Tag Archives: strength


baby climbs stairs with guidance from a motor skills teacher


“What is skilled movement for babies?”  Let’s begin by asking “What is skilled movement for adults?”  A skilled tennis player has strength, excellent coordination, and agility.  These skills begin in infancy where we develop our movement patterns in the brain and nervous system.  We all know that abilities are part nature (genetics) and part nurture (experiences).  Skilled movement lessons work with the latter.  They have to be “cultivated” through developmental guidance.  This includes learning parenting tips for hands-on coaching of motor skills at home, choosing toys for developmental play, and selecting baby gear that nurtures optimal development of muscles and bones.  Through an on-line guide for parents, private lessons, group classes, and virtual instruction, Stellarcaterpillar.com is your resource for cultivating baby’s skill development during this important first year.


Motor skill development is one of the many frontiers of infant development.  Others include eating, sleeping, and speech development. Babies receive coaching with their speech development by imitating the sounds mom makes such as “BA, BA, BA,” which soon becomes “BALL.”  In each of these three areas, parents guide baby through her development step by step.

With motor skill development, it is not as well known how to coach the skills along the way.  For years, parents have seen only “delayed” or “disabled” babies receive movement lessons, so they often are not as aware of the value for a healthy baby.  They may see it as “therapy” for “a problem” rather than coaching for confidence and skill development.  Also, many people think: “baby will learn to crawl when she is ready.” Yet, many babies never crawl.  Some crawl after much frustration.  Others crawl without the most efficient coordination. This revolutionary new method, grounded in neuroscience and infant development research, provides a framework for baby to thrive. Our goal for baby is crawling with strength, coordination, and joy.


In a Stellar Caterpillar lesson, parents learn how to touch baby in a way that develops baby’s awareness of her body parts and prepares her to learn movement patterns.  Parents learn how to observe the mini-milestones that make up the large motor milestones so they can show baby the physical clue they need to get the most benefit from the skill they are learning.  For example, a baby in tummy time that struggles to lift her head may need a gentle push down on her pelvis to make it easier to lift the head.  It’s simple, but it works.  After one or two tries baby learns to keep the pelvis down and she lifts her head.  Now she will enjoy tummy time!


  1.  Physical mastery.  Baby gains excellent control of her body through building strong bones and muscles, excellent posture, good balance, and stability.
  2.  Independence.  A sign of a healthy and happy baby is one that can move in and out of positions, travel across the room, and get her hands on objects. She discovers how to get into sitting and then to get out of it so she can crawl across the room.  This is very important since some babies put in the sitting position are “stuck” there (They did not get into it on their own so they can not get out of it either).
  3. A strong self-image. “I can do that” seems to be her attitude as she approaches each milestone.  Baby enters toddlerhood socially confident and eager to try new activities.


The answer is: the sooner the better.  Lessons for newborns also help with colic, sleep, digestion, and crying.  The hands-on skills parents learn cultivate a clear image of the body in baby’s brain. This lays the groundwork for baby to learn how to move her body.  Parents learn how to choose toys that invite developmental play.  Discussions include which pieces of baby gear to avoid and which ones to buy.  For a limited time, the popular virtual lessons are available at a special introductory rate.  For those in the Los Angeles area, try a Stellar Caterpillar class!  Follow us on Facebook!


a baby plays on her tummy on the floor


Babies learn their motor skills through lots of baby play.  Floor time  provides opportunity for play and exploration of movement.  In the above photo Zizu spends time on her tummy and discovers the benefit of pressing the hands down into the floor while lifting her head.  Zizu feels this advantage and will continue to repeat the movement which both strengthens her arms and prepares her for the motor skill of crawling.  This is just one example.  A baby may pick up an interesting rattle and while curiously examining it she may roll onto her back.  This is the beginning of the coordination of the motor skill of rolling.  It begins with baby curiosity and the floor space to explore both the toy and her own body movements.  An important parenting tip is that floor time should always be supervised and toys should be age appropriate.


Time on the floor also provides the opportunity for baby exercise.  Kicking and reaching arms and legs, pushing hands into the floor, rolling, and belly crawling use babies muscles in a manner that is equivalent to a “gym workout.”  The key is that they move themselves.  Motivated by their curiosity, once they “try a new move” they are intrigued and want to repeat it a several times.  Play mat time offers great exercise for baby!  And yet another benefit of baby exercise is the prevention of obesity.  We discussed this in one of our previous posts by examining a Wall Street Journal article from 2011.  This article encouraged reducing sedentary activities with baby (time in car seats, strollers, bouncy seats and watching TV) and increasing floor time on a baby play mat as part of an anti-obesity campaign in England.


  1. Fosters improved motor skill development
  2. Develops balance and coordination
  3. Creates time for baby curiosity and exploration
  4. Provides opportunity for baby exercise
  5. Follows anti-obesity campaign parenting tips


YouTube Preview Image


Oscar, at age 6 months, is preparing to crawl on his hands and knees.   Observe how he repeatedly rocks back and forth on his hands and knees in the above video from monkeytoesshoes’ youtube channel.  Until now, his hands and knees have not supported much weight in the motor skills of rolling or belly crawling.  This action of rocking strengthens babies’ bones in their arms, hands, legs, and knees.  It also stretches the muscles in the hand which is an important development of the hand.  It is very difficult to crawl with closed fists since the weight does not transfer as well onto the hands. Baby is very good at grasping toys with tightly closed fists which tightens up the muscles of the hands.  This action of rocking is also discussed by developmental experts as an important development for holding pencils in school.  After several days of this preparation, Oscar will have his mother chasing him around the house as he crawls to explore the world around him.


One of the essential baby milestones that occurs prior to the major milestone of crawling is the ability to shift weight.  In skilled athletes, such as professional dancers, this is an essential skill that separates beginners from the advanced.  If you observe a beginning ballet student in class they have difficulty moving forward in space from one move to the next where the professional connects every move with ease and fluidity.  This skill occurs in the muscles, bones, and nervous system in such a minute way it is difficult to see and understand what is happening.  Often, parents do not understand why this skill of rocking on the hands and knees is such an important preparation for crawling.  Moving forward in space, for both baby and a dancer, requires transferring the support and balance from one part of the body to another.



It is helpful to understand how the length of time a baby is carried in the womb prior to delivery may influence the level of tone in her muscles.  The term “muscle tone” can be defined as the balanced level of tension in the muscles.   By “balanced” we mean that the muscles are capable of a range of tension levels, from very contracted which brings the limbs close to the center of the body to very stretched which straightens the limbs out away from the body.  A baby carried to full term usually has balanced muscle tone.  This is evident in the newborn as she is lying on the floor.  Observe that her limbs are bent and rather close to her torso until she learns how to move them on her own.  One she begins to move them through learning the motor skill of kicking, her muscles go through the full range of motion from being flexed and close to her torso to being extended and stretched out.  In babies born premature, muscles usually have lower muscle tone.  This means that baby’s limbs are more stretched out, more relaxed in appearance.  Sometimes the term “hypotonic” is used to describe the muscle tone in premature babies, usually those with very relaxed muscles.  This means the relaxed range of muscle tone is very familiar and the contracted range is a bit difficult to achieve.


Motor skill development is more challenging for babies born with low muscle tone, because their muscles have to work harder to develop a fuller range of muscle tension.  The baby carried to full term usually has the fuller range of tension already in their muscles.  Premature babies benefit tremendously from a lot of motor skill games and activities.  Their muscles need “extra practice”  for their first year milestones.


Due to the relaxed quality of the premature baby’s muscles,  it is easy for the heavy parts of her body to flop backward when you pick her up.  It is very important to fully support her head and neck, as well as the limbs of her body.  Keep a hand behind her head and neck when holding and moving her.  Try to keep her arms and legs from dangling when you hold her by folding them in toward the midline a bit.  Hold her so her spine is a bit rounded rather than straight.  As she develops strength in her muscles she will be able to support her head and move her muscles through the full range of motor activity.


Parents can learn hands-on activities that guide baby to feel the range of motion in various movements, making it easier for baby to find the movements on her own.  For example, a “preemie” may keep her arms fairly straight but through the use of your hands you can show her how to bend and straighten her arm.  These activities improve baby’s proprioception.  They are fun for baby, too.  They guide her toward a clearer feeling of her body and an improved ability to bend and straighten her limbs.  As she learns to feel and move her muscles, they gain strength improving the range of muscle tone.  This is one of the most important developments during baby’s first year.  The motor milestones teach her to use her muscles, support her own body, and to travel from one place to another.



During his lesson, the eleven month old baby grabbed his grandmother’s trouser pants and proudly pulled himself up to a standing position.  The grandmother was very tempted to congratulate him, but she knew better.  She was wise enough to take his hands back down to the floor.  “Not yet,”  she quietly said, “Wow!  That is good crawling.” She praised the motor skill activities appropriate for the moment.

Parents are eager to see the day that baby grabs onto their leg to pull himself up to a standing positon.  This means the day he will walk independently is soon approaching.  There is no question that the motor skill of standing up is one of the most celebrated baby milestones.  It signals the end of infancy is approaching–the transition from moving on all fours to standing and walking on two feet.


Sometimes baby learns to pull up to a standing position too soon, before his bones and muscles are strong enough to support him.  In this situation, it is best for the parent to take his hands back down to the floor and tell him it is not time to stand, and it is still time to crawl.  It is very beneficial for baby to crawl for several weeks before standing up.  For many years, experts in the field of child neurology and development have researched and shown that crawling is very important for the development of the brain.  Give baby plenty of time for crawling.  The baby milestone of crawling strengthens his bones and muscles, improves his coordination, and develops his brain.


There three common reasons why baby tries to stand before crawling:

  • Baby is imitating an older sibling.
  • Baby attends daycare where older babies are standing and walking.
  • Baby spent time in equipment such as a jumper that put him on his feet too soon.

Remember, babies learn by imitation.  They are motivated to do what everyone else around them is doing.  If baby is around an older sibling or older children at daycare, often he will try and stand too soon.  With parental encouragement to continue crawling or to learn to crawl, baby will understand that crawling is the better choice.  Through offering a lot of praise when they crawl, baby will understand this is the preferred milestone for now.

The answer to “When do babies learn to stand up,” is “After they crawl for awhile.”


“Grave Concerns about popular Baby Bumbo Seat,” Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, 3/15/12.

“Therapists See No Developmental Benefits from Seats,” Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, 3/15/12.


Recent articles in the Chicago Tribune examine the dangers and question the developmental benefits of the popular Bumbo Chair.  With this particular design baby is forced upright in the sitting posture with both legs fixed in position so they can not move out of the chair.  Baby has no choice but to be upright.  The first Tribune article examines the very serious accident that can result when baby moves and the chair tips over.  The second article refutes the benefits Bumbo promotes on their website.  Developmentally, the forced sitting positon can lead to muscle fatigue and spasm.  If baby can not get out of the sitting position when he is tired, which is the case with the Bumbo chair, the muscles spasm (tighten).  Tight muscles makes it difficult for baby to articulate the movement of the pelvis for crawling, or to lay on the belly for tummy time.   Muscles in spasm do not want to stretch or move.


  1. Parents need free hands.  A much better developmental choice is the play pen (also called Pak N Play) because mom can have free hands while baby explores through her own movement.
  2. Parents like to see the baby is “happy.”  Babies smile when they are at eye level with you.  Rather than place Bumbo on the table,  it is a better choice for their motor skill development to put them on the floor and for parents to get down on the floor with them.   Go to their level so they can learn what they need through movement.
  3. Parents aim to develop good posture for baby.  Rather than stabilize baby in a “trap,” allow her to strengthen muscles through movement and play.  Putting baby on the floor and in tummy time better strengthens back and neck muscles for developing beautiful sitting posture.


Through being given time on the floor to explore, babies develop motor skills.  You can not force a rose to open, if you try you will rip it apart.  Babies need time in each developmental stage.  The design of their development is absolutely brilliant.  Their brain is ready to fire the motor patterns of sitting and standing when their bones and muscles are strong enough to do so.  When babies spend a lot of time on the floor and learn to lift their head while in tummy time, they sit with beautiful posture from the first day they sit.  Their muscles and bones are ready.  It should happen naturally.