National Frog Jumping Day…yes, it is an actual holiday that according to www.nationaldaycalendar.com was created based on a short story by Mark Twain. Those who know me and my family know that we have a love of frogs…not the actual live ones, but everything else frog. It’s weird, I know. But come to my house and you’ll see a variety of frog collections.
I’ll admit, the first thing that drew me to this holiday was the frogs. But as I looked again, I thought, what a perfect opportunity to talk about learning to jump. Afterall, one of the recommendations on ways to celebrate this national holiday is to jump like a frog. So, here we go.
According to the online dictionary, the act of jumping occurs when an individual pushes themselves off of a surface and into the air by using the muscles in their legs and feet. Do you remember when you learned to jump? Or do you just know that you can do it and that’s that?
Looking at it from a developmental point of view, jumping is a gross motor skill that takes strength, coordination, balance and motor planning to complete. The ‘typical’ age at which a child learns to jump occurs somewhere between 2 & 3. Some jump earlier, some jump a little later.
The beginning of the jump
Have you ever been with a 1 ½ or 2 year old and asked them to jump. It’s super cute. They usually bend their knees, squat down a bit and then spring back up…all without their feet leaving the floor. Yet if you ask them, they definitely just jumped!
When they actually learn to jump and their feet leave the floor it’s even more exciting! They feel like they are on top of the world. And once they master those jumps, forget about it.
At almost 4 years old P is obsessed with jumping. She jumps off the bottom step, any raised surface and enjoys jumping from stone to stone when standing among stone tiles laid out in a neighbor’s front lawn. T is trying to jump because he wants to be just like his big sister. But at 18 months he doesn’t quite have the coordination and motor planning yet…the strength and balance are there (he’s ridiculously strong), he’s just not quite ready.
Is your child ready?
So, your child is beginning to show a little interest in jumping. How do you know for sure? Well, first, your child will likely master a couple of skills prior to successfully jumping with 2 feet.
- Walking on toes
- Walking up and down stairs
- Squatting to pick up toys
- Squatting in a deep squat to play
- Shifting weight
Development of Jumping Skills
Once your child has begun to demonstrate the above skills, they are on their way to getting ready to take the big jump. They have mastered the ‘prerequisite’ skills… Now what? Well, there is actually a nice progression that most children will follow prior to becoming a skilled jumper:
Helping them along
So how can you encourage your child to learn to jump? You can start by encouraging those ‘first’ jumps where your child squats down deep and then rises back up. As they become more skilled at doing this, you can encourage them to do it quicker. This will help them develop the strength in their legs that will eventually lead to them leaving the ground. Pretend to be a piece of popcorn popping, or a rocket blasting off. Make it fun!
Do you have a trampoline or a mini trampoline? Get on there with your child and hold their hands while you slowly bounce up and down. You can even do this while you are sitting and they are standing. Just bounce the trampoline with your body and hold on to them while they ‘jump’. This will introduce your child to the actual movement of jumping and what it may feel like on their feet, legs and body. It will also help your child develop the coordination needed to complete an actual jump.
Almost off the ground
Once your child is able to participate in the ‘pretend’ jumping, its time to move on to solid ground. Hold your child’s hands and help them jump. Stand in front of them holding both hands and encourage them to jump. You can assist a little more at first by gently lifting them off the ground, but as your child gets more into it, stop helping as much. Allow them the opportunity to practice the motor plan of getting off the ground.
Finally, move to the curb, step, or small box. This jump will probably be a little easier for your child as it doesn’t take as much upward momentum to get off the ground. And gravity is actually on their side…they’re not fighting against it to get off the ground.
They’re not jumping…should I be concerned?
You may notice that your child only pushes off from one side, only takes off from one foot rather than both feet, falls frequently or experiences extreme anxiety or frustration around jumping. If your child is experiencing any of the above, not jumping or not even trying to jump by 2 ½ to 3 years of age, you may want to speak with your pediatrician.
Try the above tips to encourage your child to move around and get more comfortable with jumping. Remember that it takes a lot of different skills and abilities to jump. A slight delay in coordination, strength, balance or motor planning can impact your child’s ability to jump. If you’re still concerned a pediatric physical therapist can likely help.
Learning to jump may occur spontaneously but being able to repeatedly participate in this type of activity takes practice before it is considered mastered. Give your child ample time, space and opportunity to develop these skills. Falls will happen, but so will the elation experienced when your child is finally able to jump on their own. 😊