A baby moves a hand to its mouth, the muscles contract, the head wobbles. For this, its muscles must collaborate, which is called coordination. It seems so natural. As adults, when we put food in our mouths, we do this automatically. However, coordination does no come so naturally, and only develops with a lot of practice. This means that repetition of coordinated movements is necessary – in this case navigating the hand towards the mouth. Babies practice with arbitrary, crisscross movements, until they succeed.
Movements in the womb
As long as a baby is inside it’s mother’s belly, its movements are carried by the amniotic fluid, which makes them light. The child almost floats through the water. After birth, the child feels gravity for the first time, pulling it towards the earth. All movements suddenly become much heavier.
From the beginning, gravity helps the baby in finding its direction. Researchers once explored what happened with babies when they put weights on one of their arms. Babies appear to be able to adapt their coordination quickly. This is a very good mechanism, since babies grow continuously, and their limbs continue to get heavier and heavier.
From reflexes to direction
Movement is an action of the muscles: the arm muscles respond to a signal from the brain: “Up!”. At the same time, the arm sends signals back to the brain; it feels where it is and reports back, so the brain can give a new order: “A little further, stop, we’re almost there!”. The clearer this information exchange, the faster a baby learns how to move directed.
A baby starts with movements that are almost compulsive, like bending and extending. These are reflexes and are necessary in the beginning. With these reflexes, children can discover the movements while doing them, and give them more and more direction. Slowly, the reflexes will be integrated in the baby’s movements, leading to more direction. This direction of the movements is the start of coordination.
Being bored, testing, continuing or quitting
A baby who vary its movements and actions activates more brain cells and makes more connections between brain cells. The number of different movements a baby makes is thus a measurement for brain growth. Children who are bored did not yet discover that they can vary in their movements, their playing. They basically quitted the game of testing and exploring and cannot find new ways or forms.
Why do some children continue endlessly with discovering and experimenting, while other children quit after a couple of attempts because they are satisfied or frustrated? What do you think plays a role?