Take the test: Will your home help baby learn?

TEXAS A&M (US) — A free, easy-to-use assessment tool can tell parents if their home is set up to help their baby learn and move.

The Affordances in the Home Environment for Motor Development-Infant Scale (AHEMD-IS) lets parents and clinical personnel create an optimal setting for motor development and can also be used as a tool for early intervention for children at risk for developmental delays. A user-friendly tool for parents is available free online.

“The first several years of life are a time of immense growth and learning and, for obvious reasons, the home is the primary agent for this development in the early years,” says Carl Gabbard, director of the Motor Development Lab at Texas A&M University. “Although we know the home environment contributes to infant motor development, little research exists examining this relationship.”

Using the tool, parents or caregivers answer various questions about infant and family characteristics, as well as those pertaining to availability of physical space inside and outside the home, daily activities, parental stimulation, play materials, and toys.

“For young children, the world can be compared to a playground, where each toy and piece of equipment affords a new motor action,” Gabbard says. “Infants experience learning and growth through affordances in their everyday activities and environments by playing with toys, crawling around furniture in the home, and interacting with nurturing adults and other children.

“The AHEMD-IS helps parents determine whether or not these crucial affordances are available in the home.”

The instrument has been used by Gabbard and his team in more than 500 homes in the United States, Portugal, and Brazil. Findings support the idea that the number and variety of affordances in the home can affect motor development.

Infants whose homes had higher AHEMD-IS scores displayed significantly better future motor scores. Efforts are under way to examine the association between home scores and cognitive ability as the child enters school, notes Gabbard.

The assessment tool has also been used for research purposes with several journal publications citing its use. Since its introduction, the AHEMD-IS has been translated from English to Dutch, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Polish, Spanish, and Arabic.

“We anticipate that this project will make a significant contribution toward understanding the potential of the home environment in optimizing motor development of the child, a factor that has come to be recognized as critical to overall infant and child mental health,” Gabbard says.

Researchers from Methodist University of Piracicaba (UNIMEP) in Brazil contributed to the tool’s development.

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