisted, creep and crawl on her stomach, pull up to standing and begin to walk.

This is when all of that tummy time starts to pay off! The experts at Zero to Three suggest placing your baby's favorite toys just slightly out of her reach while she's on her tummy, pushing up. You'll be surprised at how motivated she will be to reach for the object first with her arms and then with her little torso, squirming and shimmying to get to it.

And what of those first wobbly steps that happen during this time period? Will a cute pair of baby shoes stabilize little ankles and help your baby to walk?

Dr. Talmud says barefoot is best for learning to walk. "Children gain important feedback from their bare feet when learning to walk. Input from the sensations in their joints, muscles and connective tissues, along with tactile input, help the child build intrinsic strength in their foot and arch. This is why most Pediatric PTs recommend barefoot as much as possible when beginning to stand, cruise & walk independently."

"At home, it is my recommendation to leave children barefoot to promote natural foot development. However, when surfaces are uneven, shoes are helpful to protect our little one's feet."

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While gross motor skills tend to get all the attention and celebration from parents, fine motor skill development is important too! In fact, all of that strength developed in your child's shoulders and torso makes it possible for him to now effectively use his fine motor skills to pick up those cheerios, hold a crayon and pick up that small toy from the floor.

That's why, when asked what sorts of exercises she does to help children who are having issues with fine motor skills, Dr. Talmud says she first asks: "How much control does a child have over her posture? How much trunk strength and stability does she have? How much shoulder strength and stability?"

"One of my favorite activities to address upper body strength is working at vertical surfaces. Be it painting at an art easel, drawing at a whiteboard on the wall, or mainupating suction toys on a vertical mirror. Upright surfaces also promote bilateral coordination, midline crossing, visual attention, hand eye coordination, and activation of trunk musculature to promote improved posture!"

Here's a tip!

Give your newly upright toddler lots of opportunities to play standing up. Easels, train tables, toys placed on a low child's table - they'ii all get her off the ground and balancing on her feet as she reaches, bends and stretches while she plays.

We love:

Magnetic easels with a whiteboard on one side and a chalkboard on the other. They are playtime powerhouses with a long span of use. Not only will it keep your little one busy creating art on both its boards and paper, you can use it for playing with magnetic letters and toys and it will become a part of your child's pretend play toolbook as he grows.

Thank you to Dr. Talmud for taking the time to talk to us! We highly recommend Dr. Talmud's blog on her Dinosaur Physical Therapy site: http://blog.dinopt.com It's filled with practical articles for parents about everything from addressing Toe Walking in Young Children to How to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike.