Finding Time for Free Movement in a Busy World

Estimated Time to Read: 4 minutes


The Joy of Free Movement

Many of us have experienced the rush of energy that comes from using our bodies freely. The human body loves movement and every time we give ourselves the opportunity to move, it releases many hormones like endorphins and oxytocin which regulate our mental and physical wellbeing. Even a short stroll works wonders in calming and making us happier when nothing else is going well in a day. When this logic applies to adults, the same goes for children who need time to move freely. However, in this busy world, it is becoming increasingly harder for us to balance the time our children spend in some kind of device or container with unhindered, free movement. 

What are Containers?

To understand the problem with containers, let us first look at what they mean. A container is any device that contains or restricts a baby’s ability to move freely. They either place a hold on their full body movement or deny access to their hands. The most commonly used containers are car seats, strollers, bouncy swings, vibrating chairs, bumbo seats, exersaucers and mittens.

So, what’s the problem with containers?

Containers are fantastic for adults who just want to take a break. They keep the baby safe and entertained while we finish up our cooking, catch up on the news or simply chill with a book. But, the problem with these containers arises when we find it consistently easier to manage our babies when they are in it rather than when they are outside it. 

  • Distorted Body Image

When we repeatedly buckle our babies in some container, we begin to give them a very distorted image of their body. Ideally, when a baby moves freely, they understand the effects of their body in space. However, when they move only within the constraints of a container, the brain begins to include this container as a part of their body image and the understanding of just their body in space gets distorted.  

  • Reduced Synaptic Connections

The first year of life is crucial in making several synaptic connections in the brain and this happens when the baby is in contact with the environment. When they accidentally kick a toy or a bat an object, they realise the impact their tiny body has on the environment, leading to repetition and several synaptic connections. The less opportunities for free movement, the less interactions they have with their surroundings and lesser synaptic connections they form.

  • Cognitive Limitations

The human brain is a phenomenal tool with immense potential. The mind and body communicate with each other and the more we do to free the body, the more the child can do to feed their minds. A baby doesn’t know an apple from an orange by being strapped to a container and looking at them in picture books but by being on the floor, figuring out the distance to the fruit and crawling towards it, holding it in both their hands and finally discovering it’s many properties. A child’s knowledge of the world is built from interactions in it and the world is just not the same when they are being moved around from one container to another, without the freedom to explore. 

  • Gross & Fine Motor Lag 

More and more children are having difficulty being on their tummy, sitting up, crawling and walking. They are having problems using their hands to accomplish even the simplest tasks. The human hand and body are great tools that have the potential to do many things. A child can use their hands to paint, sculpt, cook or sew. They can use their bodies in a variety of ways to swim, dance, jump and run. For a child to reach such dexterity and coordination is not an impossible feat but a journey of firstly discovering their body and its abilities. If we free them from these containers, they are one step closer to reaching these possibilities.

How do we find a Balance?

  • Compensate Being Strapped with Free Movement

For every half hour that our babies need to spend in containers, we must try to compensate with an hour of absolutely free movement. Some containers for children are unavoidable and rather, essential, like a car seat. However, it will be helpful to let the baby free, the moment we reach our destination. If we need to drive longer, then we can plan such that our babies can have some free movement.

A family in the middle of nowhere, stopping to give their baby some free movement!
  • Free Movement Area

It is also helpful to have a movement area for the baby that can be both indoors and outdoors. This is where the baby can practice being on their tummy, kicking, batting, crawling, sitting and discovering their hands. Place simple objects such as a rattle, a ball or a fruit that will capture their attention and urge them to move towards it. Keep their hands and feet exposed as much as possible so that they can observe them, take them to their mouths and understand their possibilities.

  • Opportunity to Observe Others

It will also help to give young children the opportunity to watch people using their hands and legs. This can be anything from watching us chop vegetables for dinner, use a broom to sweep the floor, dance, exercise, knit, paint or wash dishes at the sink.

When we give our children enough experience to move freely and watch others move, they will begin to imitate and gradually gain control over their body. They will have the skill-set and confidence to step out of their small space and move in harmony with the rest of life. 

The Toys in our Children’s Lives

The child under six is an explorer who understands the world using their senses. So, what we offer them for exploration must represent this world, spark their curiosity and stimulate their growing intellect. Instead, as a society, we have taken our children far away from the richness of the natural world and placed them in a plastic one filled with toys that offer little or no stimulation to their hungry senses.

How we have viewed Toys? 

  • An Entertainment

Most toys that we buy off shelves are merely used as fillers to entertain the child. They are designed to occupy their attention for a short span of time and often fail to do even this because of their superficial nature and we see them move from one object to another, visibly hungry for more. These toys make sounds and noises when buttons are pressed, making them artificial and over stimulating. This kind of distorted representation only takes them further away from understanding their world.

Messy Toys

  • Plastic is Easy

The other problem with most toys is that they are made out of a single material – PLASTIC. The reason being, plastic is most durable, affordable and endures the child’s handling. But in guaranteeing their safety, plastic toys rob children of many sensorial experiences. Imagine this curious explorer take plastic after plastic to their mouth only to receive the same information from each of them. It is ironic that the plastic which is so colourfully decorated on the outside fails to offer them anything more than that.

“Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses and therefore, for learning and creativity too.”

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

  • More is Better

Because the child’s attention is easily waned with these toys, we feel the need to buy more to occupy their time and slowly, they begin to take up a huge portion of our homes. They are then dumped in big buckets, making it impossible for the child to take a toy of their choice without pouring everything else on the floor. We gradually convince ourselves that young children have lesser attention spans and feed this fallacy with more and more toys. 

How  we  CAN  view  Toys?
The toys that we surround the child with must invite them to use each of their senses, raising many questions in their heads that lead to further exploration and discovery.

  • Experience

Instead of viewing toys as entertainers, let us look at them as experience-givers or teachers. Before choosing a toy, close your eyes and hold the toy between your hands. Feel the texture, take the toy to your nose and take in the unique scent, shake the toy to see if it makes any noise and then open your eyes to see how it looks visually. This experiment will give an idea of how many different experiences a simple object can offer. Look for toys made out of different natural materials such as bamboo, brass, silver, steel, wood, copper and natural fabric such as cotton, silk or wool. These can be part of your immediate environment or something that the child sees others using. 

Bamboo shakers, metal rattles, a leaf or flower, a small cup, spoon or tumbler, a bangle, honey dipper, balls made from different kinds of natural fabric, dry gourds with seeds, wooden clackers, a small brush with soft bristles, bells, variety of vegetables and fruits. 

  • Abstraction & Imagination

Every concrete experience that the child has in the world feeds their intellect and helps them create abstractions. An abstraction helps the child hold the world in their little heads. It is this abstraction that helps them blossom as adults with vivid imaginations. If plastic is the only material we offer them, then that will form the basis of their imagination. Instead, if we open up the world and show them different ways to explore it, they will create many abstractions each day which will also aid in the appreciation of the natural world. 

When truly present in nature, we do use all our senses at the same time, which is the optimum state of learning.” 

Richard Louv, The Nature Principle

  • Less is More

In a world of abundance, we are constantly led to believe that more is better. When a child is bored with a toy, it is not time to buy another one but to show another way to explore the same toy. When we buy and hoard buckets and buckets of toys, they lose value and children run from one to the other, finding it hard to settle down with any. It is important to have variety but limit the number that we offer them at any given time. 

The world is filled with abundant riches; we only need to pause for a moment and look. Let us pack the plastic away and instead offer our children toys that are a piece of their environment. Let the child take it, explore it, own it and become a part of it!