The Rant: Development of The Whole Child, Part One

(I encourage you to read the really thought-provoking comments on this post!- Carrie)

My basic premise this week is that not only is childhood under assault, but childhood development is not understood in North America, and unfortunately not even well understood by many parents or even the professionals who work with children.

Movement is a foundation for all learning.The first key aspect to understanding childhood development is to know and understand that the child is not an object to be acted upon,  but that the child is a unique person whom we approach with love and understanding.

Too many times in our society we treat the infant as an object to be fed at “x” number of hours, an object that should be sleeping through the night, an object for us to do something to and put down.  If the child is a person as I have posited above,  then we are not here to parent to “do something” to that child.  The infant, for example, is not an object to just feed or diaper.  At the heart of infant care (and at the heart of  being with children of any age) is connection and cue-based interactions.  The child is shaped by the impressions it takes in of its environment.  The brain is developing throughout the lifetime.

A loving relationship with a primary caregiver is a  force in helping the child’s development unfold.  Connection is a primary motivating force for an infant in movement.  We have all seen the studies regarding infants who are in an orphanage and are never touched; they don’t thrive.

If connection is a necessity and it is  foundational  to movement, then cue-based interaction gives validity to the infant as a person.  If I am in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and an infant is unstable physiologically, that baby is telling me with all it has that now is not the time to interact or play or even change a diaper (unless the diaper that is causing the physiologic instability).  As part of developmentally-based care, we honor that.  So at the heart of any interaction with children, or own or someone else’s child, we need to connect and observe.  We must be attentive and perceptive.

This is something I feel many people who work with children are poor at doing.  There are many expectations placed on children these days, especially in a school setting for preschool, kindergarten and older children.   I think many times professionals are not only not looking at the child in front of them, but are also not questioning the (unrealistic) expectations  that has been demanded from a governmental body or by our own mis-perception as a society.  We are encouraged by society to see our children as small adults, and to move them as quickly through childhood as possible.

But back to the infant — how hard that baby works to develop!  From  having such poor vision and really relying on the sense of  smell and touch, the proprioceptive sense,  the sense of balance becomes more and more developed as the infant works up and down, front to back, left to right through a specific developmental sequence.   Every movement is in one of these planes and is  a sensory-motor experience for the child.  In other words, the integration of sensory input is essential to normal motor movement. 

There is always an individual footprint in movement.  Try laying down on your back and seeing how many different ways you can initiate rolling to your side.  So there is individuality  to movement and movement transitions, but there is also a more universal developmental sequence observed.  And no, not every baby or child goes through this specific sequence, but many do, and the children who come to us with special and wonderful gifts often can still benefit from the parts of this developmental sequence they can attain.

In order for children to develop as fully as possible, we must not deprive them of this developmental sequence by excessively using baby carriers, baby Johnny jump-ups, baby seats and the like.  We can think of children who have severe movement impairments where the receptors for touch decrease rapidly and the central nervous system then does not receive the same input as children who are moving; we should not be creating this in our small children of our own accord.

Infants need to be held and touched and spoken and sung to.  They need their cries responded to promptly.  What we hear about “stimulating the infant” for growth and development this is not done through the use of plastic toys or a screen or seats or carriers, but using soft voices, touch and love during normal caregiving activities.  The baby must have time on you, the mother, the baby’s natural habitat,  in a horizontal position and in later months, to work in safety on the floor. Infants also need time to work at lifting their head, work at moving their arms and legs when being on their back, work on finding their feet, work on rolling. You can read an interesting article about sixty years of study done by the  Pikler Institute in Budapest, Hungary, utilizing an approach that leaves infants in the horizontal position until the infant him or herself achieves something different:

More development up next!  The quiet, still head and why you should know about it, and  more!


15 thoughts on “The Rant: Development of The Whole Child, Part One

  1. This series is coming at a wonderful time for us. We had applied and been offered a place for my daughter at a Steiner school for preschool next year. But, it is an hour commute away (so 2 hours driving for her and four hours total for her brother and I) and we made the decision that time spent at home rather than in the car is more important to us and developmentally appropriate for her at 3 and her brother at 18 months. But, I really want to capture the calmness and respect for the child that I witnessed there and at other Steiner schools we have visited in the past. As you have said in the past I think self work is one of the best ways I can be in the right place to meet her needs, which at 3 sometimes feel intensely demanding.

  2. Hi Carrie,

    Great post! I am so grateful that we have people like you to get this information out there.
    Anyhow, I met you at the conference in Atlanta and we talked briefly about abnormal crawl patterns and potential learning disabilities later in life. I was hoping you could email me more information.
    Much love and blessings,
    Karen B

    • You should look up Brain Highways. My daughter completed their program and basically re-wired her brain using primitive crawling patterns done in infancy. It’s very fascinating.

  3. I really resonate with this. Many PT’s seem to do their best with my son, but they are utilizing a mindset and expectation standard that are unhelpful, unrealistic, and discouraging. He is still very much like a baby, and skin to skin contact and eye contact literally charge him up. I find so much solace in your words and am forwarding to a friend who will be welcoming her first baby in February.

    • Solrevel,
      I have issues with many of the therapists in my professional who deal with children – I don’t like therapist that are syrupy sweet and inauthentic in their attitude toward children. There was a story I almost put in this post, about the little boy that no one but me wanted to work with because he was profoundly challenged and didn’t seem to have use of anything – almost a prisoner in his body. Yet, he had one eye that worked wonderfully and a wonderful mother who was caring. I loved working with that little boy, and felt that with technology advancing there would be things he could do to open his world with that eye.
      Therapy should be cue-based, family-based and full of love. These children are not here for us to “fix” them. These children are here for us to love, to learn from, and to help them live lives within their families and communities that are as functional as possible and prevent further problems as an adult down the road in terms of deformities or secondary problems. A wonderful therapist can be a treasure to find!
      I wish more were trained in a manner based on Rudolf STeiner’s picture of the child. It would help.
      Blessings, sorry for another rant,

  4. Fascinating!! There is so much I wish I had known before having my children. And I wonder if carrying them in the sling too much inhibited their motor development. They both have low muscle tone, neither crawled (both scooted) and, by US standards, walked late (15 and 17 months). The younger one still has issues with balance and large-motor coordination. Standing upright just seems to tire her. Thank you for the insight!

    • Terri –
      That is something I debate in my head a lot. I am a huge proponent of baby wearing, just huge. And we see this in many cultures around the world as well; there are places where children’s feet don’t touch the ground until they turn one years of age. The Pikler Institute, borne out of WWII Europe, has that flavor to it, to me, yet,they see remarkable motor development results that are hard to ignore.
      Just a source of pondering, I guess.

  5. It’s always been my understanding from the research that time in a baby carrier is the save developmentally as time on the belly, and that it is not negatively affecting children. Do you have other resources that suggest otherwise?

    • Connie
      This probably should be an entire separate post, but I wanted to quickly say I love babywearing and am a babywearing advocate. I wore all of my children, and as an attached parent I think it is wonderful way to promote bonding and care for older siblings whilst keeping a younger child in a mode of observation of the family.
      With my hat as a professional on, I am going to venture to say a few things. Most of the studies you will find deal with hip issues in improper carrying position. I am sure you are also aware of many of the issues putting infants in a baby carrier facing outward with arms and legs dangling. These risks are fairly well documented.

      I do feel a baby carrier, though, in some ways is different than being held, for example, face up on a parent’s knee. There is, for example, far more face to face visual stimulation and imitation of facial expression, far more wiggling in free space of the limbs if the infants head and trunk are supported in midline with the body in supine. If an infant is in the floor in supine, there will be far more antigravity attempts of the limbs than in a sling or carrier. There is also the question of placing infants in a carrier in an upright position when they have not achieved this position alone yet – many cultures do it, and again, I am a babywearing proponent, but I think these are two different things.

      The point of this post was to look at how we can encourage active anti-gravity movement that the infant does him or herself. I think there is a HUGE place and wonderful benefits to baby wearing, but there is also a major point to letting infants experiment with movement on their own. If you read the article link to the Pikler facility, you will notice the rates of walking are noticeably later, for example, but the rates of motor delay seem to far less than what we are experiencing here. Granted, this is small population in a controlled environment, but it is interesting nonetheless.

      I hope that helps? I am happy to go through any position an infant would attain from birth to twelve months and talk about how that would be different on the floor or even in a caregiver’s lap as opposed to a sling or carrier. And again, please let me make it crystal clear that I am proponent for baby wearing for making the infant and child an observer (and not the center of ) the household environment and routine — but there may also very much be a place for the active movement I am talking about.


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