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Best Toys for Baby - Walkers and Exersaucers - March 2009

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Best Toys for Baby, Walkers and Exersaucers

By: Jessica Sapel, MPT

As therapists we know that when a baby arrives into a family, parents find themselves surrounded by dozens of toys and activity equipment for the little one. Baby walkers, push toys, exersaucers and jumpers may clutter the home, but many parents of your clients may not know which items are best for their child’s physical development. How can you answer their questions?

Let’s begin with baby walkers and push toys. While children may enjoy moving around in a walker, this toy can lead to bad habits. Baby walkers encourage a child to lean forward when walking, walk on their toes, and walk with their feet turned inward. As a child sits in a walker, they may be dangling in the seat and not fully supporting their weight through their legs, which can cause damage to ligaments in the hips, knees and ankles. If a child loses his or her balance, they can sit down in the seat, rather than learning to “catch” themselves with their hands. Standing in a walker also discourages the development of independence and safety awareness due to being surrounded by the support of the walker; it allows a child to walk before the other areas of development are also ready. Essentially, extended use of a baby walker can delay independent walking for a child.

When a child uses a push toy, strength is built in the trunk, arms, and legs; balance improves; and appropriate development of the foot and arches occur. Because push toys allow the child to be completely weight-bearing through both legs, ligament damage is prevented. Children learn to shift their weight from side to side appropriately, which promotes independent walking, running, and other higher level motor activities. Active play with a push toy also encourages safety awareness by holding onto the toy and teaches problem-solving skills such as backing up and turning around.

Like baby walkers, exersaucers and jumpers can have the same negative effects on a child. Overuse of these items encourages a child to stand on tiptoes, which can lead to walking on their toes; cause damage to ligaments in the hips, knees and ankles if a child is dangling in the seat and not fully supporting their weight through their legs; and limit strength building in the trunk because the child may lean on the exersaucer rather than use active muscle control.

In order to ensure proper physical development, a child should sit on the floor and work to pull him or herself up to a standing position. This activity improves strength, balance and coordination in an age appropriate pattern. The transition of positions from sitting to standing promotes appropriate foot and arch development through active weight-bearing through the legs. This independent activity also encourages a child to walk along objects and hold onto them, such as a couch, rather than spinning in one position in an exersaucer.

Another trick to promote better balance when walking is to suggest that the child walk in bare feet rather than wearing shoes; it enables the child to better use small foot muscles and their toes for balance. “Walking shoes” can be supportive, however, may prevent appropriate development and strengthening of muscles in the foot.

Although baby walkers, exersaucers and jumpers can delay development, they may still be used for short periods of time if your child enjoys them. Limit the child’s time in them to 10-15 minutes. Also, discontinue use if the child has low muscle tone, appears weak, or begins picking up bad habits, such as those mentioned above. Just like anything else for your child, everything in moderation!


This Month's Featured Organization: Advance Therapy Associates

Special Thanks to Susan Petruzzi and Jessica Sapel for Jessica's article on using baby walkers and exersaucers.

Advance THERAPY ASSOCIATES is a full service therapy company employing occupational and physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, early intervention associates and certified occupational therapy assistants. We provide quality outpatient clinic, early intervention, school system services & home care.

Visit their website at: http://www.advancetherapyassoc.com.

Tags: March 2009 Newsletter PT Article Gross Motor Skills