While working in the county schools system in the late ’90s, occupational therapist Anne Zachry noticed she was seeing a lot of young students who had trouble controlling the muscles of their arms and hands well enough to write legibly. A trained researcher, she started investigating, and the end result is her new book, “Retro Baby,” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and released Oct. 1.
Zachry, PhD, OTR/L, an assistant professor of Occupational Therapy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), discovered that many of the children with underdeveloped fine motor skills had spent considerable time as infants in car seats, carriers and bouncers and very little time sitting up on their own, having “tummy time” play on blankets or being carried around by their parents. As a result, their muscles and motor skills suffered.
A car seat is meant for travel time, Zachry explains, but if a baby is in one much of the day, he can see only what is straight ahead, has no need to hold himself erect or support head and neck muscles, and may wind up with a flat spot on the back of the head. A baby carried on mom’s hip is forced to develop back muscles to stay erect, must use neck muscles to turn his head and is more likely to make eye contact.
Zachry wanted to get the word out to parents about the benefits of a back-to-basics approach when bringing up baby – fewer gadgets and gear, more bonding and play the old-fashioned way. So, she decided to write a book. Despite rejections from several commercial publishers, she took a chance and emailed the AAP with her book proposal. Within weeks, she had a response and a publisher.
“Retro Baby,” subtitled “Cut Back on All the Gear and Boost your Baby’s Development with More than 100 Time-tested Activities,” discusses how an infant’s brain and motor skills develop, and offers information and suggestions from Zachry and experts at the AAP for activities that promote it.
The book has ideas for homemade toys that let the baby do the work at playtime, including blocks made from milk cartons, drums made from an oatmeal box and baby spoons, and cloth books you can stitch up. Zachry included photos of Memphis babies to illustrate her points.
“I wrote this book to spread the word about the importance of limiting screen time and baby gear use with infants under 2 years of age,” said Zachry, the mother of three. “My hope is that parents will understand the importance of spending one-on-one time with their baby. The activities in the book are fun and promote physical and mental development.”
Ann H. Nolen, PsyD, OTR, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at UTHSC, said the book is a “must” for parents who want to enrich their child’s development and have fun at the same time. “The activities are engaging and require minimal expenditure,” she said. “In a world that has moved too far in restricting children’s healthy exploration of the environment, this book sends a clear message – movement matters.”
“Retro Baby,” $16.95, is available through amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and will be in bookstores Oct. 29.