Babies learn even from household items

New York, June 5 (IANS) Do you know toys, appliances and even a sofa and coffee table can impact when your little one takes her first baby steps?

All these items significantly impact the way a baby first crawls, walks or achieves other growth milestones, but many parents are unaware of it, finds a new study by University of Texas at Arlington researchers.

Priscila Cacola, an assistant professor of kinesiology in the UT Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation, co-developed a simple questionnaire for caregivers of infants aged 3 to 18 months that she says can aid in the evaluation of toys and other items in the home known as home affordances.

The questionnaire is called the Affordances in the Home Environment for Motor Development-Infant Scale, or AHEMD-IS, and is now being used by physical and occupational therapists worldwide.

Cacola said the tool could help parents better assess items for motor skill development or help infants do something like learning to walk.

“When parents buy toys, they are rarely thinking ‘I wonder if this is going to be great for my child’s motor skills’, but if they look at each AHEMD-IS question and each separation of the question, they can choose to buy toys that are different or that offer different opportunities for their infants,” said Cacola.

“Parents, doctors or other infant caregivers might ask ‘What does a toy or a coffee table do?’ Well, depending on the space between the couch and the coffee table, it could be the first distance that the child wants to cross,” Cacola said.

If a toy is cranked and pops up, the child might want to go grab it, which could lead the child to walking. But the challenge is the thing that stimulates that child to begin walking, Cacola added.

Cacola said the AHEMD-IS would be especially important when you consider infants that are premature, low birth-weight or have a condition that could impair motor skill development.

Gross motor skills commonly refer to movements involving larger muscles, like those in the arms, legs, feet or the whole body used for walking, jumping and so forth.

Fine motor skills generally refer to movements involving smaller muscles, like those in the hands, wrists and fingers that are used for holding a crayon or toy.

The two skills can overlap, for example, when a child is taking something off a shelf and using both large muscles to walk to the shelf and small muscles used to grasp for the toy with fingers.

“Developing a child’s motor skills is extremely important because motor development is actually the mediator of cognitive, social and emotional development,” Cacola said.

“Good motor skills predict a whole lot later in life, so it might be something that all of us should be concerned about early in a child’s life,” the researcher said.

The study appeared in the journal Physical Therapy.

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