In case you did not already know, there are specific gross-motor milestones teachers and pediatricians look for when caring for children. These go beyond the sitting, crawling and walking milestones from their first year, and get into more detail as the toddlers grow.
Over the next week, we will be taking a look at these milestones, and offering suggestions for ways you can develop these skills specifically.
A note: it’s important to let your child take the lead at the beginning. They need to be comfortable, and they need to feel like it’s a game, not a test with the pressure to please. Getting a real, honest, understanding of where they are so you can help them grow is really the only place to begin. Also, don’t feel disappointed or worried if your child isn’t on-track. These are guidelines, and they aren’t set in stone. Your child will catch up eventually, and as long as they are moving comfortably, there’s probably nothing to worry about. However, if you do have a concern, talking to your pediatrician as soon as possible will make any necessary corrections easier in the long run.
We’re going to start with older toddlers and work backwards.
From the ages of 2-and-a-half or so to 3, your child should learn to:
Stand on one foot for a second or two
Practice standing like a flamingo, twirling like a ballerina, or kicking like a ninja. Let them place one foot on a step or stool or stack of books, to get started, then switch to a less stable ball, until they no longer feel that they need the support.
Walk upstairs, alone, and begin to alternate feet
Stairs are nerve-racking, we get it, especially if carpeted stairs aren’t something you have access to. Still, they need to learn this skill as it is a great way to measure leg strength, core strength, and balance. Let your child go up independently, and encourage them to take small, incremental steps towards the goal. If they’re afraid to let go of your hand, encourage them to use the railing instead and remind them that you are right there by placing your hand gently on their back or shoulder. If they’re a little wobbly when alternating feet, sing a song about stomping (“The Ants Go Marching”, and “We are the Dinosaurs” are great for this) and turn it into something fun. Celebrate every success, no matter how small, and build their sense of pride. For safety, follow a step or two behind them, keeping them within arms reach, until you both are comfortable with the climb.
Walk down stairs, alone, both feet on one step at a time
This is even scarier! Walk backwards, in front of your child and encourage them the whole way down. Remind them to use the railing, and keep their attention on the fun, rather than the fear.
Walk on tip-toes
The best way to practice this, is pretending to be sneaky. Walk quietly and try to surprise someone else in the house. If that’s not your style, put on a fancy dress and pretend to be ballerinas, or a superhero cape and sneak to catch the bad-guy. You could also encourage your child to walk really tall and stretched like a giraffe.
Start using pedals
Tricycles are the obvious choice for this, but if you don’t have one, or don’t have space for one, have your child lay on the floor or sit on a stool and use your hands as pedals, until they have that opposite paced motion down. To make it fun, let them pretend they’re driving their favorite vehicle to an exciting place like grandma’s house or their favorite store or even the moon.
Catch a ball with arms bent
For those of you familiar with sports cradling the ball, or absorbing the force of it with bent elbows, is essentially the same thing. To practice, toss a ball around in the back yard, play a volleyball-style catching game over the back of the couch. It doesn’t have to be a ball either, while cleaning-up toss stuffed animals, and if your child is the particularly helpful type, toss them clothes as they “help” you with the laundry. The important thing here is that hand-eye-coordination, and the bend in the elbows to stop the object from hitting them.
Kick a ball forward
The focus here is on their foot connecting with the ball one time, with enough force and control to push the ball forward a foot or two. To practice, play a fun game of soccer using a laundry basket as the goal, or compete to see who can kick the ball the farthest. Show them how it’s done, and let them practice. For some kids, simply kicking and chasing the ball around is enough excitement, too.
Again, these are just guidelines. If your child isn’t doing these things by 3, don’t worry, just keep practicing and playing and encouraging, and they will get it within a few months. The age isn’t the worry, but do look out for any signs of discomfort or limited motion and speak to your pediatrician about your concerns.
Have fun and stay healthy!
Ms. Bri and Ms. Ashley