April 2nd is Walk to Work day. For those of us living in Los Angeles, or any other metropolitan, walking to work is not always an option. Can you imagine living in the hills and walking to work down in the valley? Or living in the valley and walking to the city? Honestly just thinking of that makes me laugh.

 

We do what we can and on a day like this, we try to think of other ways to honor this day. Walking can help get your heart pumping, burn calories and clear the mind…all great things to do any day of the week.

As a pediatric OT, when I saw Walk to Work day, I automatically thought of the stages of walking. We often take walking and movement in general for granted because we are so young when we are learning these skills that we don’t remember how difficult they really are to master. But, if you think about it, walking for a baby is a huge achievement that takes balance, strength, coordination and confidence.

Milestones before Walking

When developmental professionals look at a child’s gross motor development, we are not only looking at movement or how a child physically moves from one location to another. At first, we are looking at static postures such as tummy time, sitting, quadruped (up on all fours), kneeling, standing and squatting.

As a child masters these static postures, they slowly learn how to move into and out of positions independently. This is when we OTs and PTs start to get excited and begin to get ready for the movement.

A Quick Soap Box Statement

I will say this only once during this blog…CRAWLING is EXTERMELY important to a child’s development. You will find some doctors and developmental professionals that will tell you it’s no big deal if your child does not crawl and instead goes right to walking.

I am in complete disagreement with this.

Among many other benefits, crawling offers a child a chance to develop their bilateral coordination skills (using both sides of the body in opposition to one another). Bilateral coordination activates the part of the brain that allows the right and left hemisphere to communicate with one another. These coordination skills become important as a child grows and learns to do things such as button a shirt, cut a piece of paper and participate in sports.

Bottom line…children should crawl.

 

Stages of Walking

So, now that we know that walking doesn’t just ‘happen’, what stages does a child progress though before they are considered a walker?

Pulling to Stand: this occurs when a child uses a piece of furniture (or mom/dad/caregiver) to assist them in pulling themselves up to a standing position. Their leg muscles are strengthening and their coordination – both to pull up and to lower down without crashing – is developing.

Cruising: this happens when a child holds on to other objects while ‘walking’. They start by leaning one way, then the other, demonstrating that they are learning how to shift their weight and balance. Suddenly, on little sideways step will happen, providing a sense of awe, curiosity and pride. From here, the child is now moving around any piece of furniture (and again, mom/dad/caregiver) that will provide them with a solid base.

Walking with assistance: during this phase a child has a good enough sense of balance to stand on their own. Some turn to a push toy (a play shopping cart or stroller), others use their own stroller or the hand of an adult to provide them with the confidence they will need to push forward and walk independently.

Walking: this final step happens and everyone is amazed. In our house, a child isn’t walking until they take 5 consecutive steps before they fall down. At this point a child has enough strength and coordination to balance on one foot while propelling the other forward to take a step.

Are They Finally Walking?

Remember that just because your child has taken their first step does not mean they are walking.  Your child may continue to crawl for a couple of weeks after taking their first steps. My own mother frequently tells the story of how I took my first steps just before my first birthday so she ran out and bought me new shoes for my birthday party. Did I run around my party and show off my walking skills? Of course not. I sat in a chair for most of the party pulling at the shoes that were placed on my feet.

A child’s personality can have a lot of influence over when they begin to walk. For example, my daughter, P, was 15 months old before she took her first steps. She’s very much the “I’m-going-to-wait-until-I-know-that-I can-do-something-perfectly-before-I-attempt-it” kind of child. My son, T, on the other hand was walking – more like running – at 11 months…he just goes for it.

No matter how old your child is, you can always encourage them to participate in the stages of walking. Are they interested in pulling to stand? Why not move all of the toys off of the floor and put them on the couch or a chair? Have they mastered pulling to stand? Maybe it’s time to move that toy just out of their reach so that they have to cruise along the furniture to get it.

If you believe that your child is experiencing difficulty moving through the stages of walking, talk to your pediatrician or contact a pediatric physical therapist.

Most importantly, encourage your child. Be supportive and excited for all of these little transitions that they are moving through. These are a BIG deal, so celebrate them with your child. J