• Deana Rosaia

Learning to Walk: A Balance Act

When I think about ALL THE THINGS a baby needs in order to actually take off and walk, the list is exhausting. As pediatric physical therapists, when we work with littles often times we are finding the missing puzzles pieces that are keeping a baby from moving forward. We target an intervention and then work relentlessly with a family to master a those small pieces which lead to learning new big skills.

The truth is, there are about a billion tricks up my sleeve to get kids moving who need a little extra love. Each one of the activities I have listed below can be broken down into several parts, dissected, analyzed, practiced and then put back together again. But for the average kiddo, these are the down and dirty "musts" that come with learning to walk.

Just a few walking facts:

One: It takes on average 4-6 months AFTER a baby pulls to stand for them to start walking independently.


Two: Baby "walkers, jumpers, bouncers" WILL NOT make you baby walk any sooner - if anything, puts them further behind. Getting off my soap box now.

Three: MOST babies need to practice barefoot (if their alignment is solid) BUT, if you are going to head outside.. make sure you have a stable shoe with good support.

Making a few assumptions here:

Before we talk about walking practice, we all have to be on the same page regarding WHEN a little is ready to start these adventures.

One: Your baby has already learned to pull to stand independently

Two: Your baby is cruising both directions easily {furniture surfing}

Three: your baby is NOT leaning forward into the support surfaces when they are standing & playing

Let's Begin - and remember, this is NOT an exhaustive list! Just the basics

1. Drop it Low: Squatting down to pick up toys while holding on

This is all about building strength & control. When you little is squatting down to a toy, their muscles have to get LONGER while also contracting. Nerdy term? Eccentric strengthening. Need to know? power house strengthening activity to build booty muscles needed for walking.

New to the skill? Raise the toy up on a box (see the picture for an exampel)

Becoming a Master? Place the toy on the floor and watch them move from standing all the way to a low squat and then RETURN to standing!

Pro? Have them stand on a soft surface to increase the challenge. My favs are a folded up blanket or even a couch cushion.

Warning: Make sure your baby is bending their KNEES not flexing over at their hips. THIS. IS. CHEATING.

2. Standing at a vertical surface

Think wall, floor length mirror, dresser drawers

This prevents your little from "holding on" with a death grip and pushes the demand down into their trunk & legs for balance.

Now, this is skipping WAY ahead, but one of my fav moves for toddlers & pre walkers is to have them stand with their BACKS against the wall for balance. This really pushes the balance demand up a notch!

3. Reaching behind & above

This is a fun "pass mom the toy" game. When you little has to reach high over head or twist to turn and hand you something they are challenging their trunk control, balance & weight shifts.

Make sure your little is NOT leaning forward as they are reaching!

4. Holding onto an unstable surface

So your little is pretty good at a solid surface? Awesome, next comes holding onto the rocking chair, glider, kitchen drawers & opening/closing cabinets. They are practicing standing while the surface is moving around them

5. Pushing a Push Toy {Or laundry basket}

So they can do all those things above? Awesome, let's get this balance moving. Make sure to weigh it down initially as those things can fly on a slick surface!

6. Transitioning between surfaces

Think American Ninja Warrior and set up an area where your little can move between surfaces and practice letting go! My favorite set up? Using the couch, coffee table, kitchen chairs and play tables. Make a circle and then slowly spread the circle apart as your little moves between everything. Eventually, they will be rocking the transfers and starting to let go!

Signs your baby is REALLY CLOSE to taking steps

One: They can stand without holding on 10-15 seconds

Two: When you stand them up against a wall with their backs leaning for support, they can take 1-2 steps forward to you

Three: when using the push toy, they can change directions without your help

OK, So that was a lot condensed down into the bare bones. Remember, each of these steps represents a set of skills your baby needs to achieve walking - each can be broken down into itty bitty puzzle pieces and worked on individually. Never hesitate to drop comments below with questions or reach out for more specific advice!

Cheers Mommas

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