Next Steps in Motor Development

Walking is a complex task that requires strength and coordination throughout most of the body, not just the feet and legs. Kids who are learning to walk need to develop more than just balance and stepping, and there are many milestones that occur before walking that are worth celebrating! Just like we wouldn’t expect our kids to go straight from addition to algebra, we don’t expect them to go straight from sitting to walking, either! Here are some strategies to help children that are on their way to walking:

  • Develop core strength by rolling, playing on the floor on their tummy, crawling on the floor and up/down steps
  • Encourage weight bearing and foot strengthening by pulling to kneeling on a bench, and pulling to stand on furniture
  • Practice weight shifts and balance by cruising side to side along furniture, standing independently for a few seconds
  • Step forward with hands held, or a pushing a chair/push toy across the room
  • Standing with their back against the wall, sit or kneel in front of the child and encourage them to take 1-2 steps toward you

Once they’ve taken their first steps, it takes A LOT of practice for them to become efficient, coordinated walkers. In fact, a recent article found that kids who are learning to walk fall up to 17 times per hour! [1] Here are some strategies to help develop balance and coordination in kids who are new walkers:

  • Encourage walking for longer distances at home across different types of level surfaces (wood, tile, carpet)
  • Practice walking from even to uneven surfaces (thresholds, floor rugs, sand, grass, hills)
  • Try walking along playground borders or low curbs to practice walking on the “tight rope” or balance beam
  • Develop one leg balance and strength by standing with one foot on a block, kicking a ball, and walking up/down stairs and curbs

Walking can open the door to a whole new world of motor activities, including running, hopping, skipping, and jumping. Kids who are learning these skills might enjoy:

  • Walking/running up and down a small hill to develop controlled speed
  • Holding onto a stable object and hopping on one foot to strengthen the body and develop coordination
  • Learning to alternate hopping on either foot and hopping forward
  • Bending and straightening their legs while dancing to music
  • Jumping on a soft cushion on the floor while holding both of their hands

Remember that instilling a love of movement is the most important thing, so follow your child’s lead and make motor activities fun and enjoyable. Helping your child develop motor skills as they grow will allow them to participate more fully in their home, school, and community environment.

— Lisa Swenson, PT
[1] Adolph KE, Cole WG, Komati M, et al. How do you learn to walk? Thousands of steps and dozens of falls per day. Psychol Sci. 2012; 23(11): 1387-1394.

Max Masnick