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Enhancing development through play during the first 18 months

Brain Development (Newberger, 1997)

Biology vs Environment
o Heredity may determine the basic number of cells and their initial arrangement, however it is the home environment that has an enormous impact on how the circuits of the brain will be laid and how a child develops.

  • Positive interactions causes synapses to grow and existing connections to be strengthened
  • Those synapses that are not used tend to be eliminated via selective pruning
  • Research indicates that a loving and enriched home environment may have most effect on child’s development.
  • The first 3 years of life, brain connections develop most quickly in response to outside stimulation
  • Learning takes place in a meaningful context, in an enriched environment of love and support.
  • There needs to be time for practice and mastery
  • Most importantly play and interaction should be fun!

Typical Gross Motor Development for the first 18 months (Corrected age)

Remember these are just a guide, some babies may be faster to achieve these skills others may take a little longer. For example, the normal range for full term children to walk independently is between 9 – 16 months! What is more important is the sequence babies achieve these skills and what activities may be appropriate at their stage of development.

0-2 Months

  • Getting use to gravity
  • unstable on back, may like swaddling
  • Startle easily, lack control, may roll by reflexes
  • Head to side when on tummy
  • Starting to recognise parents voice, smell and pattern of touch.
  • Can see objects 20-30cm away

3 – 5 months
Developing head and trunk control

  • Lying on Tummy
    • intermittent holding head in the middle
    • Weight on hands, may start to straighten elbows
  • Lying on Back
    • More stable, lengthening out
    • Exploring hands to knees
    • May roll to side when lifting legs
  • Sitting
    • starting to hold head up with trunk supported by parents

6-9 months
Good head control, starting to sit and purposeful rolling

  • Lying on Tummy
    • Lifting and turning head
    • Starting to reach out with arms
    • Pivoting around in circles
    • May obtain crawl posture (on hands and knees)
  • Lying on Back
    • Reaching hands to feet
    • Reaching forwards and to the side
  • Sitting
    • Wide legs apart with hands forward for support
    • When supported by parents or cushions arms are free to play
    • Developing range of grasps
  • Standing
    • May bounce on feet when hands are held

8-11 months
Moving in and out of sitting

  • Sitting
    • Variety of postures (ring, long, side)
    • Hands now free, starting to release objects
  • Mobility
    • May start commando crawling, crawling or shuffling on bottom
    • Starting to pull self up on furniture to stand. May cruise sideways but often fall backwards
    • May walk with hands held but with stiff legs

12-18 months

  • Emerging walking
    • Wants to be upright
    • Arms held in high guard position
    • Short fast steps forwards, unable to turn
    • Falls back onto bottom
    • May opt to floor and crawl for speed and to play

Looking and Listening

  • Mobiles, activity gyms, pictures and toys with smiley faces. Noisy rattles. Bright contrasting colours
  • Grasping
  • Activity gyms, rattles, variety of textures
  • Tummy Time
  • Mirrors, weighted toys, simple activity centres, rattles
  • Rolling Over
  • Weighted toys, soft balls
  • Sitting
  • Hand rattles, musical instruments, cloth books, press and release toys, simple posting, tracking and manipulating toys
  • Learning to Crawl
  • Rolling balls, tunnels
  • Kneeling and pulling to stand
  • Stable activity centres
  • Standing and Cruising
  • Activity tables and centres
  • Toys enjoyed in sitting but now at table height
  • Learning to Walk
  • Walker wagons

Why Play?

  • Play is how children learn and making it fun is nature’s way of ensuring children get lots and lots of practice.
  • Even tiny babies play, practising moving their hands or sucking their toes which helps them learn to control their bodies.
  • The games children play are directly linked to the needs of the growing body and mind.
  • Children have much more to learn and it takes much longer to grow up. So many skills to learn.
  • Each needs lots of time spent playing and practising to perfection.
  • We can’t afford to begrudge the time children spend at play. It is how they learn. If play is a child’s work then they must also have the tools for their trade.
  • Toys are tools that help a child to enjoy play (

Play Tips

  • Importance of floor play and tummy time
    • Safe, firm flat surface is best as soft or padded makes it harder for baby to move.
  • One to one time
    • Is a great opportunity to get to know each other
  • Cues when baby is ready to play
    • Quiet alert state (after nappy change or feed)
    • Stop if your baby looks: distressed, starts looking away, is restless
  • Follow your baby’s lead – what are they interested in?
  • Taking turns in play – try just one thing at a time to concentrate on and try to give time to respond to your interaction

Ideas for Tummy Time
Being on their tummy when awake is very important for a baby’s development. When placed on their tummies to play, babies should be supervised at all times.

  1. Lie baby on your chest while lying down or reclined in chair. Encourage him to lift his head to ‘talk’ to you.
  2. Try to give at least one opportunity a day to lie on the floor without a nappy and with limited clothing on to encourage free movement. To protect floors when the nappy is off, a firm plastic tablecloth placed with the material side up will allow baby to move around, is portable and easily laundered.
  3. Massage for longer periods with baby on his tummy over your thighs or on the floor.
  4. On the floor place baby on his tummy over a rolled up towel or your thighs and encourage him to look around. A large securely fixed mirror can attract his attention. Toys hanging from a frame will also help him to look up.
  5. Lie baby on his tummy over your legs while sitting on a chair or the floor, with a toy to encourage looking up
  6. Fit ball, some babies enjoy lying on a ball while fully supported and looking at their parents.

( & DHS Specialist Children’s Services Team)

Home Made Toys

  • Commercial toys are not all there is to play
    • Textured grasp toys (orange bag)
    • Shakers and rattles (bottle with pasta)
    • Bath toys (plastic cups, spoons)
    • Posting ideas (pegs into ice cream container with holes in lid)
    • Cubby houses and tunnels
    • Playschool ideas

Safety Issues

  • watch out for small parts – anything that can fit into a film canister should be put out of reach.
  • Cords and dangly bits
  • Warning labels on some toys – suggested ages that are appropriate

Baby Walkers and Jolly Jumpers

  • Unsafe and no evidence that they facilitate a normal child’s development
  • The Australian Physiotherapy Association guidelines on baby walkers is: a child will stand and walk independently when they have developed the required balance, postural and equilibrium reactions. This will naturally allow for the development and co-ordinated movement at a pace set by the child
  • Children will walk when they are ready, it can depend on genetics, personality, experience and opportunity
  • Floor time will give your baby the opportunities to develop all the skills they require to walk
  • Baby walkers and jumpers can encourage toe walking
  • They can be unsafe, falls are reported as well as babies reaching objects they should not be able to.
  • Children are unable to see their feet, decreasing body awareness.
  • Physical Readiness
  • Toys should match the physical capabilities of your child.

Toy Libraries

  • Caters for children from birth to six years
  • Offer a large range of toys including: trikes, role play toys, sports equipment, puzzles, blocks, ride in cars to name a few
  • Cost effective way of having different toys for your children to play with every few weeks and gives access to toys you probably wouldn’t have at home due to space restrictions / price etc.
  • For information on a toy library close to you contact Toy Library Victoria


  • Alexander, Boehme and Cupps (1993) Normal Development of functional motor skills – the first year of life
  • Newberger, J (1997) New Brain Development Research – A wonderful opportunity to build public support for Early Childhood Education
  • Merry Go Round – Toy libraries Victoria No.2 Vol 28 July 2006.
  • Written by Wendy Taverna

All LLT Articles are the sole property of LLT and all contents are copyrighted – Life’s Little Treasures Foundation 2009

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