The Incredible Flailing Munchkin! – Exploring Motor Development of Infants

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Are you constantly having to engage your cat like reflexes and acrobat style wrangling moves with your spaz-tastic little one?

My 5-month-old is the most flail-ey little human ever! She throws her body every which way and flaps her arms and legs all over the place. She’s seriously uncoordinated but you can tell it’s development at play when she fumbles to grab the toys I put in front of her.

If you’ve kept up with any of those apps or websites that give you a look into your developing baby, you know that the first year is chock-full of amazing milestones and learning experiences for your little one. They grow and develop at lightning speed! And you can’t quite keep up sometimes!

One minute they are content and cooing in their bouncy seat, the next they are attempting to roll out of it!

So what all is at play here?

Well according to those who study motor development, it’s a smorgasbord (fun word!) of various factors that help the little ones become the rambunctious balls of energy you find yourself chasing all over the place.

The brain, nervous system, body, and environment are all at play when your little munchkin moves.

Currently, a new skill for my munchkin is moving an object to her mouth. This skill alone is comprised of an innate reflex called (super technical term coming up) Hand-Mouth reflex. The environment will trigger this reflex and she will, in turn, build stronger associations with cause and effect as it keeps happening.

A toy in her palm (environment) may trigger the reflex, causing her to bring it to her mouth where she wants it. Now she is learning that she can manipulate the toy into her mouth with the help of the reflex.

But notice when babies are learning these new skills they are super uncoordinated and fumble a lot? Well not only is that a body thing as their muscles and strength are still developing, but so is their brain.

As the baby repeats this movement over and over the neural passageways develop stronger connections making the motion easier over time.

Think of it like this. You find a trail in your favorite wooded park, but it’s a very rough trail with lots of overgrowths. Well, every time you take that trail it’ll get easier to walk as the path clears. Soon it’ll be a clean trail because it’s been walked so much.

Every time your baby does something new, the path gets stronger (more clear, easier to walk) until it becomes automatic. Side note – this also makes habits very hard to break. You have to consciously make new decisions and actions that your brain isn’t used to.

A “Window of Opportunity”

One very interesting finding by those researching brain development is there is a “window of opportunity” for children to optimize their motor development potential. An article from states that between the prenatal period to about age five a healthy foundation is built in the motor control parts of the brain when a child has a rich environment to be physically active in.

This foundation is to help build up more advanced and complex motor skills later, like becoming a black belt in martial arts or learning the guitar.

So what can you do to help your child optimize their motor abilities?

The first step to optimizing your child’s motor skill potential is to help engage their senses with movement.

Movement activities that have a visual component in particular, like catching and striking, help to build this foundation and strengthen pathways.

In addition, engage them in activities that include posture control (sitting up, balancing), coordination (dancing), and locomotion (crawling, walking). Include music to enhance the experience and make brain building even more enjoyable.

So when I dance with my infant to her Baby Einstein classical music toy I’m doing it in the name of science!!

For a list of recommended activities based on age check out the article here.

So as you’re going about your day with your little one make sure they are getting plenty of time to flail and wiggle! And don’t forget to dance!!

May your munchkins musical preferences be like yours, your tunes be righteous, and may God bless your journey.

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