freedom of movement from birth in safe spaces

Freedom of movement from birth

“From birth, children are in a sensitive period for movement. In the first year of life, they pass through and master many stages of movement. They learn to reach, grasp, roll, crawl, sit, stand, and walk, along with many stages in between… There is a lot of practice that is required to progress through each stage of movement. We can help the baby maximise this period by preparing a safe environment where they can move and also allow time and opportunity to move.”

The Montessori Baby by Junnifa Uzodike and Simone Davies, p.19

Freedom of Movement

Freedom of movement during infancy is regarded as essential for a child’s natural development. Dr. Montessori believed that infants should have the opportunity to move and explore their surroundings without unnecessary restrictions, as it allows them to develop their motor skills, coordination, and a sense of independence at their own pace. This freedom to move is seen as a fundamental aspect of respecting and supporting a child’s innate curiosity and developmental needs.

Environment

As parents and caretakers, we can support babies progress through developmental milestones at their own pace by facilitating freedom of movement in safe spaces.

Around 5 weeks old, Ella really started to be awake more times during the day. She turns her head towards sounds, especially the voices of her siblings and parents. And she is enjoying looking at high-contrast images and bright light. She’s moving her legs and hands so much!

To support these developments, babies can be placed in their movement area. For us, that is in the “box” – a rectangular space that’s wider than a crib- Ella could turn in all directions comfortably. It’s raised so that I can place our baby in there and take her out safely.

Because I am paralysed and have to use a wheelchair with fairly limited balance, we find this to be the safest and most practical solution for offering freedom for our newborn to move around while being accessible to caregivers (me). I cannot put a newborn baby on the ground or pick her up.

Like a movement area on the floor, ours has a baby safe mattress as well as mobiles. We place it near a window (away from curtains) so Ella can see outside or enjoy her mobiles.

It is important to set-up your movement area for your baby in a space that the family uses regularly. Baby is adapting to be part of your family life in the beginning! In addition, keeping your movement area in a separate space that you are not using regularly as part of your routine will make it less likely to be used.

Our adaptable space is in our living room where Ella can be near the whole family. She can hear the sounds of the home – from siblings talking to cooking or whatever we happen to be doing, Ella is in our shared environment and she is absorbing it.

Swaddling

Another way to support a newborn’s freedom of movement is to avoid swaddling. Some may find it comforting to be in a tight and restrictive environment that reminds them of the womb. On the other hand, there are many benefits to giving babies a chance to explore their bodies.

Infants are learning to move their bodies. They learn to move their hands and tend to grasp the fingers of their caregivers. During this time, babies develop their reflex grasp, observe fingers and eventually grasp objects (The Montessori Baby).

Babies need an opportunity to get to know their bodies and how to manipulate them before they can reach those milestones. Restricting movement through swaddling may therefore interfere with the baby’s ability to roll over, crawl, and simply explore.

Keeping the hands and feet free and open for movement allows baby to stretch, learn their bodies, and gain strength. You can see how Ella is moving kicking her feet while enjoying her movement area below.

To keep warm during the night, we use a “slaapzak” (sleeping sack) without the option to swaddle or restrict the arms.

Ella started spending short periods of time in her movement area from a few weeks old. It’s also a safe place for me to put her whilst I run to use the restroom or need a few minutes to get something done.

At 5-weeks old, she can spend up to 20 minutes or so enjoying her space during her wake window.

Clothing

Similarly, clothing should not restrict baby’s movement. For example, we don’t use baby gloves so that Ella can move her hands, make fists or even bring her fingers to her mouth. Exploring by putting objects in their mouths is very important for babies, and we want to give her the opportunity to do this with her hands.

During the newborn phase, we keep our children largely in a sleepsuit with a vest or leggings and vests. We try to prioritise ease of diapering and clothing that permits movement.

We do use socks with Ella – or rather we try. I can’t help but worry if she will be cold if her feet are uncovered. (Although if she kicks them off, I don’t immediately put them back on.)

Bouncy chairs and swings

Because movement is so important for the natural development of a child, we don’t tend to use baby containment devices like bouncy chairs. With the exception of our baby carrier, pram and car seat, our children have had access to spaces where they could move and explore safely without being contained or placed in a specific position.

Walkers, jumperoos, or using a pillow to bring baby into a sitting position before they have done so on their own places baby in an unnatural position for their bodies. This is because these items put baby in a position that he or she otherwise would not be ready to be in at the time. This can cause stress to their bodies and discomfort.

Sensitive period for movement

Infants have a sensitive period for gross motor development. Parents can encourage these skills by making sure that their babies have ample opportunity to explore and are not restricted in their movements by creating a safe space for them to explore, avoiding swaddles and restrictive clothing, and refraining from using baby gear (especially those that place baby in an unnatural position or one that baby cannot get into themselves).

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