At 8 months a human baby is still a little wild animal, a powerhouse of promise, full of unreasoned native wisdom. Because his physical reactions are still largely instinctive, and instinctively self-protective, this is the best and safest of all ages to teach him tumbling and to introduce him to acrobatic apparatus. Guided like a playful puppy by his natural inclinations, the baby ventures into unfamiliar spaces and postures full of confidence; at the same time, he can be trained in valuable habits of safety, as 8-month-old René Ponteau demonstrates below. These habits become more and more important—and more and more difficult to teach—as a child grows older and plays harder but with less inherent wisdom.
Exercises for the 8-month-old are planned to put to practical use the body muscles which the earlier exercises (SI, May 2, et seq.) have helped to make ready.
Tip-Toe reach utilizes the benefits of baby's earlier foot exercises to counteract weakening effects of standing on mattresses. Stretching action strengthens the baby's whole foot.
Flexibility exercises are essential. The lateral spread (1) prevents tightening of growing pelvic and thigh muscles. Snail (2) stretches back muscles and, more important, encourages the baby's natural inclination to turn his head to protect his neck muscles. The alternate leg stretch (3) loosens the back of the leg and back muscles, one side at a time, for greater suppleness.
The wing-out gives the baby an early introduction to space flight and a test in courage. The baby's back muscles are now stronger, so that he will begin to arch high enough to raise his feet. Mother-climbing (above right) allows the ambitious 8-month-old baby to coordinate leg and back muscles in an exciting game as he learns to negotiate insecure and uncertain terrain.
One-foot handstand (1) is the next exercise for the baby whose lower back muscles have by now amassed sufficient strength to make the adjustment from the two-foot support. The challenge of a sturdy rope (2) and a round stick (3), coupled with baby's keen desire to put them into his mouth, serves to build shoulder, arm and hand strength as he tugs against them.