Babies & children learn about themselves, their world around them and their relationships with important people in their lives through exploration of the natural world and play. Play & Development Tip Sheet
Babies & children receive information through 7 sensory systems consisting of:
body balance, movement and position of their body and head (the vestibular sensory system)
proprioceptive sensory system which provides the brain with knowledge about their whole body and where their body parts are in relation to each other – important information for motor control and posture
Although all sensory systems are important for best possible development, the sensory systems of touch, proprioception and the vestibular sense are connected to all other systems in the brain. Most notably, the vestibular sense is the foundation upon which the other sensory systems build on – have you ever noticed how tiny babies bob their heads? Or how babies are soothed by slow rhythmical movement? This all relates to the vestibular system which is well developed at birth and is located in the inner ear.
The vestibular system is key to the development of a number of important abilities. For example:
the ability to interpret things we see and incorporating information detected through the eyes (visual perception ) and incorporate the images from both eyes (binocular coordination);
spatial awareness (this enables a person to e.g. judge the distance from their body to an object they want to pick up; or, gain an understanding that objects look smaller when they are further away);
gross motor development (e.g. the strengthening of muscles that enable a baby to hold their head up, roll over through to running and jumping when older); and
the ability to concentrate and learn.
The vital recommendation that babies are put to sleep on their backs, means that babies, soon after birth, need short periods of supervised tummy time when they are awake (but not just recently fed) to enable the vestibular system to be stimulated . Parents are encouraged to start by laying their newborn on his or her tummy across their lap, two or three times a day, for short periods of time. Alternatively parents can lie on their backs and place their baby on their chest.
As their baby grows stronger, babies can be placed on a blanket on the floor. Age-appropriate toys can be arranged on the blanket within babies reach. As the baby gets used to tummy time, they can be placed on their stomach more frequently or for longer periods of time. With time, place interesting or colourful toys just outside of baby’s reach to encourage your baby to want to move and explore their environment.
It is important to never leave a baby unattended during tummy time. Be aware of your baby’s cues and if they become distressed, respond promptly and sensitively, and either change their activity or position, or if sleepy follow your sleep time routine.