FINE MOTOR SKILLS DEFINED
If gross motor skills are large movement skills, then it makes sense that fine motor skills are small movement skills. When we talk about fine grains of sand or fine cracker crumbs, “fine” describes the small size of the pieces. Fine motor skills describes the movements we learn with small muscles in our body, specifically the muscles of the fingers and eyes. These skills are extremely important because they develop hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. These are the basis for important life skills such as writing, manipulating objects, dressing and grooming. Examples of fine motor skills in babies include:
- holding toys
- putting toys in mouth
- picking up coins
- eating cheerios
- grasping with thumb and finger
These fall into the Stellar Caterpillar “Top 10 Movement Skills” list under “grasping and reaching” and “eating.” The development of fine motor skills in babies facilitates the development of fine motor skills in toddlers and older children. School activities using fine motor skill development include writing, turning pages in a book, and using a computer.
Read stellarcaterpillar.com and learn how to guide your baby to master the milestones for skilled fine motor development. In a few years this well get baby off to a great start in school!
BABY SEES HIGH CONTRAST AND SIMPLE SHAPES
Tana Hoban’s “White on Black” is an excellent first book for baby. Drawing from the knowledge that newborns first see high contrast well, such as black and white, she created an adorable baby book on this principle. By contrasting white shapes familiar to baby against jet black pages, Tana Hoban’s “White on Black” stimulates baby’s eyesight development. One page depicts a large white baby bottle against the pitch black page. The size of the image allows baby the chance to see the outline, the places where the white and black colors meet, quite well.
STIMULATION OF BABY’S SENSES
Stellarcaterpillar.com explores many ways to stimulate baby’s senses at home with the goal of facilitating movement. We have explored how the senses invite the development of movement skills. For example, the baby sees the rattle before reaching and grasping it. Or, he hears a sound on his left and turns his head to look at it which evolves into a roll onto his stomach. A library of carefully chosen baby books can be a valuable tool in this sensory development.
BOOKS FOR BABY SLEEP AND BABY PLAY
Looking at a baby book is also an effective way for baby to develop a routine for naps or sleep. Several wise grandmothers I know often recount the stories of advice they have given new mothers about developing a routine for nap time and baby sleep, and often it involves looking at a book with baby. Baby play time can also include looking at these charming and colorful books. They often engage many senses as the bright colors stimulate vision, the rhyming words please the hearing, and the textures engage touch.
White on Black: by Tana Hoban. (New York: William Morrow & Co., Inc., 1993).
Visual, Auditory, and Tactile Stimuli in Learning
A few weeks ago we looked at a five month old baby who was learning to reach and grasp via her sense of touch, rather than primarily through sight. We were concerned that she may need some assistance with her vision, especially since many of her family members wear glasses. This baby has a wonderful mother who wanted to get whatever assistance her daughter may need for her vision. She expressed concern about her baby’s eyesight to her pediatrician the following week at a regular appointment. He examined the baby for a while, having her track lights around the room, follow toys, etc. He decided to upgrade an appointment with an eye specialist as “urgent.” However, it took quite a few weeks to get the appointment scheduled. During this wait, the baby approached seven months old.
In our post “A Lesson From a Wide-Eyed Doe,” we learned that most visual abilities are present by six months and fully developed by one year. So the baby was about at the time where her eyes are quite well developed. The mother was eager to have the checkup with the eye specialist to get any corrective measures needed for the baby. During the past couple of months, the mother had purchased several rattles and toys with sensory stimulating designs. They had different textures on them, and the mother thought her daughter would be intrigued by the variations in tactile sensation. When the appointment finally arrived with they eye doctor, the baby was reaching and grasping for everything around her. The doctor conclude that at this point, her eyesight is normal. He thought maybe it developed a bit more slowly, but now it appears normal.
What we can learn from this story is the importance of examining our concern with a medical professional? If there is no need for a corrective measure, our concern is instantly alleviated. If there is a need for assistance, such as glasses for eyesight, we can take that step so baby can continue developing in as optimal manner as possible. We also learn that we can involve several senses in learning movement. As we observe which sensory stimulation baby responds to the most, we can focus on stimulating that sense to aid in learning. This baby’s mother did just that when she went out and purchased several rattles with textures such as strips of smooth ribbons, squares of plush velvet, and sections of bumpy plastic. The baby responded to these textures with much interest. Then, her engagement with the toy probably focused her eyes on it and aided the development of her eyesight. Now, her mother can relax her concern with the eyesight and concentrate on guiding her baby into the next movement of crawling.
A LESSON FROM A WIDE-EYED DOE
Have you ever seen the eyes of a deer, while standing completely still, dart quickly to one side before dashing off to safety? The deer freezes when a threatening sound is heard, then her eyes alone look to the direction in which she will move BEFORE moving. Her head and body quickly turns and she leaps in that direction. We live in a culture where our eyes become rather locked into position from staring straight ahead for hours each day while working on a computer, driving, and watching TV. It is no surprise then that it is not common knowledge that much of movement originates with the movement of our eyes. How does the development of the infant’s eyes relate to learning movement skills?
EYE DEVELOPMENT IN BABIES BY AGE 6 MONTHS
The development of sight begins with the fetal development of the eyes and continues to develop with the part of the brain called the visual cortex. Most visual abilities are present by age 6 months and finely tuned by one year. These abilities are depth perception, color vision, fine acuity, and eye movements such as blinking and tracking. Vision continues to adapt and change quite a bit until the age of two years and less so until the age of nine years old. Sight is an extremely complicated ability, and the brain allocates more of its territory to vision than to all the other senses combined. This tells us that our eyesight is both quite a complicated function is extremely important.
BABIES, INTENTION AND MOVEMENT
Once the baby has developed the visual skills of focusing on an object and tracking it, you will observe her want a favorite toy and reach for it. Her movement is motivated by her intention…by what she WANTS. Since reaching is a skill developed quite early, babies quickly learn to reach when they see something they want. For baby to learn movement skills, involve her sight in a way that evokes her desire to get a fun object. For example, if she is lying on her back, hold the toy in front of her face so she can focus on it, and when you see that she would like to play with it you move it slowly to one side an set it on the floor near her. Occasionally shake it to make its familiar sound, reminding her it is near. Observe how first her eyes move to the side, her head then turns toward the toy, and she tries to reach for it. Maybe, eventually, she finds herself rolling onto her stomach to get it! Create her intention and she will organize her movement to try and get what she wants! Contrast this experience with a baby lying on a mat with toys dangling overhead: she is quite content to play with them. Why should she roll to the side? After all, her entertainment is right in from of her face.
Let’s examine the skill of reaching. Hold a favorite rattle in front of baby, shake it to engage her curiosity and then hold it a bit away from her so she will reach to grasp it. And, sometimes, hold it a bit to the right and observe how she organizes her movement to get it. She follows it with her eyes, then turns her head, then maybe she turns her ribs and spine a bit to be able to reach to the side and grasp the rattle. It won’t be long before baby’s reaching for the stars!
While holding your blinking infant in your arms, watching your toddler run toward music, or observing your five-year-old remember some tiny detail from last Christmas, did you ever wonder how the infinitely complex brain, five senses, and memory of these little ones develop? So did Lise Eliot, Ph.D., a neurobiologist and assistant professor at Chicago Medical School. Eliot, mother of three, could not find a book that sufficiently answered her questions, so she researched and wrote one herself. The result is a “must add to your bookshelf” reference for pre-pregnancy through age five or anyone interested in infant development.
What’s Going On in There: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the first Five Years of Life, published in 1999, is thoroughly researched, well organized and indexed, and easy to read. Eliot explores the development of the five senses, language, emotions, memory, and cognition. Rather than just a treatise of scientific explanations on the development of these processes, Eliot focuses on what parents can do to raise a smarter child. What I love most about this book (beside, of course, the content) is the organization. When you have a thought such as “If we took our 5 month old with us to Hawaii, would he remember it?” or “What can I do to stimulate language development,” just look in the index and read the corresponding pages. Read as much or as little as you would like, but either way, in a very short time you will have your answer.
What’s Going On in There: How the Brain and Mind develop in the First Five Years of Life: by Lise Eliot, Ph.D., (New York: Bantam Books, 1999).
A DANCING BLUR: LIGHT AND SHADOWS
At birth, baby’s vision is much less developed than her sense of touch, smell, hearing, or taste. The eyes are the least stimulated sense while in the womb, a dark environment. In the absence of light, it is impossible to focus on or follow any object or color. This sense requires the most development upon the newborn’s arrival. At birth, the world around baby appears like a blur with shadows and light streaks dancing around. In Diary of a Baby, six-week-old Joey sees the dance of shadows and light on the wall. In a recent British movie, the Duchess of Devonshire dangles a large crystal over her baby girl in a cradle. Was this to create a dance of light for her newborn?
A SIDEWAYS GLANCE?
Newborns do not notice what is directly in front of them, but what is on the edge of their visual field. Elia received a lesson at two weeks. At the end of her lesson, her mother leaned directly over her and spoke. Elia rolled her head to one side and looked up at her mother. Her mother was very happy to see her baby respond. Try holding a brightly colored object – like a red rattle – in front of baby’s face, then move it slowly to one side. That is where it will catch her eye!
A newborn can also see only about eight to thirty inches in front of her, while focusing primarily on the closer end of this range. Bring your face close to hers when you talk to her. How far is eight inches? You can think of this distance as approximately the same distance as from the mother’s face to the baby while she is breastfeeding. Focusing within the eight inches near the body allows the newborn to learn about herself as she sees her hand move past her face. Nature is gradually introducing her to the larger world. She can learn about her mother and father’s faces, her own arms, the blankets in her crib before meeting the mirror on the wall, the family dog, and the towering bookshelf in her room.
MOVEMENT AS PLAY
Newborns see movements much easier than a static object, that includes moving faces! Gently shake a rattle and they will see it easier than if it is held static. “Face Play” is one of the earliest forms of baby play. Bring your face close to hers, no more than eight inches, and exaggerate various expressions with your face. Smile, frown, make a big “O” with your mouth, experiment and observe how she responds! Remember that minor changes in movement are a lot for them because they are so limited in their visual ability. If you keep too still or gyrate too much it can be disconcerting to them. Try including a light brush of the cheek with the back of your hand as you hold them. The brain has so much work to do right now that if too much activity makes them feel unsettled. They are in a brand new environment with tremendous stimulation. As that they are taking all of that in, their brain and nervous system are developing.