Embodied Cognition and Perceptual-Motor Experience 

We know that a well-informed parent or caregiver plays a critical role in providing meaningful experiences that shape an infant’s development.  My colleague Lynn Shea, an OT/Early Intervention specialist, forwarded an article cited below that got me to thinking a bit more about the ‘tummy time controversy’.  In alignment with dynamic systems theory and other developmental frameworks, Michele A Lobo, PT, PhD, et al. argue that an infant’s early «perceptual-motor experience – within environmental, social, and cultural contexts – actively builds, maintains, and alters cognition», meaning «not only more traditional cognitive abilities but also broader perceptual-motor, language, and social abilities.»


This ‘grounded’ or ‘embodied cognition and its relationship to infant experience and interaction leads the authors to suggest that physical therapy interventions be redesigned to focus on improving key perceptual-motor abilities.  Object interaction is one such task; by 4 or 5 months a typically developing baby can reach, grasp and explore an object, and share their delight with the observant parent.


But what if, by three or four months, an infant has not discovered how to roll over, to generate the rich world of proprioception in the prone position, or to orient himself towards a toy lying to one side ….. what if this baby has spent most of these months on her back, or strapped into a bouncer, swing or car seat ….. what kind of embodied cognition develops?


Dr. Chava Shelhav, founder of Child’Space, teaches the importance of these early months in allowing the baby to feel his front against the floor while strengthening his back to lift his head, to discover the ability to change his environment, to look at new vistas, to press against the floor and move in early experiments with weight shift and locomotion.  Even the fine motor skills are influenced, developing from the closed fist of the newborn to learning to open and press the hand against the floor in prone, just in time for reaching and grasping.


Encouraging parents to engage in floor time play, teaching them to use movement and touch to support their baby’s explorations,  expanding the concept of ‘tummy time’ to be part of the process, not just a destination – well, it’s hard for me to see the down side of this style of parenting.


Barbara Leverone, Certified Child’Space Practitioner and Trainer, Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner


Phys Ther. 2013 Jan; 93(1): 94–103.

Published online 2012 Sep 20. doi:  10.2522/ptj.20120158 PMCID: PMC3538987

Grounding Early Intervention: Physical Therapy Cannot Just Be About Motor Skills Anymore

Michele A. Lobo, Regina T. Harbourne, Stacey C. Dusing, Sarah Westcott McCoy

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