Body to Brain Learning Professional Development Series | Integrating Thinking

I Hate Electronic Baby Swings & Other Devices.

baby care devices braindevelopment neurodevelopment neuromotor development sensory development and learning Feb 22, 2022
Integrating Thinking
I Hate Electronic Baby Swings & Other Devices.

"Electronic Baby Swings make me Cringe.  Jolly jumpers, the same.  Walkers and Bumbo seats? Yep, those do too!"

I've recently spent some time surfing internet sites searching for infant toys, baby care devices, and other things that supposedly support an infant's growth and development. 

What I've found scares me, and here's why.

These products seem to disregard what we know is best for early childhood development. Instead, they seem to be designed to remove some of the human connection opportunities required for early learning, brain and body development.  (Google the images, and you will see what I mean.)  

There are volumes of current papers, evidence and literature highlighting the importance of connection – emotional connection, support and working with and beside our children as they grow and learn to adapt to our world. This is not only crucial for their physical development, their social and emotional development, but also their neurological and cognitive development. 

The perspective and "lens" I use in these internet cruises is a "Learning" lens, a "developmental learning" lens informed by neurodevelopmental science. This is how that lens works:  We spend our lives learning about our world and those in it, and we spend our lives adapting to the requirements of that world. Sometimes that includes academic learning, but this perspective primarily consists of a much broader view of learning. I work in a field where we know that our learning and adaptive functioning are the key to wellbeing, survival, and learning about living. It's a lifelong process with some key stages in its development and application. Learning is more than just brain activity, and our body and sensory experiences guide it. Our body trains, informs and drives how we learn and respond to our environment. It's the way our brain receives information about the world and the people in that world. We need our senses and body systems to support our brain function, to help us reach our learning potential, and help us be people/humans.

So, what's that got to do with electronic baby swings, jolly jumpers, walkers and children's toys and devices?

Pretty much everything. 

You see, nature has hard-wired us and provided us with the necessary processes and systems to support our brain to develop. But, sometimes, by using a "new device" in our baby-rearing world, we are actually interfering with that process and interrupting our infants' opportunities to use their bodies to train their brains and grow their minds for later life function. Let me explain.

We are born as immature creatures who need 100% support and nurturing from others to survive. We aren't born finished, but we are born ready. How does nature do that? 

The standard gestational period of nine months is ideal for preparing our bodies and senses to enter a gravitational world. That world is very different from our mother's womb's protective environment, and, it is independent of our mother's feeding and survival system. We've spent the first nine months of growing into a baby human in a protected environment, connected to our mother's life-giving and supporting systems. At about 9 months post-conception, we are ready to graduate to do things for ourselves –  basic things like breathing, eating etc.

At this point, our brain is far from being fully mature, but it's ready to start the process of getting there. 

The birth process helps trigger the body systems ready for this transition into the new environment. There isn't much cognitive activity in the upper parts of our brain at this stage. "Thinking", as we call many of our later brain activities and functions, isn't happening, nor is it the main focus of brain activity at this moment of our lives.

Our primary role is to survive, learn to function and prepare our body to operate by itself in this new world/environment. Those survival activities need to be automatic, and they need to be fast. Imagine thinking about when and whether you will inhale or exhale for every breath! That's not going to work for us as humans, and that's not how nature designed us. Thankfully the lower parts of our brain do that automatically for us. We don't need to slow down the automatic body function processes by thinking about them to get them moving. But, they need to be activated for operation independently. 

The birth process and our innate wiring system that includes our primitive reflexes help set us up for the subsequent survival and learning stage in our lives. Our central nervous system (CNS) (essentially our wiring system) is ready to mature and help our body and brain grow together to set us up for being independently functioning human beings in a human social setting in our earth-based environment. We need our social group, our family group, to help us adapt, grow our body and brain systems and develop our social, emotional and wellbeing connections so that we can thrive. And, we need mature, functioning sensory and motor systems to do that. 

Touch is our first sense to develop. We use it for calming babies, connecting with babies, teaching them about their world, helping them understand where their body starts and stops, and teaching them to interact with and "feel" their world. It's an externally directed sense that informs us about where we are in our world and how it physically feels. It's outwardly directed but inwardly informing.

We touch elements of our outside world; simultaneously, we learn how they feel. We give that sensory experience our own connections, interpretation and meaning. We learn about texture, pressure, temperature, expression of connection, relationships and safety, and many other things. We add the information and data that we are gathering to our experiential database of how we exist and operate within our world.

One of the beautiful things about learning about our world is that we discover and experience differences and variety, and we learn to feel safe with those differences. Our brain likes to predict our experience of the world and, as babies, we start the process of broadening our repertoires of experience and use that information to feel safe and operate within our known predictions and experiences within our world.

Humans naturally provide variety and variability in their touch, volume, visual cues. Yet, they also offer predictability and safety for the newborn who is learning about the new world into which they have entered.

The process is complicated yet simple.

Nature has wired us to interact and rely on other humans (our parents and family groups) to help us grow safely. The natural process is based on human interaction and environmental opportunity allowing a baby to explore, develop and function safely within its environment.

Electronic devices (like electronic swings) and capsule-like devices that artificially support a child's posture and limit their natural movement remove that human connection and opportunity for human touch, human variability, human difference. They digitise that experience. As a result, our children are missing out.

A mother/parent rocks a baby in their arms; while the rocking is rhythmical, it isn't digitally rhythmical and mechanised. There is variety in applying the movement, and the child's brain notices that. The child's vestibular system learns to adapt to the changes in rhythm and accommodates it. The child hears the parent breathing, feels their warmth, hears their voice, smells their unique body odours, learns to feel comfortable and, through these interactions, starts to regulate their own nervous system in conjunction with their caregiver. A digitised rocker or baby swing doesn't provide that.

Swaddling babies for prolonged periods is another of my gripes. While swaddling wraps them up and provides pressure that may replicate the internal womb-like experience – it also restricts the movement of the arms and the legs. It limits the expression and integration of primitive reflexes such as the ATNR, which is crucial for developing body, head and neck tone, vision, body control and postural security down the track when it matures. A baby needs to experience these reflex movements to develop and integrate them into a more mature central nervous system at the appropriate age, at the appropriate developmental stage.

Jolly jumpers and walkers don't help develop strength and body tone in the correct developmental sequence for children. Babies need to become posturally secure and confident in horizontal planes (front and back), before vertical planes (up and down). They need to learn to adapt and move forwards, backwards and roll over in those horizontal positions under their own control mechanisms before operating on two legs in a vertical plane. Rolling helps develop hip and pelvic mobility, core and structural strength that supports them, helps them crawl, then walk. Jolly jumpers and walkers don't allow that natural progression. These devices, when used too much, can short circuit the developmental process and the baby will develop muscular strength in their legs before the core and hip mobility of the child is well developed. This can impact later postural security.

Time on the floor. Tummy time. Time on their back. Time being held. Time and opportunity to develop neck, torso and core strength needs to be provided to help our children learn to use their bodies, support their bodies and gradually gain gross motor control that enables them to start walking, running and playing in life. Then they can develop their fine motor abilities.

Many modern devices and toys that I now see on the market restrict and manipulate the developmental sequence.  They play with the developmental order that nature has wired us with to prepare us for later function and learning. As humans, a neurosequential process is built into us; we need to honour that. 

So, that begs the question then, "what are the best toys/devices for children?" 

Quilts on the floor, toys they can grab, mouth and chew. Toys that attract their attention but require the baby to move towards it if it is out of reach. Opportunities to swing and straighten arms and legs as their head turns in a particular direction; opportunities to develop muscle tone in the neck, chest, arms, hands, torso, mid-body, pelvic and hip area, legs, feet and toes. This developmental process takes the best part of the first year of a baby's life.

Lying on the floor means that the whole of your front or back of your body can be in contact with the floor. That tactile input helps you understand where your body starts and stops. It helps you build a body map. As you move with primitive reflex movements, your muscle tone develops. Your control of your body starts to grow. Eventually, you have control over those movements as the primitive reflexes integrate into a mature body system that allows you to control and manipulate your posture. As a baby, you need the space and the opportunity to do that.

Electronic and capsule-like baby devices limit those experiences. They reduce human contact opportunities, and they can limit development.

Don't get me wrong here.  I'm not totally opposed to occasional strategies and uses of techniques and devices to assist with baby activities and interactions with babies. However, I am protesting constant, prolonged and early use of devices that limits natural development opportunities. Baby devices need to be used with care and thought and not just because they are the latest trendy device developed for "infant care". 

Developmental immaturity is definitely not trendy, and it is certainly not ideal for children and their later learning in life or at school. The choices we make in the first year around the baby devices we use to entertain, placate and "control" babies can interfere with the natural developmental processes that build the foundations for later learning and functional success.

We need to use baby care devices with care and considered intent, not just for convenience. We need to choose and use baby care devices wisely.

Understanding and applying the Body to Brain Learning process helps students and teachers attain better academic learning outcomes. It's a neurodevelopmental approach that impacts the well-being of students and teachers at school, and can help support neurodiverse students and those who work with them. It also assists those who are underachieving academically and are experiencing learning challenges because of neuromotor and sensory immaturity.  


If you would like to learn more about the Body to Brain Learning process and join in the conversation, then sign up for regular updates, training information and other 'neuro-nerd' learning facts using the button in the section below.  

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Dr Christine Payard (PhD) is a Neurodevelopmental Educator, founder of the "Body to Brain Learning Professional Development Series", Director of "Integrating Thinking" and the INPP Australia Principal.  

She is an experienced teacher, a passionate educator who could talk all day about learning, how we learn, the body, the brain, and a functional and developmental approach to learning.

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