Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

December 22, 2020

Development & Play: The First Year

By: Sam Develli, OTR/L

0-6 months

Infants from 0-6 months are starting to explore their environment through their senses and gaining voluntary control over movement through this exploration. As exploratory movement continues, the infant gains strength and coordination to interact better with his/her environment. During this time, the infant gains control of their head, starts to sit with a wide base and arms propped on the floor, and their back starts to flatten and legs come together when on stomach or back.

This time period is crucial for the integration of primitive reflexes, such as the grasp reflex. This is also the start of protective and equilibrium responses, meaning the infant is starting to gain control of their posture. We see protective responses to the front when in sitting (arms go forward to prevent from falling), and equilibrium responses when lying on stomach (can alter posture through comprehension of body position by the cochlea in the ears and subsequent muscle activation to remain in a stable position).

Throughout this period, the infant gains the ability to bring their hands to midline and transfer toys from hand to hand. They primarily use a gross grasp on objects such as blocks, with a gradual maturation from the pinky side with little thumb use to the thumb side, starting to open the web space in order to start to move toys to their fingers rather than palm. We also tend to see reaching behaviors starting during this period. By the end, the infant is able to bear weight on their forearms when lying on stomach and reach forward toward objects.

Play Style: Exploratory- sensorimotor predominates, social play focused on attachment and bonding with parents.

Appropriate Toys

  • Sensory Exploration
  • Reaching for Objects
  • Toys to be brought to mouth
  • Colorful, bright, musical toys
  • Play mats

6 months – 1 year

Increased movement leads to improved ability to weight shift and move into and out of positions, such as getting to sitting when lying on stomach or rolling over and pushing up onto hands and knees when on back. This movement leads to the ability to crawl, first on belly and then on hands and knees. A child of this age can also sit alone steadily and gains the ability to rotate their upper body in sitting while their lower body remains stationary. This is also a very exciting time as the baby learns to stand by first pulling to stand at furniture and gaining increased control that eventually leads to independent walking around the first birthday.

Thankfully, the infant also gains protective extension backwards and fully develops equilibrium responses when sitting, leading to better postural adjustments and increased safety and security in sitting. They also gain equilibrium reactions in standing around 12 months, leading to better postural adjustment when standing and walking.

At this age, babies gain volitional release, and can start to release toys into a container by the end. This increased hand control leads to the development of a pincer grasp, by holding small objects (i.e. food) between the pad of the thumb and the side of the index finger. With this skill, the baby starts to have interest in self-feeding by attempting to hold their bottle, holding and sucking on a cracker, holding and playing with spoons, and starting to finger feed self a portion of their meal.

This period is crucial for the development of the first stage of psychosocial development, trust versus mistrust. The infant gains trust through regular feedings and sufficient responses by caregivers when crying or distressed.

Play Styles: Exploratory, Functional, and Social Play

Appropriate Toys:

  • Toys that can be banged/make sounds
  • Release toys into container/get out
  • Balls
  • Button toys that use index finger
  • Toys that move
  • Toys that they can lean on in standing and play
  • Picture books

1 year

This age is all about moving! The toddler is able to start and stop when walking and starts to run stiffly by the end of this stage. Watch out because this is when the child learns how to creep, then walk, up and down stairs and starts to jump down from a step. At this age, the child is ‘marking time’ when using stairs, meaning they put both feet on each step rather than alternating feet on steps.

They also gain precise controlled release of objects and a fine pincer grasp, gaining the ability to hold small objects between their thumb and index finger pads. This increased hand control leads to the start of holding a writing utensil and scribbling on paper. Typically, the child starts with a full-fisted grasp on the writing utensil with their palm up and progresses to holding the writing utensil in their fingers with their palm down. This grasp also is used when holding a spoon, becoming proficient in spoon use by the end of this stage and starting to demonstrate interest in using a fork.

At this age, the toddler can start to assist with dressing, including the ability to push their arms and legs through clothing, pulling off shoes/socks, and removing an unfastened coat. They can help pull down their pants and are able to find the armholes in a t-shirt by the end of the first year. A child of this age loves to imitate the housework habits of their parents and are able to put away their toys with parent reminders by the end.

At this age, the child develops control of behaviors with an increased awareness of social demands, compliance, and self-initiated monitoring of behaviors.

Play Style: Functional, Relational, Gross Motor, Pretend/Symbolic, Social Play

  • Simple pretend play directed toward self
  • Imitative play
  • Rolling & crawling to explore room
  • Parallel play with peers- starts to take turns & watch other children
  • Sensory input of gross motor play
  • Makes inanimate objects perform objects
  • Pretends objects are real/that they symbolize another object
  • Object permanence fully developed- understand that an object is still there, even when they cannot see it

Appropriate Toys:

  • Extreme sensations- hot, cold, sweet
  • Messy
  • Crayons/markers
  • Release toys
  • Blocks
  • Inset puzzles (4-5 pieces)
  • Open/shut containers
  • Play dough
  • Rough & tumble play
  • Stringing beads
  • Tools- play hammer
  • Books
  • Jungle gym/slides
  • Ride-on toys without pedals
  • Balls