Category Archives: ROLLING

tips for baby motor skill development: rolling


YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image


The motor milestone of rolling is a significant event for baby because it is usually the first skill of locomotion achieved.  These skills enable baby to move from one place in the room to another all on her own for the very first time.  She can now travel across the floor to reach her favorite toy by rolling.  This sequence of rolls  one after another is referred to as “log rolling.”  Some babies learn to roll from their back to their tummy or from their tummy to their back but do not learn to roll across a room.  It is a higher level of skill development to learn the motor skill of log rolling.  It provides beneficial baby exercise and vestibular stimulation.  It also fosters independence and confidence.


Observe the babies in the above videos from youtube as two examples of log rolling.  The first video is from  jlr2b’s youtube channel and the second video is from VickiEllenWilson’s youtube channel.  Each of these two babies organizes the motor skill of rolling differently.  What do I mean by “organizes the motor skill?” The term “organizes” refers to the sequencing of body parts in the execution of a movement.  In other words, what body parts moves first, which one second  third, etc.  It is an aspect of the coordination of the movement.  The two babies in the above videos may soon discover other patterns of coordination for the skill of rolling  or they may stick to the pattern that is comfortable and successful.  After all, they are traveling around the room on their own now!  Parents (and grandparents) of both babies should be very proud!  Let’s examine their patterns.

The baby girl in the first video rolls from her back to her tummy by moving both of her legs to the left.  She lifts both legs up into the air and then takes them over to the left. Once they touch the floor the rest of her body rolls.  Next, she rolls from her tummy to her back by putting her right shoulder down followed by moving her head to the right which rolls her onto her back.  The baby boy in the second video demonstrates how the weight of the head can initiate a movement.  When he is on his tummy he lifts his head very high, tilts his head to the left, and the weight of his head takes him into a roll onto his back.  From his back he initiates rolling onto his tummy by moving his chest.  He is very confident in his skill and travels around the room exploring Grandma’s feet, a pair of shoes, and a pile of papers.


One of the most important benefits baby receives from the motor milestone of log rolling is the confidence to travel and explore the world around her.  She becomes more independent as she no longer needs mom to bring toys to her. TIn the development of a baby, this is an emotional milestone as well as a physical one.  Baby is so proud when she can travel across the room and reach her favorite toy all on her own!  Soon, she learns she can repeat the skill whenever she desires.


a baby rolls from her back to her tummy


One of the early motor skills baby learns is rolling.  This skill can be discussed by breaking it down into moving from the back to the belly, from the belly to the back, and the connection of those two into one full log roll all the way around to the starting position.  For this post, we will look at the movement from the back to the belly.  There are a few ways to initiate every skill, and we are examining the various possibilities for initiating this new skill.


When asking the question, “How can I teach baby to roll,” consider observing how babies begin the movement.  One of the popular ways that a baby begins to roll is bending up one leg toward his chest and then moving it to the side.  The leg is connected to the pelvis at the hip joint, which is one of the heaviest bones in the body.  As the leg moves far enough out to the side, the pelvis tilts and soon the weight of the pelvis takes baby onto her side and into the motor skill of rolling.  (See photo above.)  Baby learns this skill as she is lying on the floor kicking and moving her legs around.  The movement is just an exploration, an improvisation, and suddenly she moves one leg far enough to the side that she is pulled onto her stomach.  It was an accident! She was not intending to roll, it just happened.  What a wonderful discovery for her.  She figures out how to repeat it many times so it becomes an skill and not just an accident.


Mastering the motor skill of grasping and reaching is integral to the motor skill development of rolling.  Often the roll is initiated by a reaching action.  That is a reaching action with the intention to grasp something, usually a toy.  The arm is connected to the torso or ribcage at the shoulder joint.  When baby reaches her arm across her body, the ribcage begins to move and she tips into the beginning of a roll.  Often the arm and the leg on the same side of the body will move a the same time and in the same direction to facilitate the baby turning onto her tummy.  Some babies develop a habit of quickly pulling their arm back to the side when they begin to move because they are a bit startled.  When they pull the arm quickly back to their side they roll back onto their back.  The pulling action of the arm backward pushes the ribcage backward and baby rolls onto her back again.  By placing a toy nearby, baby now has an intention to grasp something and is less likely to pull the arm backward.  Providing the motivation for the action is always key.  She wants that toy!


Another possible initiation of the skill of rolling occurs when baby is on her back and someone is sitting up above her head.  In order to see them, she rolls her head to one side and then looks up a bit toward the person.  This action shifts her weight just enough in her torso that she can roll onto her side from here quite easily.  This movement of initiating the roll with her head often involves the action of reaching as well.  This pattern often evolves out of baby’s curiosity to see something that is located behind her.  Read more on the skill of rolling by clicking on one of our posts below:



a five-month old baby enjoys tummy time

a five month old baby learn to roll onto her tummy for tummy-time


Mastering tummy-time is a significant developmental milestone for baby.  Several skills are acquired during this playtime with her belly on the floor. Lifting the head strengthens neck and back muscles for posture, pressing down with her hands develops a strong upper body for crawling, and stretching the trunk and hip muscles prepare her alignment for standing upright.  To guide her from the position of tummy-time to the motor skill of rolling, gently lift one side of her pelvis a little while you bend up the knee of the same side.  Turn her slowly onto her back while you guide her with your hands on her leg and hip.  Your hands show her where she needs to move her body parts to turn herself.  Soon, she will do this on her own.


After studying Stellar Caterpillar Tummy-Time Tips,  guide baby into some daily play time on her belly.  With a few interesting toys within her reach and your supportive instruction, she will gain both comfort and strength while on her belly.  She will learn to enjoy this position.  Soon, she should learn how to transition herself into and out of tummy-time.  Babies are most confident and independent when they can get places on their own.  This means they have the skill of getting in and out of tummy-time, sitting, crawling, standing, and any position of rest or play.  They learn to go from a stationery position to a movement of locomotion.  For example, in the above photos Donna guides five-month-old Zizu from tummy time into a roll.  Soon, Zizu will learn to play on her tummy and them roll across the floor to a new location.

A FEW transitions to/from positions FOR baby:

  • Rolling to Tummy-Time/Tummy-Time to Rolling
  • Rolling to Sitting/Sitting to Rolling
  • Crawling to Sitting/Sitting to Crawling
  • Crawling to Standing/Standing to Crawling


Learn to put baby down on the floor (on her back) and and observe how she transitions into the movement she would like to do.  Even if she has learned to stand and side-cruise, occasionally put her down  on the floor and see how she moves herself from her back into the standing position.  If she loves to be on her tummy, how does she roll there?  If she is enjoying sitting, put her on the floor on her back and see how she rolls and comes to sit.  Independence means the ability to move in and out of these positions.  When a toddler has gone through all of her milestones in a skillful way, you can put her down on the floor on her back and observe how she gets up.  She will roll to sit to crawl to stand to walk all in a few quick seconds.  It is the developmental sequence right before your eyes!


Donna Eshelman uses hands to show baby how to move her hips.

A Stellar Caterpillar instructor shows baby how to feel her leg initiate a roll.

Question from a reader:  My baby learned how to roll from her back to her tummy.  Do you have any tips on how to guide her from her tummy to her back?

Stellar Caterpillar:  Every movement skill begins with proprioception of the body parts that generate the movement.  In the motor skill of rolling, the leg and pelvis are the initiators of the movement.  The pelvis is a large bone that connects to the spine, so when it begins to roll it takes the torso, arms, and head with it.  In the top photo, Donna is showing Zizu how she can move her pelvis right and left, in rotation.  This is the movement that ultimately rolls baby from the tummy to the back.  By placing hands firmly on the hip joints, the place where the thigh meets the pelvis, baby increases her awareness of that area.  When she feels those bones more clearly she can move them more easily.  In the bottom photo, Donna shows Zizu how the leg initiates the rotation of the pelvis.  As baby learns to bend her leg up and in toward her hip, the pelvis will begin to rotate and she will roll onto her back.



Alicia manages to roll from her back to her stomach quite successfully most of the time.  But sometimes she finds herself rolling onto her side and not quite able to make it all the way onto her stomach.  She sees a toy, wants to grab it, rolls onto her side, and then flops back onto her back.  As I closely observe these moments I notice that when she takes her right leg and arm toward the left, she rolls onto her left side, and then she takes her right arm backward.  When she takes her arm backward it stops her from continuing to roll forward onto her stomach!  She is stuck on her side!  There is the rattle in front of her and she can not reach it because her arm is now moving away from it and preventing her from shifting her weight forward enough that she continues onto her stomach.  Her arm is not cooperating with rest of her body in this movement of rolling.


While lying on her back, Alea started playing with her foot.  She reached both of her hands and grabbed her right foot.  She smiled proudly.  “I’m very impressed!  Look at how well you can hold your foot,” I told her.  Knowing that the contact of the hand to the foot is a very important developmental connection, I wanted to use it in some baby play with Alicia.  I took my hands and held her hand to her foot while rolling to the right and left.  I thought she might enjoy the feeling of the movement.  I also knew that her spine is more rounded and rolls more easily while holding her foot.  This movement also teaches her brain to take the arm with her as she rolls to the side. She clearly enjoyed the feeling.  We switched her legs so next she held her left foot with both hands while rolling side to side.  After a few minutes of this game I let her have a rest.  Soon she spotted her favorite rattle on the floor next to her and took her right arm and leg across her center and rolled successfully onto her stomach while grabbing the rattle with the right arm.  Her brain learned to take the arm with her in the gross motor skill of rolling!


Just to make sure it was not a coincidence, I put her on her back again with the rattle to her side.  She rolled perfectly onto her stomach while grabbing the rattle again with her right hand.  Playfully rolling Alicia from side to side while her hands were holding her foot taught her brain to take her arm with her when she rolls.  We repeated the motor skill of rolling a few times while her proud grandparents smiled at the success she was now experiencing.  They observed, “She is now so pleased with herself.  Look at her smile!”  And, smiling she was as she listened to the bell while playing with her toy.


baby is on her back while teacher bends her knees to her chest

First I bend my knees to become round like a ball...

baby rolls onto her side where she feels her elbow touch the floor

Then I roll onto my side and feel the support of my elbow...

baby rolls onto her hip joints to transition to a sitting position

Next I feel how I can move my hip joints as I push with my elbow and hand... I am...sitting up!

baby learns motor milestone development of transitioning from sitting to rolling

Now, my teacher shows me that I need to know how to reverse myself and go back down on the floor. This is so I can move in and out of the sitting position on my own.

baby rolls onto her back from the sitting position is her motor milestone development

Wow, here I am on my back again!


In the above photo essay, a seven month old baby learns how to get into and out of the sitting position on her own.  It is important that babies have the independence to move in and out of positons.  This means that the gross motor skill of rolling to sit and should also be the skill of sitting to rolling.  In Stellar Caterpillar lessons, I often observe babies that are put into the sitting position and then are stuck there.  They did not get there on their own so they are “stuck.”  They can not move.  They are in a static positon.  We want to encourage independence which emerges from the ability to direct oneself in movement, to decide to go somewhere else and be able to do so.


Babies who receive Stellar Caterpillar  lessons and/or classes become very independent and self-directed.  They follow their inner curiosity with their body movement.  If they see something across the room that intrigues them, then they can roll from the sitting positon down onto the floor and crawl over and explore what it is.  Another example of skill reversability is the gross motor skill of sitting to stand and standing to sit.  The baby put in the standing position while being held up by her parent is not able to follow what her wants to do with his movement.  He has no choice.  The baby who learns to stand up from a crawling or sitting position and then to reverse herself back down to the crawling positon can see something an interesting toy on the floor and easily sit back down to play with it.


We have written several posts on the baby milestone of sitting.  Why is sitting important?  Because it frees the arms and hands to explore.  Just remember that sitting is either a postion or a transition.  A postion is a static posture (i.e., for playing with a toy) and a transition is a movement. Many parents think of it as a positon only.  Once the baby is independently walking you will observe her go from lying on her back to rolling, passing through sitting, coming to stand, and then walking.  All of this will happend seamlessly in a few seconds if she has mastered the Top 10 Stellar Caterpillar Motor Milestones.  To develop the transition of sitting is to give your child many choices in movement and freedom of playful exploration, and every parent wants that for his/her baby!