The Benefits Of Tummy Time For All Ages (Plus Exercise Ideas!)

Tummy time, or when a baby lies on his stomach while supporting his body with his elbows, is vital for development.  Around six months of age, tummy time leads to a baby assuming prone extension, more commonly known as the “airplane position,” as a response to gravity.  The baby lifts his head, upper back, arms, and legs off of the ground.  These positions strengthen muscles used in gross motor movements from rolling to walking.   

Engagement in prone activities (lying on stomach) continues to be important as the child grows.  Tummy time and assuming prone extension has many benefits:

  • increases core strength needed for a stable base of support in sitting
  • increases upper extremity strength and stability needed for fine motor tasks
  • strengthens neck muscles needed for visual tracking 
  • facilitates sensory integration and reflex integration
  • increases body awareness
  • regulates the nervous system which can elicit a calming response

A child should be able to hold prone extension for 20-30 seconds by the age of six.  Children who exhibit difficulty holding this pose, often also have difficulty engaging in daily activities at home and school.  Thankfully, children can still experience benefits from engaging in tummy time and related activities:

  • Play superman:  assume prone extension and pretend to fly like superman!  Place a favorite stuffed animal on the child’s back so he can pretend to fly the animal to safety or to its favorite place
  • Roll a bouncy ball:  child lies on stomach to catch and roll a ball with both hands either with a parent or at a target like bowling pins
  • Scooter board:  child lies down on board and uses arms to propel self through a traffic cone obstacle course, holds onto a rope while caregiver pulls the rope, or gathers bean bag to toss into a basket
  • Fine motor tasks:  child props himself up on elbows while lying on the floor for coloring, completing a puzzle, building with blocks, or even watching TV
  • Therapy ball:  child lies over a ball (or couch, or caregiver’s lap) and holds himself up with open hands while “walking” laterally and forwards/backwards to grasp items to engage in a task (i.e. grab a coin then “walk” on hands to place coin in piggy bank)

The possibilities are endless!  Try one of these ideas or use your imagination and develop your own activities to try with your child today!

-Allison Widman, OTR/L