Hand and foot play is an important part of a child’s development. So is bringing the feet to their mouth (unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of that!). So what are some of the reasons it is so important?
- Hamstring stretches – They just spent 9 months cramped up in the ‘fetal’ position. This means their knees were flexed and in close to the body. By reaching for their feet they are beginning to perform hamstring stretches that will help to lengthen the muscle.
- Core strength – By lifting their feet up and reaching with their hands, they are working their abdominal muscles which will help to develop their core strength. You try lifting both your feet up and reaching with your hands. Its not easy work on those abs!
- Midline – You can see in the pictures that they can bring their hands and/or feet to midline which helps to increase their awareness of where midline is.
- Body awareness – Hand and foot play allows your baby to explore their body and the various parts of their body. They begin to realize that their feet are attached to them and that their hands and feet can work together.
- Exploration – Once they are participating in hand and foot play, you will probably see them putting their feet in their mouth. This is how babies explore. They put everything in their mouth, including their own toes!
- Movement – As you can also see in the photos lots of movement is happening. He isn’t just lying flat on his back holding his feet. He is rocking back and forth, dropping one foot, picking it back up again, etc. This helps to create building blocks for movement and cause and effect. If they end up on their side, what do they have to do next?
- Self-soothing – When they are engaged in play with their feet, or putting their toes in their mouth, they are also able to self-soothe. This can help with sensory regulation.
If your child isn’t doing this, you can help to encourage them. Gently bring their feet up towards their hands. Maybe help them to put their hands on their feet and try to grasp them. You can make a game out of it by playing peek-a-boo behind their feet so that their feet are in midline when you are ‘hiding’. You could also do ‘This little piggy’ while you have their feet up in the air and count each toe. You can play ‘patty-cake’ while holding their hand and feet together and bringing them to midline for each ‘clap’.
What are other ways you have encouraged hand and foot play?
A great way to work on core and upper body strength, as well as bilateral hand use is to put your climbing rope in a lycra swing. Its really hard to get any traction/stability from your feet and you get to rely on upper body and core strength to get yourself up high enough to rescue the monkey!
The kids find it to be hard work and are often exhausted after doing this activity but they get a great workout with it.
What are some variations that you can think of?
We love tunnels and our kids love tunnels so we often find ways to incorporate them into therapy. We have standard tunnels with a ‘solid’ form and we have lycra tunnels that provide resistance that the kids have to work against. I thought I would take a moment and share one of the activities that we use our tunnel for to work on core strength (primarily) but other things as well.
We love to put the tunnel over top of our crash pad, although you can use pillows or couch cushions instead. Then we have them crawl through the tunnel over the crash pad. Often times they won’t be able to maintain hands and knees because it is a bit challenging but with practice their core gets stronger so they can crawl all the way through. If you have them doing reps you may notice that they will start off maintaining hands and knees but with increased repetitions they aren’t able to maintain it. This is because they don’t have the endurance in their core muscles to complete higher number of reps. Since core muscles are mainly used in an endurance type fashion, to help keep our trunk stable as we go about our day to day activities, making this a high repetition activity is a must. We use puzzles or toys with multiple pieces to keep the kids going over and over and over.
Some things to consider when you are setting up. The softer the surface, the harder it will be for the child. If you want to ease them into it find something that is a little firmer. Next would be the steeper the incline or decline the harder it will be. For a kiddo just starting out using a flatter surface will be easier. You can also start them out on softer and steeper and as the repetitions increase make it firmer and flatter.
In addition to working on core strengthening it also gives kiddos a chance to crawl which many kids skip in this day and age. With crawling they get to work on motor planning between their left and right sides as well as between their arms and legs and use reciprocal patterning. All in all we love this activity!
How have you used tunnels?
Our newest toy at work is a lycra tunnel. One of our OT’s had been talking about wanting one so I finally was able to buy her some lycra and she was able to make one for us. Of course we all needed to try it out ourselves and let me tell you, its hard work! Basically a lycra tunnel can be used to provide a kiddo with increased proprioceptive input, work on motor planning and provide them with a core workout. To make it more challenging you can put a ball in and have them push it through. The larger the ball, the harder it is.
In terms of motor planning it is challenging to figure out how to move when you are receiving input from all sides which is what this tunnel does. It provides proprioceptive input all around you as you move through. I made it about halfway through before I needed to lie down and rest! The larger the child is the harder it will be also.
When a kiddo is using it you can pull on the back of it so they can advance their legs easier. In addition, to make it more taut you can have someone pulling from the front as well, or just being at the other end to show the kiddo where the end of the tunnel is.
What else do you use a lycra tunnel for?
Babies these days are getting really good at sitting. The invention of the Bumbo seat has definitely helped with this (although it is a great tool for kids who need extra help with sitting to develop other skills). Its also a lot easier to pick your baby up and sit them down. What I am proposing, once they start to develop movement and some trunk control, is to take an extra few seconds and help them get into sitting. By practicing transitional movements earlier, they develop their motor planning abilities, improve their coordination, and develop the strength they will need to achieve higher level motor skills. Transitional skills such as learning how to get into sitting will also help your child further develop independent movement which promotes exploration and cognitive skills. It allows your child a chance to initiate when they want to change their perspective from being on the ground to sitting up. It gives them a whole new world to explore and can further increase their motivation to move and develop. This video will show you some ways to help your baby transition from lying on their back to getting into sitting. As you watch the trunk muscles activate you can also see how it is a great core exercise. At the last part you see him learning how to modulate his movement so he doesn’t overshoot his target, as well as how to problem solve to accomplish the task. Transitional movements are a great learning opportunity for your baby. Check out Developing Sitting Balance for ideas on how to work on sitting balance.
Pulling to sit can work on a baby’s head control as well as develop their core muscles such as their abs. When they are lying flat on their back this will be the hardest position for them to control their head and neck muscles because they have to work fully against gravity. In order to make it a little easier for them you can start them on an angle, such as your lap with your knees bent.
When you go to help them sit up using the pull to sit method you want to make sure they engage their whole body to help with the process. I like to do this by holding their hands and giving a light tug in order to get them to engage their arms so that they will start ‘pulling’ themselves into sit. Also by engaging their arms and other muscles they are using what I like to call ‘overflow’ to help engage the head and neck muscles. If your baby doesn’t engage their arms to help with the pulling up I would not continue with the motion.
You can tell how their head and neck muscles are developing over time by looking at how their head lag improves. Head lag is how long it takes them to activate their head and neck muscles to lift their head up while they are pulling to sit. As they get stronger they can activate their muscles closer and closer to being flat on the ground. Eventually they will be able to activate immediately and all you are doing is guiding them up into the sitting position!
Another way to help these muscles develop is to do the opposite motion. Early on it may be easier for them to engage their muscles as you start to lower them down. They will automatically attempt to prevent themselves from ‘collapsing’ by activating their muscles to maintain their head position. As you slowly lower them down to the ground it will get harder for them to hold their head up against gravity and it may drop back. Until you know how long they can hold their head up you either want to have a support (like your legs) ready prior to being flat on the ground or have a few pillows built up.
After a few repetitions of this your child gets better at it. They may try to anticipate what they need to do and may stiffen up their whole body in order to try to ‘help’ you but they start to get the hang out of it and their head control gets better with each repeption because their muscles get more efficient at engaging and turning on when needed.
And, you can have fun with it such as playing games of peek-a-boo, or making funny faces or silly sounds. What a great way for you to engage face to face with your baby while working on their gross motor skills!
For some older kids who are working on head control this can be a good way to help them as well. You can also go extra slow at various points so they have to work at maintaining their head position as well as activating their muscles. Another skill you may want to work on is once they reach the sitting position having them be able to hold their head in midline without it dropping forward once they are upright.
As babies develop they will often engage in hand and foot play, even bringing their feet to their mouth. This may seem odd to parents but it actually serves a purpose and has several benefits for your child. Some of these benefits/purposes are:
- Bringing their feet up to their hands and even their mouth allows the child to start stretching out their hamstrings. After approximately nine months in the womb they have really tight hamstrings from being in the ‘fetal’ position.
- By lifting their feet up in the air and attempting to get them with their hands they are working on their core strength as well as developing anti gravity strength in their flexor muscles in both their abs and their head and neck.
- Grasping their feet allows them to develop their grasping skills which can carryover into fine motor tasks.
- Reaching for their feet encourages reaching with both hands as well as one hand. It also can work on reaching to the same side of the body as well as to the opposite side of the body.
- Assymetric reaching can also lead to the development of skills such as rolling.
- The practice of attempting to grab their feet in either one or both hands, and either one or both feet allows them to develop motor learning and motor exploration so they can figure out what their bodies and muscles do.
- Also, hand and foot play, as well as putting their feet in their mouth shows they are developing body awareness as well as gives them opportunities to continue to develop this.
You can encourage hand and foot play as well as foot to mouth by gently bringing their feet up to where they can reach them. Never force this motion because some kids may be tighter than others. By exposing them to their feet, they will begin to be interested and attempt to reach for their feet to explore and play.