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Tummy Time and Handwriting

Newborn Development Services on Long Island

The day you bring your newborn home from the hospital, you are overwhelmed with emotions. They appear so fragile and delicate. This is the moment when your life, and all the decisions you make, has changed forever. You now have this amazing baby for whom you will need to care. From feedings, dirty diapers, dressing and soothing their discomforts, parents are automatically inclined to do all of the above. But, what most parents fear, and tend to forget about, is giving their newborns "tummy time." This early development activity is significant for so many reasons; it helps children develop head control, spinal musculature, arm strength and sensory development, and reduces the risk of SIDS. All of these are so important for the achievement of the many developmental milestones that are to come in the next months.

newborn development services

Why Baby Strength Exercises are Important

What parents may not realize is, in order to have refined control of our hands, we must have good control of the larger muscle groups (torso and shoulders). This is evident in typical development when a child is only able to swat without graded movements before they can successfully swat or grasp in supported sitting or on their backs. Once they are able to sit unsupported, their reaching and grasping tends to be close to the body. As their postural control improves, they are able to grasp and maneuver toys further from their bodies. Before you know it, they are able to pick up the tiniest object off the floor. This should not be misinterpreted. If a child has poor postural control and delayed fine motor abilities, this does not mean that you cannot address shoulder, arm and hand strength until the child has the postural control. But this is why it is so important to build up all of those muscles and to begin very early on in your baby's life. Tummy time enables a child to build up shoulder and arm strength, which is the foundation for later crawling and fine motor manipulation, including handwriting. Yes that is right, tummy time is so important for the development of handwriting skills. A child with weak shoulders will have weak wrists and fingers, making handwriting challenging and fatiguing.

Baby Physical Development Activities

We are not recommending that you place your newborn on their tummy for 30 minutes and walk away. Always supervise when they are this young and weak. You will see, as time progresses, they will be able to tolerate more with better control. Before you know it, they will begin to push up on their forearms. To modify this activity, place them over a small Boppy or over your leg to promote bearing weight through their arms. Some babies may detest being on their tummies. This does not mean you should stop. Grade it to what you and your infant can tolerate. Place toys in front of them to gain their attention and motivation. As they get stronger, they will start to grasp and manipulate toys in this position. Your baby will then be able to push up on all fours and play in this position. They may crawl. However, some babies bypass crawling all together and go straight to walking. Crawling is an overall strengthening exercise and helps build up arm strength. So, for babies who don't crawl, emphasize playing on all fours, laying over your leg while bearing weight on one arm while reaching for a toy with the other, stuffing a tunnel with pillows and having them crawl over them, and wheel barrel walking.

newborn development services

Wheel Barrel Walking

Wheel barrel walking is exactly what it sounds like. Have your child bear weight on both arms and support them on their pelvis removing their lower body off the floor. You want them to walk on their arms. You may have to guide them by moving their arms for them the first few times. Once your child has the idea and you feel that they are breezing through it, you can lower your support to their thighs and then just above their ankles. The further away your hands are from their torso, the harder it is. For weaker children you may have to support them higher up on their torso. This is a fun activity that you can do with them as they get older. You can set up an activity, i.e. place a puzzle at one end of the room and place the pieces at the other end. Wheel barrel walk them to one end, have them retrieve a piece and place it in their pocket or you can hold it while they wheel barrel walk to the puzzle and place it in. Be creative, you can do this with almost any activity and you can make it more challenging by having them wheel barrel over pillows or couch cushions.

All of these activities will assist your child in developing strong shoulder, arm, wrist and hand muscles to enable successful fine motor manipulation, including handwriting. So get your child ready for kindergarten by starting early. Whether you've discovered a physical concern at a young age, or think your older child may not have received sufficient tummy time, our Long Island-based early development center can provide the physical therapy services, activities and exercises necessary to ensure your child is able to keep up with his or her peers.


Great Activities to Promote Shoulder, Arm and Hand Strength

  • Place them on their tummies on a ball and have them walk off using their arms while you hold their feet.
  • Walking the family pet.
  • Have them lie over a ball, putting weight on one arm while doing an activity on the floor with the other.
  • Roll out a big piece of paper on the floor and have them lie on their tummies to color or paint.
  • Hold toys just slightly out of the child's reach, so they have to extend their arms up to grasp.
  • Have them push toy cars while on their hands and knees.
  • Color, paint, magnets, stickers, shaving cream, water and paintbrushes can be used on an easel.
  • Draw a road on a piece of paper and have them move their toy cars on the easel. If you don't have an easel use your refrigerator.
  • Give them a paintbrush and water and have them paint your fence or house outside.
  • Window markers.
  • Tape a piece of paper under a child-sized table and have them lie on their backs to draw in this position.
  • Instead of handing your child toys, give them resistance and tell them to pull the toy.
  • Tearing paper and crumpling paper into small pieces.
  • Manipulating small objects like glue-ing confetti to paper or peeling small stickers.
  • Playdoh activities with cookie cut-ters, rolling pins, scissors, and plas-tic knifes.
  • Roll the playdoh into balls, press it down with fingers, pull it apart, or hide objects in it to have child open it up to pull the object out.
  • Have them put coins into a piggy bank or other coin a slot.
  • Manipulating fingers and hands (i.e. making eye glasses with fingers).
  • Squeeze a bulb (i.e. nasal bulb) or bath toy to suck up water and squirt. You can use air to blow cotton balls or paper.
  • String beads on lace or on a pipe cleaner.
  • Color with 3/4 inch crayons, Crayola has triangular crayons that promote finger placement.
  • Play with rice, beans, sand, and water using spoons and cups.
  • Hand races: See who can pick up the most objects the fastest while keeping the objects in their hand without dropping them.
  • Pick up objects with ice tongs.
  • Fill balloon with flour to squeeze.
  • Scissor activities (i.e. cut playdoh, cardboard, and paper).
  • Squeeze clothes pins, you can have child pick up objects with them or incorporate them into any game for more fun.
  • Have the child try to open the clothespins from the closed side. You can have them do repetitions and/or see how long they can hold it open. You can make this fun by having races to see who can hold the clothespin open the longest.

Developmental Items that Promote Shoulder, Arm and Hand Strength

Please keep in mind that children should be supervised at all times when manipulating small objects.
  • Cause and effect toys.
  • Shape sorters.
  • Blocks.
  • Books.
  • Toys with resistance such as pop beads, LEGOs, Velcro, tinker toys, and magnets.
  • Crayons and craft activities, the smaller the better.
  • Squeezable glues and paints.
  • Rapper snappers.
  • Pegs into a pegboard.
  • Puzzles with small knobs.
  • Any game that has small pieces and resistance.
  • Finger puppets.
  • Chalk on a chalkboard.
  • Wikki stix.
  • Buttons, snaps, and latches.
  • Sand art.
  • Games with Tweezers (i.e. Bed Bugs or Operation).
  • Games with small pieces (i.e. Hi Ho Cherry O, Light Bright, screws/nuts/bolts, Ants in the Pants, Kerplunk, or Pick-up Sticks).
  • Travel size games (i.e. Connect Four, HIQ, or a fishing game).
  • Hand held vibrator to squeeze.
  • Flashlights with squeeze buttons.
  • Wind-up toys.

For more information on tummy time and handwriting, please contact our Long Island-based early development center by calling (631) 207-1053 or visit our website therapycenterforchildren.com.

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Founded by Christina Bellini-Zaher, MS, OTR/L, The Therapy Center for Children is a "placement agency" composed of licensed and experienced pediatric physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and special educators.

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