It is worth noting that whilst these are the typical steps to walking, they are by no means definitive. Not all children do crawl, some bottom shuffle or commando crawl or find their own means of moving prior to learning to walk, and in a few cases, some children do learn to walk without having moved in any other way. However, experts are generally in agreement that crawling plays an important role in the development of spatial awareness and should be encouraged where possible. Giving your child plenty of tummy time from an early age helps promote crawling.
If your child is not walking, or showing an interest in walking independently, by eighteen months, consult your GP or Plunket nurse for further advice.
NB: Plunket do not recommend that babies use baby walkers as these make them mobile before they are cognitively ready, and they can delay independent walking. For more tips on keeping your baby safe when he or she starts walking, see our section on Toddler Proofing Your House.
Gross motor skills
WALKING (approx. 10 - 18 months)
Although walking might seem like a stand alone milestone, it is in fact the culmination of a process which begins the moment your baby is born. In their book Move Baby Move, authors Sophie Foster and Jerome Hartigan outline the ten typical steps to walking:
1. Baby lies on tummy
2. Baby begins to lift head
3. Baby lifts head and chest using arms (press ups)
4. Baby pushes backwards or sideways with arms
5. Baby moves arms and legs in a cross pattern (alligator crawl)
6. Baby learns to balance on hands and knees
7. Baby crawls on hands and knees with feet pointing outwards
8. Baby crawls on hands and knees with feet pointing inwards
9. Baby starts to walk with support
10. Baby walks using arms for balance
Sometime between when your baby starts crawling and when he or she masters walking, they may express an interest in climbing. Not all babies are avid climbers, some prefer to explore the world within their reach, but others seem to spend all of their waking hours trying to find ways to get off the ground. According to Foster and Hartigan, children under eighteen months are still learning about depth perception and how far away things are, so they need help to explore their surroundings in a safe way. Whilst climbing is not an essential milestone, you can encourage your child to climb by providing plenty of safe opportunities for him or her to do so.
Most children will learn to climb up before they learn to climb down and will need to be taught how to climb down safely. A good place to start is by helping him/her to climb down from the couch, a relatively short distance to fall. The best way for children to climb down safely is backwards: show him or her how to turn around, and then extend one leg down behind themselves to feel for the floor whilst using the other leg and both arms to hold on. Once that foot comes into contact with the floor, show him or her how to swing the second leg around in the same manner as the first until both feet are firmly planted on the floor.
Climbing stairs is another skill which your child will need to master, and one which will develop over a period of time. Encourage your child to climb up stairs on all fours, and to climb down backwards in a similar manner to how he or she climbs down from the couch, and always supervise him/her near stairs. Your child may have been walking for several months before he or she masters walking up and down stairs, many two-year olds still tackle stairs on all fours.
The next progression from climbing stairs is climbing a ladder, and the slide at the local playground is a great place to practice. As with all climbing, close adult supervision is vital to ensure your child's safety.
First comes walking, then comes running, and the two usually follow in very quick succession! The more confident your child becomes on his or her feet, the faster he or she will want to move. Initial attempts at running will be more like rapid walking, with straight legs and arms out for balance. Be prepared for plenty of tumbles - bumps and bruises are par for the course during the toddler years, especially in the earlier stages of learning to walk or run when it might seem that your child's legs are moving too fast for his or her body to keep up. With time and practice, your child will develop a more mature running gait, bending his or her knees and moving with a greater degree of stability. Once they start running, you'll be amazed how fast they can move, so be especially vigilant when you are out and about to stay safe around roads and carparks.
BALL SKILLS (from 18 months)
Playing with a ball is a great way to encourage gross motor skill development, and the more practice your child has, the quicker he will master some simple ball skills.
The first step, around 18 months or so, is usually kicking a ball, and initially, this may be an involuntary action - his/her foot will come into contact with a ball which is in his/her path and the ball will move. From here, your child will begin to understand the cause and effect process, and attempt to make the ball move by deliberate contact with his her foot. This primitive "kicking" might not be as artful or accurate as David Beckham's goal kicking, but it's a start!
After your child has learnt to kick a ball, he or she might show some interest in learning to throw a ball. This usually happens some time between 18 months and 2 years of age. Initially your child will simply let go of the ball and delight in it rolling along the floor, but with encouragement, he or she will learn how to project the ball away from their body and towards a target or person. Foster and Hartigan suggest using a hula hoop to encourage your child to throw the ball. Hold the hoop up and let them try throwing the ball through the hoop. To start with, your child will probably position him/herself very close to the hoop, but with time and practice he or she will develop the confidence to move further back and attempt more challenging throws.
Catching is the third step in basic ball handling skills, and it is usually the last of these skills to be mastered, sometime after 2 years of age. Teaching your child to catch is an activity which should be approached cautiously - if he or she isn't ready and gets hit with the ball, it will knock his or her confidence and you may have difficulty convincing them to try again. Foster and Hartigan suggest the following tips for teaching your child to catch successfully:
1. Let your child hug the ball close to his/her body. This hug forms the basis of the catch.
2. Once he or she enjoys hugging the ball close to his or her body, he or she will begin to actively seek the ball and time his or her hands to trap the ball against his/her chest. You can help by guiding the ball to his/her tummy in slow motion, encouraging him or her to trap it in a tummy hug.
3. Again using slow motion, guide the ball into your toddlers hands for a two-handed catch.
4. Bounce the ball and encourage him or her to chase it and catch it "on the bounce".
5. Bounce the ball so that it arrives level with his/her navel. Don't expect him/her to catch it first go, but when he/she does, give plenty of praise.
6. Throw the ball to, or below, his tummy level.
JUMPING (2-3 years)
It may seem like a fairly easy movement, but jumping actually requires a complex set of coordinated movements and most children won't fully master it until they are around 2 ½ years of age. Renowned child development author and expert Dr Miriam Stoppard suggests that girls seem to develop on a faster timetable than boys, and that during the preschool years girls will be better at jumping, hopping and other activities which require co-ordination and balance. Boys however tend to take more risks than girls and are more willing to try new activities.
Your child's early attempts at jumping will be somewhat uncoordinated and it will take lots of practice for him or her to be able to jump with both feet together, and land with both feet together. Skipping with a skipping rope and jumping over puddles or lines on the ground provide good opportunities for your child to practice his/her jumping technique.
It doesn't matter hugely if your child doesn't master jumping until he or she is even older but if you have any concerns about his or her coordination, discuss these with your GP or Plunket nurse.
PEDALING (between 2-3 years)
They say that once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget. This may be true - but you have to start somewhere! Pedaling is actually a fairly tricky skill to learn as there are several different elements of movement involved - balance, co-ordination and strength. Your child must have the strength in his or her legs to be able to move the trike or bicycle with his/her own body weight on it, he or she must be able to balance on the seat of the trike or bicycle and he or she must be able to co-ordinate both legs, and both arms, at the same time. The only way to master pedaling is practice, so give your child plenty of time to practice riding his or her bike or trike. The safest place to learn is on a flat surface, preferably one that is fenced, and as it's easiest to learn on a hard surface such as concrete, long sleeves and long pants will help protect knees and elbows from the inevitable tumbles. Make sure that the seat of your child's bicycle or trike is at an appropriate height for them (his/her leg should be fully extended when the pedal is at the lowest point of its rotation), and, of course, don't forget a helmet!
SELF FEEDING (from around 9 months)
Are you ready for the mess?! Sometime around 9 months, your child will start showing an interest in self-feeding, and it's bound to get messy!
The first stage in the self-feeding process is finger feeding. Plunket suggest pieces of soft, ripe fruit, cooked vegetable pieces, toast and small sandwiches as good places to start as they are easy to pick up. As your child becomes more experienced, smaller foods such as raisins and grated cheese are great for encouraging the pincer grip.
Once your child has mastered finger foods, he or she will progress to wanting to self-feed with a spoon, a skill he or she will probably master by age 2. This is where it gets even messier - it takes a lot of practice to be able to get the food onto the spoon, the spoon up to the mouth and then the spoon into the mouth. Even holding the spoon correctly requires practice. Thick, mashed vegetables such as potato and kumara are a great starting point as they stick to the spoon. Other ideas include yoghurt, mince and cereal.
Around 2 ½ - 3 years, you can expect your child to be able to handle a knife and fork, although you will probably still have to cut up his or her food into manageable chunks. It might help to invest in a specially designed toddler knife and fork set with a grip to help him or her learn how to hold their utensils correctly.
DRESSING (from around 18 months)
Okay, so your 18-month old is unlikely to be able to dress him or herself, but he or she will most likely be very adept at taking his or her clothes OFF! Frustrating as it may be when you have to go in and put his or her pyjama pants back on for the third time since bedtime, this is actually the first step in your child learning to dress him or herself. At this age, he or she may also show an interest in dress up clothes, or in trying to dress him or herself, although his or her fine motor skills are not yet advanced enough to perfect this skill.
By 2 ½ years of age, you can expect your child to be able to dress him or herself within reason. Even much older children still struggle with buttons, zips and domes, but the basic idea of pulling on a pair of pants or pulling a t-shirt over his/her head will be achievable. Shoes and shoelaces, buttons, zips and domes will all come with practice, although it is worth noting that many five-year olds still struggle with buttons, and that most children starting school are not yet able to tie their own shoelaces.
DRAWING AND WRITING
Kids love to draw, and early experimentations with crayons and felt tip pens provide the basis on which your child will learn to write later on. His/her initial masterpieces will probably consist of a series of sharp lines and curves, and he or she will hold the pen or crayon with a fist like grip. With time and practice, you will be able to teach him or her to hold the pen correctly.
As your child's language develops, he or she will be able to tell you more about the artwork they are creating. Talk to them about what each picture features, who is in each picture, whether there is a story to go with each picture etc. and encourage them to think about these things.
Between the ages of 3-4 you can start teaching your child to write his or her own name - but be aware that some children will take to this much faster than others, and the length and difficulty of his or her name will be a factor!