Category Archives: ROLLING

tips for baby motor skill development: rolling


Hi, I’m from South-Africa and would like to know if you have any advice for me. My baby is almost 6 months, he is great at push-ups, and sitting but he struggles with rolling. He can roll from his back to both sides and then he gets stuck. He struggles to do a roll from back to tummy but he manages sometimes to roll from tummy to back. He is a big boy, weighs 8.5 kg (18 lbs.), might this be the reason why he struggles?  –From a mother in South Africa


Yes, you are correct in thinking that the size and weight of your baby may present a challenge in learning the motor skill of rolling.  The larger or heavier a baby is, the more difficult to it is to move their body.  This is simply because their body parts weigh more.  However, with patience and some developmental activities your son can learn to roll.  First, resist the temptation to put him in a sitting position.  Until he learns to sit on his own, he should spend his time on the floor on his belly and his back.  This is where he will have the opportunity to push against the floor with his arms, legs, and hips to develop the strength and coordination for rolling.  If he is sitting up, he will not be able to play with these movements.  It is wonderful to hear that he is great at doing push-ups.  This shows he has quite a bit of upper body strength, so now he just needs the time on his belly to learn to use his skills for rolling.


Try this developmental activity for teaching your baby the motor skill of rolling. When he is on his back, bend one of his legs toward his chest and extend it down to straight a few times.  Next, bend the leg and keep it close to his chest as you take the arm on the same side across his chest, slowly turn him onto his side and then continue to roll him onto his belly.  Touch the knee to the floor so your baby learns to take the knee to the side and then to the floor.  Next, gently push the pelvis so he feels that the weight of the pelvis completes the roll.  See the video in the blog post, “How to Roll” for a visual demonstration.  Repeat this a few times on the same side, let your baby rest for a few minutes and then repeat a few times to the other side.  It is important to move slowly so the brain learns to do the movements.  Repeat this every day with him, at least twice a day.  Gradually do less of the movement for him and see if he will complete it on his own.


Keep the activity playful by using your voice to talk to your baby in a calm and soothing manner and make some fun sounds as you go through the movements. For the movements that are smaller try a quicker sound (for bend and extend the leg, for example) and for the longer movements such as turning the baby onto his stomach try a more drawn out sound.  You can also describe the activity with your voice as I do in the video, just keep the pace of the movement.   The sounds capture the baby’s attention so the focus closely on what you are doing.  Once your baby learns to roll he will enjoy showing off his new skill!






My baby (just turned four months) has just started rolling from belly to back, but though she tries she can’t quite manage to do back to belly. I think part of the problem is that she doesn’t seem to realize she can bend at the hips and lift her legs in the air. She always sticks them straight out. (When she’s on her belly she often ‘surfs’ on her tummy with both her shoulders and her hips off the ground.)  I’m making a game of lifting her legs during nappy changes when I have to lift them anyway. Is there anything else I can do to encourage her to fold in the middle?    

-Question from a reader in the UK

Congratulations that your baby has begun to master one of the top ten motor milestones for baby’s first year!  Also, congratulations on your awareness of what she is learning and what she needs to learn next.  This is a very important skill for mothers to develop.  You have asked a very important question and we will look at a few important points of how babies learn motor skills as we answer your question.


It is helpful to understand the the motor skill of rolling, which includes both rolling from back to belly and from belly to back, is learned in stages.  At first most babies learn to roll either from back to belly or from belly to back.  Then they practice that skill (which is only half of a full roll) for quite a while.  Later the other piece of the roll is learned.  Some babies learn the second piece sooner and some learn it much later.  With some skilled hands on guidance from a parent, baby may learn the skill more quickly.  At four months of age, your baby is learning the skill of rolling rather quickly.


It is wonderful that you observed that she has the habit of sticking her legs straight out.  Yes, this may be making it difficult to roll from back to belly.  Bringing the legs up and to the side can initiate the movement of rolling.  Ask yourself if you or a caretaker of the baby (such as a nanny or grandparent) puts then baby on her feet at all.  This activity of putting baby on her feet while on your lap, in a jumper, or in an exersaucer teach the baby to straighten her legs.  This is one of the many reasons why it is not encouraged to put baby on her feet until she can stand herself up without your help.  This action of the legs straightening becomes an action that baby learns and when she is on her back she will do what she has learned, straighten her legs.  This does not help her learn to roll now or learn to crawl later.  Remember that she has the rest of her life to stand on her feet, and this time on the floor is important for developing a strong foundation for the development of her skeleton and muscles.


Rather than put baby on her feet, try some playful activities with her that she will enjoy and will facilitate the action of rolling.  Try some developmental activities a few times a day.  Here are a few that we recommend:

1.  While she is on her back, take one leg only and bend it toward her chest while telling her that she can bend her leg.  Then extend her leg down towards straight as your tell her that she can extend her leg.  Alternate between these two actions while telling her she can “bend her leg, and extend her leg.”  Spend more time in the “bend” movement since you want her to learn that action more clearly.  Repeat several time on one leg only and then switch to the other leg.

2.  Take her right leg and right arm up toward the ceiling and gently move them at the same time to the left to initiate the roll.  First go just a little bit, then return.  Then move a bit further and return.  Eventually take her all the way to her belly.  Do this very slowly so she can feel what you are doing.  You are showing her how she can learn to roll herself to her belly.

3.  Roll her onto her side so she feels the place she will move through as she transitions from her back to her belly.

Try these tips for parents at home and let me know how they work with baby!


YouTube Preview Image


The motor skill of rolling emerges one piece at a time.  A baby may learn to roll from her belly to her or her back to her belly first.  Then she may repeat the pattern she has learned several times to develop confidence and skill so she may perform it when she wants.  This is when parents ask, “She can roll from her back to her belly, but not from her belly to her back (or vice versa).”  How does baby learn to roll from her  belly to her back?  She needs to learn to move those hips!  In the above video from Peter Shankman’s youtube channel, you can see the baby wiggle her hips.  She lifts one side of her hips off of the floor, then the other side.  The pelvis is a very heavy part of the body, and when it is moved enough it shifts the weight of the body so it moves in space.  For example, in this video it moves the baby onto her side and then eventually onto her back.  This is an excellent example of the exploration that goes on when a baby is on the floor which soon results in a motor milestone.


One of the reasons why it is so important for babies to spend time on the floor and in tummy time is because it provides them with an opportunity to learn to move their body parts and discover where that takes them.  They discover that they can go onto their side, or onto their belly, and each position gives them a new perspective on the world around them. In a piece of baby gear such as exersaucer those discoveries are much more difficult and that is one reason why I do no recommend them.  Babies learn to move through their relationship to the floor.  By lifting heavy bones in a direction that brings them to lean more on the floor and they learn to master tummy time and the motor skill of lifting the head.  By pushing against the floor with their legs they learn to propel themselves forward in space, which is the motor skill of belly crawling.  By lifting one hip away from the floor the opposite one goes down toward the floor so they can lean on it and find themselves on their side, and eventually on their belly or back.  Movement exploration during floor time is key to motor skill development.


a baby holds a toy while rolling

My 6 month old doesn’t roll from her back to belly or her belly to back.  She does roll from her back to side.   She can’t get to her belly, and I think her arm may be in the way.  We were going to try this motor skill of rolling exercise but was told to wait and see if she can do it on her own but she still hasn’t, should I try to help her now?  From Lilly’s Mommy


Thanks, Lilly’s Mommy, for asking one of the most frequently asked questions by moms in my classes.  You observed your daughter very carefully and discovered that she is getting stuck in the movement from her side to her belly because her arm is in the way.  In the above exercise that you refer to, observe how the baby is holding a small toy.  She is holding a small toy that can not poke her in the eye.  This toy helps her arms to be in one of the useful positions for learning to roll.  The incorrect position of the arms for rolling is when baby is on her belly and the arms are straight out to the sides like an airplane where they can be bent backward as she rolls onto her back.  Please avoid this position of the arms.

If you try this baby exercise you may want to give her a soft toy to hold in her hands.  Roll her in very small increments.  Begin rolling her from her back to her side, where she is comfortable.  Then go a bit further, then a little bit further.  With each repetition you can increase the range of motion about 1/4 an inch.  This gives you the chance to make sure her arm is not in he way.  If you want to send a video to me I can be more specific about it, but I do not know exactly where her arm is getting stuck.  (Videos remain confidential.)  Or, you might try a virtual lesson with me.


Developmental play for babies is where parents and caregivers interact with babies in a manner that evokes the next developmental pattern.  For example, saying “Ba,Ba” and then pausing for baby to repeat after you eventually results in baby learning to say the sound “Ba!”.  Looking at a book with baby and pointing out the doggies and saying “dog,”  “dog,” and “dog” teaches her to say the word “dog” herself.  Soon, she will pick up the book and point to everything and say “dog.”  These are examples of baby play for speech development.

Movement developmental play is where you show baby how to improve a motor skill in a playful way.  For example, when baby is on her back, you can bend her legs and put her feet down on the floor so she can push and scoot backward.  This is the motor skill of scooting.  This movement is a fun surprise to her.  She did the movement, not you.  You just gave her the clue!  It is a fun game for her that develops her strength in her legs and the ability to push off of the floor.  This is developmental play through movement.  This is what we do in these lessons.


Through showing her with your hands where to move her baby arms when she rolls is developmental play.  To just keep her stuck and wait until she magically figures it out is to assume that all babies will  learn to roll, which is not true.  Many babies never roll, many babies never crawl, etc.  Or they reach a state of frustration before they learn the skill.  Sometimes a clue from us regarding the coordination of the movement is all that is needed.  It is to their advantage to learn these skills with ease and play.  Through our guidance they can master their motor skills with joy.   This ability to learn motor skills through ease and with coordination and skill develops a strong self-image.


four month old baby enjoys tummy time

Recently in class a mother of a 4 month old baby was talking about her living room space.  She and her husband enjoy watching sports on the weekend and  she was wondering where to put the baby while watching the games.  I asked her if she had some space on the floor.  I suggested she push the coffee table off to the side of the room to make an area for the baby to play.  I discussed choosing a quilt or a play mat to cover the area for baby.  The mother looked at me with a questioning face and said, “But iI feel bad putting her down like that.  Doesn’t she like sitting up better?”  I replied, “You might feel that way because we sit up all the time as adults.  Many adults are not comfortable on their tummies on the floor, so we fear babies are not either.  Your daughter will love floor time if she is comfortable and has some toys.  She will have a great time.”  The mother smiled and said “Oh.  That makes sense.”

During class we explored the motor skill of rolling.  The babies were guided from tummy time into a roll onto their backs.  Later they were guided from their backs onto their tummy.  The parents learned tips for motor skill development to practice at home such as bending and stretching baby’s legs, rubbing the abdomen, and rolling baby onto her side.  I explained the importance of floor time for baby to learn how to roll.  “In a sitting position it is almost impossible for the baby to learn how to roll because much less of her body is in contact with the ground.   She must learn how to shift her weight and move her arm or leg to take her onto her side and tummy/back,” I said.  The moms noticed how the babies enjoyed being moved from their backs to their sides and finally to their tummies, and then back to their backs again.

The following week at class the mother who asked questions about floor time was smiling when she arrived at class.  “Guess who has been enjoying floor time?!?  She is doing tummy time and rolling all over the place.  She loves it!”  The mother continued to explain that she and her husband were enjoying watching sports and keeping the baby near them on a play mat.  All seemed to be enjoying this family time!



 baby rolling with a rattle

One of the most popular questions asked by moms is “How does she learn where to put her arms when learning the motor skill of rolling?”  Recently a mom explained that her daughter sticks her arms straight out to the sides like an airplane and then cries when she rolls.  She asked, “How can I teach her to roll with her arms in a more comfortable place?”  We can learn from our stellar caterpillar Zizu how to master the milestone of rolling by coordinating the arms in a useful way.  


a baby demonstrates the motor milestone of tummy time

First, Zizu mastered the motor skill of lifting the head while in tummy time.  While practicing this skill she learned to bend her elbows and place her hands near her shoulders.  Soon she learned to play with a toy with both hands while in tummy time.  This teaches her to be comfortable with her hands in line with the middle of her body and teaches her to bend her elbows.  The more time she spent playing on her tummy with toys the more familiar she became with the ideal placement of her arms for rolling.  If baby likes to stiffen the arms straight out to the sides like an airplane, gently place the palms of her hands on the floor and slide them while making an interesting sound.  If you can bend her elbow as you move the hand that will be even better for her.  Soon she will figure out the advantage to having her hands on the floor.  She can push the floor and feel the power that it gives her.  This is an important connection for baby arms as it develops the necessary strength for crawling on the hands and knees.


baby holds rattle while in tummy time

Once baby has learned to keep her hands on the floor,  place them near her shoulders, and bend her elbows she is ready to learn the coordination of rolling.  If she holds a rattle while in tummy time you can observe if her elbows are under or in front of her shoulders.  This is important.  Zizu demonstrates this positon very clearly.  Then before you guide her into a roll, cross her arm even more toward the midline.  For example, if you want to roll her toward her right, move her right elbow and arm even more toward her center (in front of the center of her chest).  This puts it out of the way so she can put her head down easily and roll.

Read our post “How To Roll” to see a video of a baby guided through a roll.  In the video, once she rolls onto her stomach her arm stays in the correct position for rolling back onto her back so we do not need to move it in the video, but you can clearly see the placement.  Sometimes it helps if they hold a small rattle since it keeps their arms more toward the center.  Read our post “Motor Milestone of Rolling” to see a step-by-step photo sequence of rolling from the back to the tummy.  The photos show clear placement of the arms.  With a little practice she learns very easily how to move her arms out of her way so she can put her head down and roll.  Learning to coordinate the arms is an important development of a baby.