Alex is a conga star!
Alex received his first lesson at the age of 10 months. His parents proudly described how he was pulling himself up to standing and managing quite a bit of side-cruising. As I observed the determined baby pull himself up to standing, I noticed that he was standing on a “twisted ankle.” As he put his foot down to support his weight, he placed the foot on its side, so the outer ankle bone was down against the floor. Every time he pulled himself up he repeated this uncomfortable position. His utter determination superseded his inefficient body mechanics as he happily found himself upright and walking sideways! I thought, “Hmmm…let’s show him the more effective way.”
KNEELING FOR PROPRIOCEPTION AND BALANCE
I set out a box that was about twelve inches tall (the width and depth are irrelevant). I asked the parents if they could put Alex on his knees in front of the box. Well, you may know that once a baby has learned to pull himself up to standing, it is next to impossible to keep him down close to the ground. I found it difficult to bend his legs and keep him on the ground; UP he would pop in half a beat! I showed Alex the fun game of banging my hands on the hard top of the box, making a very cool sound, “Pat-a-tat-tat! Pat-a-tat-tat! Everything in the room stopped as Alex looked at me, obviously intrigued. I instructed his parents to put him on his knees in front of the box. This time they succeeded quite easily. “Pat-a-tat-tat,” I repeated. Alex smiled and began banging his hands on the top of the box. I instructed his dad to respond by tapping back with his hands, creating a call and response between father and son. Alex was having a great time.
Meanwhile, I moved his knees closer together, so the knees were in a straight line with the center of the hip joints. The pelvis was directly above the knees, not sitting back on his feet. This brings about the ideal alignment of the pelvis and legs for the standing position. If the knees are too wide, he will stand with too wide of a base of support. And while he played his “conga drum,” he was improving his balance since he is not holding on with both hands at the same time. While one hand holds on, the other is banging the drum. When he gets the action of playing with both hands, he is not really holding on at all. I touched the center of his heels with a rather firm pressure. This is assisting with the proprioception of this part of his body. When we stand, we get our power from our heels as they connect us to the large muscles of the legs and pelvis.
After some play time on our drum Alex began to move around the room. He began to pull up to standing, but now by using the heel of his foot to connect to his leg muscles! Through some proprioception of his heels, he learned a more efficient way to stand up, in less than 15 minutes! After a short while, Alex chose to return to the position of his knees. He played back and forth between the position of his knees and the cruising. I encouraged his parents to find a box and play drums with him once a day while he is on his knees, as this better prepares him for standing and walking. With this lesson, we have no falling stars, only rising ones!
4 important skills babies learn from cruising:
Babies and Shift of Weight
The motor milestone occurring in the development of a baby prior to walking is called cruising. The major event of a baby learning to stand opens the door for the advanced motor skill of cruising. Once standing, baby takes small steps sideways while facing and holding onto a stationery object such as the seat of a chair. This is the transfer of weight from one foot to the other. This is often called “side cruising” because of the sideways direction of baby’s steps, which differ from the forward direction of steps taken in walking. This shift of weight is essential for walking, which happens in the forward facing direction and without holding on.
Babies and Balance
Occasionally she lets go of her hold and balances awhile. If you observe her feet you can see the tiny movement in the toes and ankles, this is the skill of balance developing right before your eyes. She may look like she is not doing anything but standing and looking at you, but look down at the feet and you will see a great deal of work occurring! Notice the wiggling of her little feet from the inside edge to the outside edge and back again. There are many muscles in the feet that are learning to work and develop strength. Pretty soon she will not be holding on!
BABIES AND CONFIDENCE
Remember Lucy, our rising star? Lucy refined the skill of standing in her last lesson, and began cruising. I put two or three chairs close together with a ball on the seat a bit out of her reach. She felt confident to hold onto the chair seats and take just a few steps sideways. I showed her mother how to take a finger and gently press each of Lucy’s toes down into the ground, reminding Lucy of the connection to the floor. After Lucy walked a couple of steps we put the ball a little further away, encouraging her to take a few more steps. It is important not to put the toy too far away at first – we want baby confident she can attain her goal! When Lucy feels stable in her feet she will have the confidence to let go.
BABIES AND STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT
Now that baby is moving in the new upright position, the legs and feet are bearing more weight. The weight of the body when it is closer to the ground and being supported by the hands and knees is less than when it is upright and supported only by the two legs and feet. Shifting weight, improving balance, and increasing strength create the perfect prelude to walking. Enjoy the security while she still is holding on – it won’t be long now!
DEVELOPMENTAL MILESTONE: STANDING
Lucy is a rising star!
Lucy received a lesson at about ten months of age when she was confidently crawling and just beginning to stand. By placing a toy on the seat of a chair, she would crawl close on her hands and knees, grab the seat of the chair with her hands (transitioning onto her knees), and then put one foot flat on the floor pushing it down to give her the power to stand up onto both feet. She would stand with her feet wide, holding the toy, and looking quite jubilant! Although she was standing quite well, we would like Lucy’s development to occur at as optimal a skill level as possible. I knew giving a couple of bits of information to Lucy’s nervous system would teach her to stand with improved stability and balance. This also better prepares her for walking. When she crawled close to the chair, I observed that her knees were a bit wide from the crawling. When she held onto the chair, I moved one knee closer to the other one, narrowing her base of support. Now her thigh bones were directly under her hip joints, a much better place for supporting the weight of her body above. Think about the support columns of a building: They sit in a straight line down into the ground. When Lucy’s feet were wide apart, her torso was supported with slanted columns.
The second bit of information that I gave to Lucy’s nervous system was to firmly touch the center of her heel bones with my thumbs for a few moments so she could more clearly feel that part of her body, the part that generates the power to stand. This is proprioception of her heels. Lucy very quickly learned to bring her knees closer together before standing up and to push her foot down into the floor with more pressure, which uses her leg muscles in an improved way. In only a few minutes, Lucy had it! Her mother smiled and acknowledged that she was already standing better and appearing more stable and confident. In one thirty minute lesson Lucy learned to stand with improved skill – another stellar caterpillar is born!
Alignment and Propriocepton
One of baby’s developmental stages is learning to stand. This motor milestone is significant because it marks a transition from balancing the weight of the body on the hands and knees to only the feet. The base of support changes from a wide base with four legs of support (two hands and two knees) to a narrow base of only two tiny feet. Two details of the skill development are the proprioception of the heels and the alignment of the columns of support (legs and feet). A baby who has a clear sense of her heels will use them more effectively, which invites the leg muscles to work immediately and with repetition builds strength. A baby whose legs and feet are in a straight line under her hip joints will feel more stable and then develop improved balance – both necessary for the next developmental milestone of walking. We can observe from Lucy’s lesson that a little extra information will assist baby in not just meeting, but in mastering a milestone.