Recently in my practice I have been getting many referrals for children with no diagnosis other than "Gross Motor Delay." When I gather my subjective data for these kiddos, the parents talk about how their child is not yet crawling or walking. When I dig a little deeper, I find that the children are not having as much "explorational" play - that is, they are not using their body to move during play. With the craziness of life, many parents and caregivers opt to what I call "crate toys" to place their baby in for extended periods of time so that they can go about their business while the child is happy and entertained.
Remember that floor playtime is CRUCIAL for development. Play allows children to learn about their bodies, help the brain organize itself, improve cognitive growth, and much more. I understand that life can get busy, and if you are home alone with the baby and the only safe place to put your child is a "crate toy" while you run to pour yourself another cup of coffee or go to the bathroom, that is totally fine. However, the more time these children are spent in the "crates," that is time taken away from them to learn how their body moves during free play on the floor.
Here is a list of my most favorite and least favorite toys for development!
YES: Playpen/Pack 'n Play
NO: Bumbo Seat
Research shows that when infants are in positioning devices, their leg movements are significantly reduced as compared to having no device at all (Jiang 2016). This is important because babies and children learn from experiences, so we want to give them as many opportunities as possible to experience movement!
YES: Boppy Pillow
Similar to the Bumbo seat, this type of toy restricts movement, especially of the trunk and ankles. Although the baby can move his arms, he will have difficulty rotating his trunk to fully appreciate exploring his surroundings.
Research shows that too much time spent in the Exersaucer causes restrictions of ankle range of motion, poor trunk control, decreased trunk rotation, and inappropriate movement patterns, all that effect their ability to achieve their gross motor milestones (Lenke 2003).
YES: Play Table
NO: Baby Walker
An old study that is often cited found that children who spent more time in baby walkers showed delays in the onset of crawling compared to children who spent less time in the baby walkers, concluding that too much time in this device can also delay other motor skills as well (Crouchman 1986).
YES: Push Toy
However: make sure your child is ready to walk! If your child is not yet sitting or crawling independently, they are not ready to walk! In fact, using this toy too early can cause abnormal movement patterns which will in turn cause them to have a delay in their walking ability.
NO: Hanging Jumper Toy
Abbott et al (2001) found statistically significant correlations between total equipment use of multiple types of "crates" and infant motor development. The infants in this study, all around 8 months of age, that had increased equipment use scored lower on the Alberta Infant Motor Scale, or AIMS, which is a commonly used standardized tests to look at infant motor development from 0-18 months old.
YES: Baby Carriers
NO: Baby Swing
A research study from Littlefield et al (2003) found that out of their sample size of 636 babies over a three year span, over 25% of them spent 1.5 to 4 hrs, roughly 15% spent more than 4 hrs/day in these devices, and 5.7% slept in one of these device. They found that these babies often developed increased abnormal head shape as compared to their counterparts who spent less than 1.5 hours a day in these devices.
Please note that "normal use of car seats, carriers, swings and bouncy seats is not a concern; however, caution is warranted for infants who spend extended periods of time in these devices." (Littlefield 2003). So please don't feel like you have to say no to gifts that you receive from loved one if they are on my "No" list! Just make sure that your baby is not spending excessive time in these devices and that you continue to promote independent play :)
If you have any concerns about toys and your child's development, reach out to a Pediatric Physical Therapist!
- Crouchman, M. (1986). The effects of babywalkers on early locomotor development. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 28(6), 757-761.
- Jiang, C., de Armendi, J. T., & Smith, B. A. (2016). The Immediate Effect of Positioning Devices on Infant Leg Movement Characteristics. Pediatric physical therapy: the official publication of the Section on Pediatrics of the American Physical Therapy Association, 28(3), 304.
- Lenke, M. C. (2003). Motor Outcomes in Premature Infants. Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews, 3(3).
- Littlefield, T. R., Kelly, K. M., Reiff, J. L., & Pomatto, J. K. (2003). Car seats, infant carriers, and swings: their role in deformational plagiocephaly. JPO: Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics, 15(3), 102-106.
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