Health: Getting Ready To Roll

From the day Avrick Altmann was born 15 months ago, his mom, Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann, has kept him moving. She gave him plenty of "tummy time" on the floor. She held up bright objects and rattles so he would lift his head. When he was about 4 months, she even bought him a tiny basketball hoop (LeapFrog Learning Hoops; $24.83 at walmart. com ) so he could practice shooting a ball through it. "Kids form habits at an extremely young age," says Altmann, editor in chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics' book "The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones" ($24), due out this week.

Increasingly, physicians worry that those habits will turn out to be sedentary ones. Babies need plenty of time on their bellies to strengthen muscles for rolling over and crawling. But with the AAP telling parents to put babies to sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS, and with multitasking caregivers keeping kids in strollers and car seats while they run errands or take phone calls, babies are too sedentary. "Our lives are busier, and everybody seems to feel pinched for time," says pediatrician Stephen Rice, chairman of the health and science policy committee for the American College of Sports Medicine. Here's how to make sure your infant gets enough quality playtime.

Get down: Babies like to play on the floor with their favorite toys--their parents. Your mere presence causes them to kick more, says James Galloway, associate professor of physical therapy and psychology at the University of Delaware. Starting at about 10 weeks, lie beside your baby on the floor to encourage her to roll toward you. Later, buy stacking blocks or other colorful toys (try the Baby Whoozit, $8.95 at amazon.com ) and place them away from her, so she'll reach, wriggle or crawl to get them.

Vary your setting: Expose your baby to as many textures, smells and sounds as possible. If it's warm, take him outside on the grass. Indoors, move between a colorful floor mat (see softnsafe.com ) and soft furniture. Closely supervise your baby at all times (for childproofing tips, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission at cpsc.gov ).

Turn on the tunes: Play a variety of music to get them moving. The "For the Kids" album ($10.99; amazon.com ) has tunes by Cake and Barenaked Ladies that parents will love, too.

Don't overdirect: Free play stimulates your child's curiosity, so remember to sometimes sit back and watch."You want to let them explore the world on their own terms," says Rice.

Limit car-seat and stroller time: When you can, take your baby in your arms or in a carrier like the Baby Bjorn (from $79.99; babiesrus.com ) instead of a stroller. That way, "when you're moving, the baby also has to move," says Mary Weck, a physical therapist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Curb use of stationary play centers: These devices, which keep babies suspended, may delay walking, says Weck. Instead, use a playpen like the Graco Pack 'n Play (from $59.99 at buybuybaby.com ) to keep kids safe while you cook dinner. Avoid walkers, which can cause injuries.

Have fun: "Everything that your infant sees and touches and smells stimulates brain development," says Altmann. Exercise may seem tedious to you. But for babies, it's just playtime.