Your baby's grabbing, kicking, rolling -- and learning all the while. Find out when he'll be mobile, try some fun games that encourage agility, and give that kid a gold star!
Big Moves: Gross Motor Skills
Babies tend to master these in a predictable order, from rolling to walking. As they progress, they also make major cognitive advances, filing away information about themselves and their surroundings. Learn when Peewee will take major leaps, and what they could look like.
On A Roll
At around 4 months, your baby probably began discovering what his body can do; you can see his experiments at work when he waves his arms and kicks his legs while in his play yard. When you smile at his feats of strength, your babe is inspired to try them again, says Meghan Treitz, M.D., a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Colorado, in Aurora. He may hold his head up when he's in your arms or prop himself up on his forearms while on his belly. Your munchkin's movin' and groovin' is part mental development, part core strength. Many babies roll from front to back at around 5 months, and after that, from back to front. (It's physically easier to roll from front to back. Try it yourself!) Be forewarned: "Rolling always starts suddenly," Dr. Treitz explains. "So it's very important to supervise your baby closely at all times."
Most 6-month-olds are able to sit up without toppling in a high chair, but if you put them on the floor without back support, they'll lean forward, using their hands for balance. By 7 months, most will sit unassisted. Meanwhile, some babies have gone mobile. Your cutie may do the combat crawl: With her pelvis and legs on the floor, she'll use her forearms to pull her body forward, like a marine slogging through a swamp. Or she might slither, like a snake, over the floor. Give Baby props, with words and hugs, no matter which position she chooses. "Your encouragement will provide her with the confidence to move to the next milestone," says Lori Walsh, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. Everyone needs a little cheerleading!
Most 9-month-olds are masters at moving on their hands and knees. Get down on the floor and crawl next to your tot, hurrying up and slowing down to make it a game. But don't panic if he doesn't crawl at all: "It's not a prerequisite for walking," says Dr. Treitz. "The important thing is that your baby is able to strengthen his body as he prepares to walk." One way to do this is by pulling to a stand. Next, Baby may use furniture for support or walk while holding your hand, but it might be a month or more before he steps out on his own. Once he's found his footing, offer him a pull toy to drag; this will help promote a steady gait.
Walk This Way
Many babies are walking unassisted by 13 months, and some even run, says Claire Lerner, L.C.S.W., director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, in Washington, D.C. Turn up the tunes and dance, build a pillow obstacle course for Baby to navigate, or show her how to jump like a frog when you're at the zoo. As Lerner says, "You want her to experience movements that will boost balance and coordination in a fun way."
Little Moves: Fine Motor Skills
As adults, we take for granted the ability to hold a spoon or pick up a toy, but finger-centric skills are something babies have to learn. What to expect from your handy little one:
Get A Grip
Your baby's hand-eye coordination is getting better every day; when he swipes at your dangling necklace, he can actually hit or grab on to it. He can also pick things up, though awkwardly. "At this age, kids put four fingers together like a mitten and scoop," says Rachel Rudman, a pediatric occupational therapist who practices in Cedarhurst, New York. Once an object is in his grasp, he'll pass it from hand to hand.
Put an assortment of toys within your baby's reach, suggests David Pollack, M.D., a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Exposure to a variety of shapes and textures encourages exploration
and improves hand-eye coordination."
Around 7 months, development of the finer skills takes off. This is, in part, related to Baby's increased mobility. "The arches of the hand begin to develop around the same time that babies begin to crawl," Rudman says. By now, tots can cup their hands and clasp them together. They also start using the pincer grasp (bringing the thumb and index finger together to pick up small objects). Cheerios spilled on the floor? Your sweetie can help you gather them up! Clapping and hand games such as pat-a-cake are ways to practice her emerging skills.
A Drop In The Bucket
If a baby lets go of a toy or teether before this phase, she's doing it involuntarily. By 12 months, though, she'll purposely release an object. Simple puzzles and toys with finger holes will help her develop pointing and grasping expertise.
Your little guy has moved on to creating and maneuvering in his playtime. You've got to hand it to him: Now he can build a two-block tower, scribble, toss a ball, and turn the pages of a board book too. Read more about your lovebug's remarkable new developments at americanbaby.com/thefirstyear.
Let The Games Begin!
Everything your little one learns is through play. These dynamic diversions will help Baby develop emotionally, physically, and intellectually while coaxing lots of smiles. Go, team!
Eye On The Prize
Help your baby hone her vision by holding various easy-to-spot items about 6 to 8 inches in front of her face and slowly waving them from left to right and back again. Even an infant's eyes will track the unidentified moving objects as though they were state-of-the-art radar.
Name That Tune
Few of us can belt one out like Beyoncé, but singing to your baby still bestows tremendous benefits. An infant finds her mother's crooning more calming than her speaking voice, and babies whose parents sing to them sleep better and are more content overall, according to research from the University of Toronto at Mississauga.
Mirroring his adorable coos, gurgles, grins, and frowns is critical for forming a strong bond with Baby, research shows. The next time your little honey shrieks with happiness, show him you're paying attention
by playing copycat.
Your tot needs tummy time to build his upper-body strength. Make it fun for both of you: Lie on your back with knees folded into your chest and place him belly-down on your shins. Clear the runway -- it's time for a simulated flight! Besides making him stronger, this activates the part of Baby's brain that controls balance.
Gonna Gonna ... Getcha!
Babies this age are into learning the sequence of events. Try this simple game: Raise your hand above Baby's belly and then open and close your mitt like a quacking duck while saying, "Gonna ... gonna ... gonna ..." as you come closer to her tummy, finishing with "getcha!" and a tickle.
Songs accompanied by hand gestures or body movements (think "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" and "Wheels on the Bus") hasten babies' language development by teaching new words; they boost hand-eye coordination and improve motor skills. Tunes that rhyme also encourage prereading know-how.
Your baby's upper body is getting stronger. Sit him on your knees, facing you, with your hands on the sides of his chest. Bounce your legs as you recite a rhyme like "Humpty Dumpty." After a bit, straighten your knees and let him slide down. Delight guaranteed!
Nice Try, Li'l Guy!
When tots are learning to wiggle their little bodies and work their wee hands, the results aren't always what you'd expect. American Baby Facebook fans share their kids' memorable (and impressive!) early attempts.
This Is How We Roll
"When my son rolled from his tummy to his back for the first time, he had a look of sheer terror on his face." Briana Erin Fischer
"My son hates tummy time, so he figured how to roll over to get out of it!" Nicole VandeBoom
"When my 5-month-old reaches for something, he looks very sure of himself. Then he'll lean forward from a sitting position and get stuck. You can tell he's thinking, What went wrong? " Treva Anspach
"I once discovered my 13-month-old playing with what looked like a bunch of black thread. Just before she tried to put it in her mouth, I reached over to grab it and suddenly realized it was a big, black spider!" Sabrina Lanier
On The Go
"My 2-year-old never crawled. She did a butt scoot until she learned to cruise, then walk." Tiffany Tate Young
"My son wouldn't use his arms to crawl. He'd slide on his belly with his butt up and head turned. He rubbed off most of the hair on the left side of his head!" Ashley Kottmyer
The Power Of Peekaboo
It's the best baby game of all time. In addition to teaching object permanence, peekaboo helps Baby get a handle on a natural sequence and teaches her to take turns. For a 5-month-old, cover your eyes with your hands. When she's older, drape a napkin over your head and let her pull it off for the exciting unveiling. In her toddler stage, take turns hiding behind the sofa and popping out.
What Babies Learn Just by Looking
By 5 months, your tot can move her eyes and head in sync as she follows an object. This is when babies develop "object permanence" -- the ability to understand that a toy (or Mommy's face, in the case of peekaboo) exists even when it's not visible, which is key for a child's intellectual and emotional development. Once she can envision a person or item in her mind, she's able to remember, imagine, plan, and reason deductively.
Originally published in American Baby magazine in 2013.