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Floor Play, Floor Play, Floor Play!

August 19, 2020

The word “motivation” comes from the Latin word “moveo” meaning to move, or “motivus” meaning to stir or move. We know that moving stimulates the brain and sparks curiosity which then prompts further movement. And so the cycle continues.

The floor is a child’s first playground. In floor play babies start to understand that space comes in different sizes, shapes and textures and time spent playing on the floor gives them a different perspective and helps them to start to make sense of the world. It is a great space for learning to take place for two simple reasons: it’s easy to get to and you can’t fall off it. It offers not only room to move but also allows a child to make physical choices that make the learning unique to them.

child smiling

When referring to floor play for babies we are referring to three movement opportunities:

  • Back play
  • Tummy play
  • Crawling

BACK PLAY

Back play is when a baby is lying on their back and exploring what is above and to the sides of them. It gives babies a lot of opportunity to explore their hands and fingers, and encourages eye focus by giving them the opportunity to look at objects near and far. It also enables them to gain deliberate control of their head as they lift and turn it, cross the midline between upper and lower parts of the body as they grab their feet and gain strength and coordination for rolling onto their front.

child smiling

TUMMY PLAY

Although not popular with all babies, spending time on their fronts is just as important as the time spent on their backs.

In tummy play lots of work is done to strengthen the arms and upper body to help babies to hold their head up and maintain balance when they eventually get up on two feet. Pushing up on the arms also opens up the spinal column from the C curve they had in the womb to the S curve required for balance and locomotion. It also gives sensory information to the soft organs in the abdomen like the stomach and bladder which helps with appetite and toilet training. 

Being on their front also puts them in the right position for belly creeping and pushing up onto all fours. It is around this time that the rocking reflex kicks in which enables them to learn new forms of coordination as well as the ability to move one side of the body independently from the other - look out, crawling is next! It also helps to open up the hands from the initial newborn grasp which provides lots of proprioceptive and sensory input as the hands press into the ground.

child smiling

CRAWLING

Like back and tummy play, crawling is also particularly valuable for early development, especially in terms of the brain and body organisation that is responsible for balance and getting up on two feet. 

When babies start to crawl postural reflexes replace primitive reflexes. The ability to move one side of the body independently from the other is refined and the movement pattern of opposite arm and opposite leg is established. The arms also develop the ability to move independently from the head, bilateral work in the body supports cross lateral linkage in the brain and the upper/lower and left/right body midlines are repeatedly crossed. In addition the spine further lengthens out to the S shape that is required for moving on two feet and it is also a great workout for the shoulders, neck, wrists and hands. 

Encouraging babies to spend time on their tummies and to crawl has greater benefit than pushing them to sit and walk before they are ready.

child smiling

Why is floor play important?

Having the freedom to play on the floor or ground is extremely important for children for a variety of reasons. 

  • It gives babies and children the freedom to find out about their own body and its relationship to people, surfaces, space and gravity.
  • It allows them the chance to move and explore how they want to. Not only is being held in a chair or seat is a constrictive experience but it is also quite passive and means they need to wait for entertainment and stimulation to come to them.
  • Floor play builds the strength and balance that is necessary for crawling when the reflexes are ready. Putting babies into a seated position before they can manage it themselves prevents them from doing the work they need to do to get themselves there. 
  • Early movement and crawling enables babies to release primitive reflexes and move on to postural reflexes which unlocks more complex and deliberate movement opportunities for them. Research from the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology is showing that there could be a link between difficulties that some children experience at primary school and the retention of some primitive reflexes and the lack of some postural reflexes. Research indicates that movement therapy can be effective in some cases which enables their neurological systems to catch up. School readiness relies on children having neuro-motor maturity and limiting their early movement opportunities may affect their learning in the early years at school.
child smiling

How can I support floor play?

  • Create a designated movement space. Ensure the floor space is protected and uncluttered so they can move freely. Mats, cushions, pillows, balls etc are useful but an adult body will be the most intriguing and exciting resource for them that they will never tire of.
  • Make sure clothing is not restrictive and let them have bare feet where possible to increase the proprioceptive and sensory input through the feet.
  • Join them and get close. Babies can’t see at a distance so stay close, make eye contact and smile. Even at a very young age babies can sense emotions and they look to adults for guidance.
  • Talk to them. They may not understand the words but the sound of your voice will be reassuring. 
  • If they are content try to give them some time on their own to experience some independence but be sure to let them know you are close at hand and use your voice to offer reassurance.
  • Follow their lead. Let them explore what they want to in the way that they want to. This way they will progress to more deliberate movement when they are ready.
  • Provide as many opportunities to play on the floor as possible and reduce the amount of activities done in containers or at tables. Let them lie on the floor during story times and turn table top activities into floor ones wherever possible. Turn action and finger songs into whole body, floor based play eg Ten in a bed or Humpty Dumpty
child smiling

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