World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef leaders are urging all countries to pay more attention to the development of childrens brains in the first 1 000 days of life, from conception.

Durban - As parents we only want what’s best for our children. Unfortunately, we often contribute to learning problems later in life by being too “kind”. A bold statement, I know.

According to Sally Goddard, director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Britain, repeated movements help to strengthen the neural pathways between the brain and the body.

Movement is an integral part of life from conception until death. A child’s experience of movement will play an important role in shaping his personality, his feelings and his achievements. The ability to read, write and do maths is built upon the relationship between the brain and the body.

Why then do we hamper our babies’ movement opportunities?

According Dr Melodie de Jager, author of BabyGym, the first 14 months of a child’s life are devoted to getting mobile and becoming a physical being. We develop from top to bottom and from inside out.

Strengthening the neck muscles is the first step in getting mobile.

Unfortunately, the back-to-sleep campaign has caused parents to fear placing babies on their tummies. There is a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome when a baby sleeps on his or her tummy, but not during the awake, playful stage.

Placing him on his tummy with supervision will allow him to strengthen his neck muscles, allowing him to right his head in space and keep it in balance. Once he has mastered this skill he can start to work on the core muscles and move on to rolling, which is the first time he becomes mobile.

Limiting babies’ free movement time with restraints such as baby chairs and walkers hinders their natural development and may delay rolling and crawling.

When they are not ready to sit and we oversupport them in sitting we are depriving them of the ability to strengthen their muscles and learn how to balance. It’s like going to the gym and just lying on the mat – you won’t get any results.

To get the best physical start we need to let the little one struggle against gravity with the weight of his own body, as it’s in this struggle that he is propelled to the next developmental milestone – which is not just something to tick off, but a neurological link that takes place in the brain. - The Mercury

* Victor is the director of TopTots Early Learning SA and the co-author of Play Learn Know. For more information visit www.toptots. or e-mail [email protected]