Milestones & More: Walking
Nora Hedgecock, OTR/L - April 30, 2020
Go, baby, go! The first, wobbly, steps open up a whole new world for baby. Every baby is different, but most babies begin to take their first steps around their first birthday (12-15 months). If your baby is not yet walking, there are many great activities to build their strength and confidence, and if your baby has just started to walk there are many ways to support their coordination and safety. It won’t be long before baby (and you) are on the run!
What comes before walking?
- Crawling: Builds strong core muscles and postural control that will help baby’s stability and mobility as walkers
- Pulling-to-stand: Using furniture or your body to pull up to stand, baby is developing their leg and core strength, and beginning to develop balance reactions to steady themselves in standing
- Cruising: After pulling up to stand, baby will begin to “cruise”, or walk along the surface while holding on for support
- Standing Without Support: Once baby’s strength and confidence builds, they’ll be ready to let go and stand on their own. Watch out world – baby is almost ready to take a step or two!
Activities to encourage walking if your baby is getting close!
- Pull-to-stand – Place toys just out of reach on a baby-safe surface like a coffee table or couch to encourage your baby to pull themselves up and stand
- Stand up and play! Keep playing on the higher surface after they’ve pulled themselves up to stand. You can place a small toy in each hand to begin to teach baby how to stand without support and use their core muscles to keep their balance.
- Supported Stand – Instead of holding baby’s arms or hands (which can lead to toe-walking), support them in standing by holding their trunk. Placing your hands around baby’s ribcage just under the armpits will provide the most support. As you move your hands farther down towards the hips, baby will need to use more core strength to stay standing.
- Cruise, cruise, cruise! Place several toys spaced out on a baby-safe surface to encourage baby to cruise along and explore. Container play is great for this stage – place the container on the ground and progressively move it farther away from the table/couch so that baby is motivated to let go (and maybe even take a step) to drop the toy in.
- Baby squats – Once baby is standing at a surface, hold a toy at their knee level to encourage them to bend down and reach it. As they master this baby squat, hold the toy lower and lower until eventually they are squatting down to the floor and standing back up. This move will develop leg strength and control to help baby come down to the floor safely as they begin to stand independently and walk.
Activities for Walkers if your baby has already taken a step or two!
- Make a simple obstacle course at home to help baby learn how to move safely through the environment, walking over or around small obstacles. Try walking over a “balance beam” of throw pillows or place 2-3 small pillows/stuffed animals under a sturdy rug to make a slightly bumpy surface for baby to navigate. Walking across softer surfaces will challenge baby to use more core strength to stay standing. Baby will likely need a hand the first few times through.
- Bubbles are fun at almost every age, but can be a big motivator for walkers to chase. Try catching a bubble on the stick and holding it out for your baby to walk to and pop. Holding the bubble in different positions and distances (above, below, to their sides) will encourage baby to use all their core strength to stay standing.
- Ball toss – Throwing a ball in standing will add an extra balance challenge and is a great way to work on their hand-eye coordination and motor planning.
- Tape pull – Tape is another big motivator for many babies. Place 1-2 foot strips of painters tape on the wall around baby’s eye level leaving each end slightly peeled from the wall. The goal is to have baby pull to stand against the wall and then reach and pull the tape off. This is a great activity for core strength, fine motor skills, and getting both sides of the body working together!
- Go barefoot! Let baby stand, walk, and explore barefoot to support their balance and posture. Getting more feedback from the ground will support baby’s proprioception, body awareness, and tactile processing.
What to avoid:
- Baby walkers are NOT safe (even with close adult supervision) and do not help baby learn to walk. If you need a safe place for baby to play, a play pen is a much safer option.
- Bouncers/Jumpers often delay gross motor development because babies do not have to use any of their own core strength to support themselves.
For more tips and activities for your little explorer, join us for one of our virtual Parent-and-Me classes!
We hope to “see” you soon!
Active Baby, Healthy Brain: 135 Fun Exercises and Activities to Maximize Your Child's Brain Development from Birth through Age 5 1/2, by Margaret Sassé et al., Experiment, 2010
BabyCentre Medical Advisory Board. “Developmental Milestones: Walking.” BabyCentre UK, Feb. 2019, www.babycentre.co.uk/a6507/developmental-milestones-walking.
“Your Child at 1 Year.” CDC, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/CDC_-LTSAE-Checklists-with-Tips-1year-P.pdf.