Category Archives: KICKING

tips for baby motor skill development: kicking


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For baby it is quite a feat of strength and alignment to achieve the hands and knees crawling position.  For 7 month old Madison that achievement happened today!  We have watched Madison learn to kick her legs, lift her head in tummy time, and belly crawl.  Each of these Stellar Caterpillar Top 10 Movement Skills have strengthened the muscles of her back, legs, neck, and arms.  After strengthening these major muscles groups, she has learned to lift her pelvis high up into the air so she can pull her knees underneath her hip joints.


In her lesson today, we showed Madison how to put her knees more directly under her hip joints so that she would feel more stable.  At the beginning of the lesson she could lift her pelvis up a bit and then pull her knees up, but they were too far to the outside of her hip joints.  She would fall back down to her belly!   Crawling with the knees wider than the hips is not a stable position.  We showed her how to place her knees in alignment under her hip joints so she could feel stable enough to continue moving.  By the end of the lesson she had figured out how to stay on her hands and knees and crawl just a little bit forward.

It is not only strength in the arms and legs that is necessary to achieve the hands and knees crawling position, but the optimal alignment of the knees under the hip joints and the connection of the heels of her palms into the floor to best support her weight.  Only when baby feels stable in the hands and knees position will she feel confident to move one arm or knee forward.  After all, three points on the floor is less stable than four.  When one point is in motion the others must provide stability.



Madison’s star is bound for the Chorus Line!

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Madison received her second lesson at 5 weeks.  Her parents set her on the table with her eyes closed, legs bent up in a frog-like position, and fists close to her mouth.  She was very happy to continue sleeping as I began to work with her. Occasionally, she would stretch her legs, move her arms and head, then return to her frog-like sleeping position.  Madison is a very good sleeper.  I began to develop her proprioception by tapping and gently squeezing each part of her legs – first her thighs, then her calfs, then her feet.  This helps her to feel these parts of her body more clearly.  The definition of proprioception discusses the many cell receptors that give us information about our body and are located in our skin, muscles, ligaments, and joints. Tap, tap, tap….tap, tap tap.   Madison continued sleeping with an occasional stretch.  Next, I moved her legs, one at a time, through the pathway of flexion and extension: I showed her that her leg can move toward her chest (flexion) and away from her chest (extension).  I moved her legs very slowly so she could feel what they were doing.  She was now a little bit awake…opening and closing her eyes.  We continued this movement for a few minutes longer.


After introducing a few other movement ideas to Madison, we put her down on the table to rest.  By now her big beautiful eyes were open wide, taking in the bright lights in the room.  All of a sudden we saw her start to kick her right leg – right-right-right-right-right!  She had just learned to kick for the very first time.  She connected more to the feeling of the right leg, so she continued to explore that feeling.  We watched Madison kick with quite a surprising amount of strength, over and over again, bend-straight-bend-straight-bend-straight. We were observing the brain making the connections necessary to do a new movement.  Through our proprioceptive tips, we merely provided a few clues and the brain did the rest.  Since this movement was completely new, Madison focused on one singular sensation – kicking only the right leg.  In the next day or two, she will discover that she can kick her left leg, and play with that movement as if it were a new toy.  Then, over the next week or two, she will learn to kick both legs, alternating right and left. Kicking the legs builds strength and introduces some coordination when both legs are moving.  She enjoyed kicking her right leg for quite a while, even attempting to continue kicking while placed in her car seat to return home. Madison appeared very pleased with herself.  So were her parents and her teacher.


Baby Development:  Walking

“Baby Walk” sounds like it could be a dance. For the infant it must feel like one since it is a new coordination demanding more skill than the rolling and crawling that has dominated his movement experience until now.  Balance, strength, and coordination work together as the infant travels fearlessly on the narrow base of support in the vertical plane.    When dancing, there is a thrill in moving oneself through space in a more skillful manner.  The undeniable bliss baby feels when moving in this new way is evident in his voice and on his face!   Parents long to see their baby walking as this is the pinnacle achievement of infancy!


Learning the coordination of walking echoes back to the early developmental phases of kicking, belly crawling, and hands-and-knees crawling.  Motor patterns are controlled in the brain and the coordination of walking is an alternating pattern of right-left-right-left. This is called differentiation of the legs, where they are used separately rather than as one leg. When the baby begins kicking his legs, eventually he feels the efficiency of the right-left-right-left pattern.  Soon he belly crawls by alternating the leg and foot that pushes against the ground.  Again we see this pattern in hands-and-knees crawling.  Even in side cruising we see the right-left-right-left coordination.

It is important to remember that there are activities that interfere with the development of this coordination.  Many parents put their tiny infant in a standing position on their lap as early as two months, and sometimes bounce them up and down.  Unfortunately, this is teaching baby to use both legs at the same time instead of the alternating pattern that is useful to him in his skills of locomotion.  (Locomotion means traveling around in space.)  I strongly recommend that parents avoid this activity and substitute one that guides the ideal patterns of development!  Research in the field of brain science confirms that we use our body in the patterns that we have taught our brain through movement.  For the infant who is put in this standing position and bounced up and down, he is learning to use his two legs as one leg, like the tail of a mermaid!  We would call this an undifferentiated use of the legs.  I have seen babies on their stomachs lift both legs up behind them and bend their knees in exactly the same pattern as bouncing – this is what their brain has learned!  However, it does not help them learn to move around on the floor, and they feel extremely frustrated!  Babies love to learn how to move around on their own.  Instead of standing baby, I encourage parents to give him time on the floor for kicking, rolling, and crawling which support the alternating coordination of walking.



Ivan learns “Left-Right-Left-Right-Left-Right!”

Ivan received his second lesson at six weeks.  Both parents enjoy watching his lessons and were present that day.  He was laying on the floor listening to the bell inside the rattle and kicking his left leg…left-left-left-left-right.  They said he was kicking quite a bit, but favoring his left leg.  Ivan continued to play with a different rattle, delighted at the chop-chop sounds of the wood blocks.  When the rattle dropped out of his hand, he would start kicking his legs, or at least the left one.  Left, left, left, right, left, left left, right!  “How do we get Ivan to kick his right leg as much as the left one,”  I could hear his parents thinking.  Most people think the obvious solution is to strap a little weight on his tiny right leg or to hold the left one still so he could only move the right one.  Isn’t that the solution – to work on strengthening the weaker leg?  Let’s see what happened with Ivan during his lesson.

We started by working with his left leg – yes, the one that was stronger and more active.  We started by gently squeezing the leg so he could feel it very clearly. Then we began bending and straightening his leg.  I was talking to him the entire time:  “Ivan this is your left leg, we are bending your left leg, and now straightening your left leg.”  Ivan’s face was very focused, it was clear that he was paying attention to the sensation of his leg moving and the pressure from the squeezing. His proprioception of the active leg was improving. I continued for a couple of minutes with only that leg.  Once the more active leg is clearer in his own body image or feeling, then he can improve the kicking of the less active right leg.  As a reward, I let Ivan rest and shake the rattle for a minute or two.  I began working with the right leg next, repeating the squeezing, bending, and stretching.  These slow movements focused Ivan’s attention on this leg.  And, then, all of a sudden he began to kick the right leg much stronger than before…and then he was kicking right, left, right, left, left, right, left, right, etc.  He was now using his right leg more often and with more strength.  His father noticed immediately, “Look, he’s kicking his right leg more!”  So, we see that Ivan’s less active leg improved by working first on the more active leg.  By firmly squeezing the leg that was easier to move, Ivan learned to feel his leg much more clearly (proprioception), which helped him to improve his motor skill of kicking.  All the hours spent kicking develop strong leg muscles, the first step toward achieving the motor milestones of rolling, crawling, and walking.