Children Equipment

Sarah Cowgill (Physiotherapist – Burnie / Somerset)

There are a lot of toys, gadgets and structures available on the market that are advertised to help our child’s development.

It is often hard to know what to use and whether these items are helpful or harmful for our child’s motor development.

Below is a list of common equipment advertised towards children and a description of the potential harms or benefits to your child’s development.

First up on the list:

Baby walkers

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What are they?

Baby walkers are products that hold the baby upright, often with a sling between their legs with a table around them that they can play on. The walker is set at a height so the child can push off using their toes and propel the table which is on wheels.

Helpful/Unhelpful for development?

They are unhelpful in child development

There are a lot of studies which conclude that baby walkers are detrimental to a child’s development and result in developmental delay

(Pin, Eldridge & Galea, 2007), (Crochman, 1986), (Kauddman & Ridenour, 1977), (Ridenour, 1982), (Seigel & Burton, 1999).

Why?

Children go through developmental stages by building muscle and coordination in a specific order. The order normal is as follows:

  1. Building head and core control in tummy time/learning arm and leg coordination while on their back.
  2. Gaining core control from sitting.
  3. Gaining arm and leg strength from crawling or pulling self-up and coasting on furniture.
  4. Putting it all together to walk.

If a child is placed in a baby walker for long periods when they don’t have the leg or core strength to naturally be there, they will start to develop ineffective strategies to move the walker which can result in poor hip stability and toe walking for example. Children who use baby walkers can also show delayed development on their tummy and when rolling. A child’s walking technique has also been found to be impacted by using a baby walker.

In addition there is a safety concern that they may trip over in these objects causing injury.

Bumbos

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What are they?

Bumbos are a plastic molded chair that look a little like a potty but are wider and have more back support. The child can be sat in them so that they are seated upright and supported even before they have learnt to sit themselves.

They are unhelpful in child development

Bumbos can slow a child’s physical development if they are used a lot.

Why?

Bumbos are only okay if a child is placed in them for short periods of time and very infrequently. They should also only be used if the child has the neck stability and strength to support their head. They should not be used to teach a child to sit or rely on for long periods of time. It is very important for a child to develop core strength from learning to sit independently. If they are regularly placed in a Bumbo they will depend on this external support and not have to learn to develop the muscle support themselves.

There is also a safety concern that if placed at a height the Bumbo can fall off to the ground with the child inside.

Jolly Jumpers

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What are they?

Jolly jumpers are a sling which wraps between the child’s legs and attaches to a spring system which attaches to a doorway or something up high. The child is put into an upright position where their feet can just touch the ground. As the child pushes off with their feet, they spring up slightly off the ground like they are jumping.

They are unhelpful in child development

Jolly jumpers can cause muscle issues and delay development .

Why?

Babies are held in a suspended position and therefore are not required to use their core muscles to hold them in this position. This can lead to core muscles taking longer to develop strength and therefore slow down the progression of large / gross movement patterns that require a stable base of support to complete. Jolly jumpers can also lead to calf tightness as the baby is continuously pushing off from their toes causing the muscle to be constantly shortened. They also encourage abnormal motor patterns in the leg. When we walk and crawl we extend our hips and knees behind our body to create torque to push off. In jolly jumpers babies hips are always in a flexed position in front of the body and the knees are always slightly flexed as well. This caused muscle imbalances that could delay walking development.

What should we use then?

The Australian Guidelines recommend children aged between birth-1 year of age participate in floor-based play, specifically with at least 30 minutes of tummy-based play throughout the day. It is also recommended that children not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (i.e. in a car seat or highchair) (Australian Government: Department of Health, 2019).

This enables babies to develop the core, back and neck strength they require to provide them with a stable base of support to be able to then use their legs and arms effectively. The above three pieces of equipment all eliminate the need for babies to develop their base of support which can lead to development delay and movement pattern issues later.

As an alternative to the equipment above try these pieces of equipment instead:

  1. Mat with toys – before a baby can pull themselves to standing the best form of equipment for motor development is floor-based play. Spending time either on their back or preferably on their tummy will provide them with the best potential to reach their developmental goals. There is a lot of evidence that shows that the more tummy-based play a child has, the quicker they will reach their developmental milestones (Pin, Eldridge & Galea, 2007).
  2. Activity table – an activity table will encourage an older baby to start to pull themselves to standing promoting an opportunity to develop strength in their legs. Because they are not supported once standing and their arms are outside their base of support (while playing on the table) it will cause the child to have to turn on their core muscles and help them to develop further in upright positions.
  3. Pushers/Prams etc. – Pushers on wheels are a fantastic way to assist a child to develop walking skills when they are just starting to learn the skill. It gives them something to hold onto and can be a fun way for them to move about. Make sure they are supervised.
  4. Cute little asian 5 - 6 months old  baby boy child at tummy time Premium PhotoPlay pens – parents need rests from time to time and sometimes children need to be kept at bay instead of a parent worrying where they will roll, crawl or walk to. Play pens are a good option for this as it enables children to have a safe space to play in while not physically restraining their bodies.

An important consideration with any child equipment is to choose equipment that encourages a child to use their core, legs and arm strength. Equipment that restrains a child normally doesn’t allow this. If needing to keep a child at bay and restrain them – only do so for very short periods at a time and avoid jolly jumpers and baby walkers. Remember to pick equipment suited to the child’s current developmental capacities.

References

Pin T, Eldridge B, Galea MP (2007) A review of the effects of sleep position, play position, and equipment use on motor development in infants. Dev Med Child Neurol. 49:858–67

Department of Health (2019). Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Guidelines and the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines. Retrieved from https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines