I think one thing parents should be very aware of is how the development of movement takes place. Movement of the ages before birth to age three is especially tied to relationships with other human beings. I love how Rahima Baldwin Dancy writes about this time period:
This change in consciousness from infancy to three years involves waking up, in the sense that the participatory consciousness of the newborn gradually becomes replaced by a strong sense of self (just try opposing the will of a two-year-old!). Before this strong sense of I can emerge, the child must first develop language, thinking and memory.
Penetration of the body, which culminates in walking, is a fundamental task of the baby’s first year. Talking is a key task of the second year. And thinking and memory are areas of tremendous development in the third year. -You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, page 67.
If we think about this from a sheer physical, materialistic perspective, the brain starts to develop around the third week of gestation and continues to develop throughout the lifespan of the human being. By age 6, the brain has about 90 percent of its adult volume. The characteristic gyri and sulci of the brain develop between the weeks of gestational week eight and gestational week 36, with some development extending into the post-natal period. The human brain is an unfinished organ, and Rudolf Steiner saw this and wrote about it — quite a remarkable idea for the early twentieth century, especially considering that the decade of the 1990’s was the decade labeled the “decade of the brain”. What Steiner added to this thought about the unfinished brain being influenced and developed by movement and the development of the senses was that the soul and spirit within our bodies works on the brain itself, and that the environment works on our internal organs. The limbs and dexterity of the limbs has much to do with the health of the child in the physical, social, emotional and intellectual realms.
If one talks to pediatric therapists, they can outline a pretty set standard of physical development that they learned in school. Not every child will go through this path of development, but the pieces children do accomplish is beneficial. Every self-initiated movement and accomplishment not only brings development of the body and the brain, but develops the will of the child and his or her own satisfaction.
The quality of movement is most important, and the physical path typically looks something like this, (as an example we will use the progression of an infant who is on his or her back):
When the infant is on his or her back (supine):
- First the infant lays with the head rotated to one side and lots of random arm and leg stretching, displays a “curled – up” position from being inside the womb
- Second, the infant displays increased head rotation toward the midline, random arm and leg movements, and less flexion of the limbs as development unfolds
- Third, the infant shows weight distributed more symmetrically on the head and trunk, the head held in midline, bilateral kicking, moving arms but not able to get them to midline yet
- Fourth, the infant can hold the head in midline with the chin tucked, can bring hands to midline,
- Next the infant can flex the knees using very active abdominal muscles and can bring the hands to the knees; may fall to side by lifting legs
- Next the infant can put weight on one side of body whilst laying on his or her back and push into an extended position with one or both legs, (usually one side of the buttocks remains on the floor and the infant is just playing with shifting the weight in this position)
- Soon we can see the infant able to bring the hands to the feet with active abdominal muscles
- and finally, the infant can rolling onto stomach first without rotation of the spine and then with rotation of the spine
We can go through a progression like this with the infant laying on his or her stomach, in sitting and in standing until we progress to walking.
The thing that strikes me in looking at all of these positions and developmental sequences is that the concept of the head gaining enough stability to be held in midline with the arms and legs moving around the head is clearly seen. The head rides almost silently atop the neck whilst the arms and legs. The basis of balance and postural reactions is to right the head, and the arms and the legs give us spatial awareness; it gives us “body geography”, and the development of this spatial awareness leads to the attention span of the child. Children move, then they focus on something, they move and then they focus. This is how the children develop through movement.