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Movement and Brain Development in Infants

This is an excerpt from Brain-Compatible Dance Education 2nd Edition With Web Resource by Anne Green Gilbert.

Developmental Movement Patterns: Origins of the BrainDance

A baby does the BrainDance naturally in the first 12 months of life, as long as it is placed on a smooth, uncarpeted floor. Carpets and blankets may inhibit developmental movement from two months on because it is hard to crawl and creep on thick carpets and fluffy blankets. The baby moves most successfully when the hands, legs, and feet are bare (as in a onesie). Caregivers may enhance the baby's development through interaction and shared play on the floor. Time together on the floor strengthens bonding, social skills and sensorimotor skills for baby and caregiver.


Following is a snapshot of a baby's BrainDance during its first year of life:


Baby's first breath initiates dendritic branching from brain cells.

Tactile stimulation begins with the first touch of skin on skin. Bonding occurs through close contact with loving caregivers. The sensorimotor system is developed as the baby explores a variety of objects and textures.

In the first 2 months of life, the baby will reach into space in order to connect with the environment (extension) and curl back into the womb position (flexion), demonstrating the core−distal pattern.

At 2 months, the baby has better head control and will lift and turn the head in both directions continuing the head−tail pattern begun in the womb.

Upper−lower body halves are strengthened as the baby pushes with the arms and hands and then with feet and knees. Near−far vision is also developed.

Between 5 and 7 months, the baby reaches with one side of the body, moving the left half of the body as one unit and then the right half. After integrating the body-side belly crawl, the baby will move in a cross-lateral belly crawl. As the baby crawls, horizontal eye tracking develops.

Between 7 and 9 months, the baby pushes up onto hands and knees and repeats the upper−lower push−pull pattern. The baby then creeps on hands and knees in a body-side pattern before creeping on hands and knees in a cross-lateral pattern. Vertical eye tracking is part of the growth triggered by creeping on hands and knees. The convergence of horizontal, vertical, and near−far eye tracking is essential for reading. From 1 year onward, cross-lateral patterns appear in walking, running, and eventually skipping.

The vestibular system begins developing in utero, stimulated by the mother's movement. This system continues to be very active through the first 15 months of life as the baby is rocked, held in different positions, and independently rolls, creeps, and sits up. The vestibular system analyzes movements through the whole body, helps you know where you are in space, and links up to all forms of sensory information. This very important system is used when you read, hear, speak, touch, balance, and move. Every movement stimulates the vestibular system to support brain development.


An infant explores tactile and upper−lower patterns with help of Mom.