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Connecting “Tummy Time” and Development

The favorite toy in my house when my kids were growing up was an old-fashioned set of Tinker Toys.  Bought as a spur of the moment gift at Christmas it turned out to be the most popular toy for years. The kids could make anything out of it, as long as there were enough connectors.  With endless connectors came limitless possibilities for play.

The same can be said for the tummy position for infants.  It’s not just a motor milestone, it’s a connector piece.  Being on their tummy allows babies to activate their labyrinth or balance system that helps them understand where they are in space.  They experience touch along the whole front surface of their body and this develops

body awareness.  They learn to push off of the surface, first with their arms and then with their legs, activating/strengthening many muscles against gravity.  These experiences build the sensory and motor wiring in the brain that supports vision, core strength, balance and more complex movement.

That’s not to say that babies who can’t be on their tummy for some reason have to miss out on these connections.  As therapists we talk about “modified positioning.” All this really means is the child doesn’t have to be flat on the floor in order to get these benefits.

Holding a baby on your chest is a modified tummy position.  So is letting them push off your chest as you are sitting reclined.

And of course, lying or standing against a surface is also a modified tummy position – that’s one of the reasons why therapists love therapy balls!

And if for some reason an older child can benefit from more time in prone, there are lots of fun ways to accomplish that.

In the end, tummy time in all its forms provides key connections between children’s brains and their bodies.  And just like Tinker Toys, those connections provide limitless possibilities.

Shelley Mannell is a Physical Therapist in St. Catharines, Canada with 25 years of experience supporting children and families on their journey to independence. You can read about HeartSpace Physical Therapy for Children at or follow Shelley on Facebook at HeartSpacePT or on Twitter @heartspacept. 

Photo credits:

tinker toys: Growing Tree Toys

ball therapy:

girl on hammock swing: DreamGYM indoor gyms blog (

baby on chest: Shelley Mannell, author of post

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