A Guided Tour Through the First Year of Movement Development

Climbing stairs, driving, playing sports, brushing teeth, maneuvering a sailboat, reading, and writing: we can move any which way we desire. That is, within the limitations of our ligaments, joints, arthritis…

But before we are able to move so freely, we build up each piece of movement separately as infants, albeit with much overlap. Let’s take a tour through the basic bits and pieces of typical post-womb development.

Imagine Baby Flora, we’ll call her. Just born, she may have some reflexive crawling-like, stepping capabilities, but really she is dependent on her grown-ups to move her from place to place.

Flora’s first movement happenings will foster development of her central core or axis, which is called “Spinal.” If you place her in tummy time, you may spot her actually with her tail in the air; and later with her tummy down. Watch her wriggling through her spine, head-nudging (the floor or you), and revving up her “head-to-tail” engine. Then, the first milestone of locomotion (moving in space) is rolling: firstly, turning her head toward and away from the breast if she’s nursed; secondly rolling from front to back and back to front. Rolling will re-appear often within the first-year sequence; but this beginning rolling establishes Flora’s sense of core.

Once she has laid the tracks in her neuro-muscular system for a spinal axis, Baby Flora will move on to the empowering discovery of Upper-Lower, or “Homologous.” Think frog. This stage builds coordination of the upper body and lower body. That is, the arms will do the same thing (symmetrical), as will the legs. Flora now figures out how to lift her head by pushing up on both of her forearms; and eventually higher up onto her hands. She may also use both feet together—kicking and pushing. This stage establishes the upper body as separate from the lower body. Separate—but working in conjunction with each other.

Having established a powerful and stable basis of Upper-Lower, Flora can now explore going off center. This will happen in the Side-Side pattern called “Homolateral.” Watch how Flora, after having learned to push upwards on her hands/arms, sees something she wants and—rather than moving toward it—pushes herself backwards! Oh so frustrating! That frustration will serve as motivation (if she needs to cry-in-arms or is ‘done,’ that is different). See if, when she pushes backwards, she sidebends while doing so. This is because she’s starting to shift her weight side to side.

Then watch how Flora might support herself on her right forearm, with her left knee bent up and playing with her left hand. This means that she has indeed shifted her weight over to one side of herself: one side becomes stable and one side becomes mobile. Babies must learn how to maneuver their weight around down on the ground before they can learn to sit up and walk on two feet! From here, belly crawling forward can develop, as well as coming to sitting. This is a very, very, very beneficial stage!! More on that in a future post.

Let’s pause here in our tour. So far, we have the most basic ground-level pieces of movement. 

We’ve got Upper-Lower 

and Side-Side. 

If we combine these drawings (that is, movement possibilities) on top of each other, we have quadrants.

Hey, this means Flora can go diagonally! Remember her spinal axis, and her options for moving about in the world are just about to explode!

Let’s resume our journey.

With the great foundation of the Upper-Lower and Side-Side patterns that Flora has laid, she can now explore those diagonal movements. That is, crossing opposite sides or “Contralateral.” As Flora now crawls on her hands and knees, observe how the movement sequences through her body from one arm to her opposite leg. She reaches forward with her left arm, and in comes her right knee. This Contralateral pattern mixes up Upper-Lower and Side-Side. It establishes a crossing of midline and one diagonal as separate from the other (but working in tandem).

Think of all the criss-crossing amongst her brain halves while her Contralateral movement happens. Reflexes are integrating, hand-eye coordination continues to refine. This, my friends, will play a huge role in preparation for kindergarten! Crawling is absolutely an important stage! And such excellent preparation for walking—she needs to crawl for as long as possible to prepare her hips, lower back, balance, and coordination for being upright.

You will see these phases of movement—Spinal, Homologous (Upper-Lower), Homolateral (Side-Side), and Contralateral—repeat as Baby Flora traverses through level changes. Remember how, early on while on the floor on her belly, she homologously pushed up onto both of her forearms to lift her head? When she learns how to get herself into sitting, she will be able to reach homologously forward with both arms to go into hands-&-knees crawling. She will learn to kneel-sit (on both forelegs–there’s homologous). Even later, she will homologously squat and come up to standing on both legs. You’ll see her cruising sideways—that’s Homolateral—and, once she takes off hands-free, perhaps toddling like a penguin. Intermingled will be some Contralateral exploration of how her feet can alternate and move forward; and of course she will have been contralaterally climbing your stairs!

So be on the lookout! The next time your baby (or someone else’s at the farmer’s market) makes a move—any move—wonder what her innate developmental programming is really up to under the guise of innocent child’s play.

Eliza graduated as a Certified Practitioner from the School for Body-Mind Centering®.

© Elizabeth Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

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