The first thing most of my patients’ parents ask me is, “when do you think my child will walk?”
I have been fortunate to be a part of a lot of children’s first steps, and am sure I am in the background of a lot of home videos :). Once all the happiness is done with after a child’s first steps, the physical therapy doesn’t stop there if a child is already significantly behind in their gross motor milestones. Even if your child doesn’t need PT, you can always improve their walking through modifying your home environment in your daily activities.
So what do you have to work on after a child is walking? So your child can walk across your family room floor, great! Can they walk on grass, sand, or gravel without you panicking at every teeter and totter? Can they navigate around corners, walk on a sidewalk, and up and down your driveway without you worrying? Can they kick a ball without losing their balance and falling over? Usually a new walker cannot do all these things right away, but there are ways you can practice.
1- Walking on various surfaces (grass, sand, gravel, wood chips) requires increased standing balance and leg strength.
-You can progress this by practicing standing on couch cushions, pillows, folded blankets. You can have your child stand on different surfaces and make them reach high and low for toys or flipping pages in a book. You can also work on activities that involve a lot of squatting in standing to help increase leg and hip strength. I tend to use puzzle pieces a lot to do this, where you hold the pieces high and have them squat to place the piece in the puzzle. My other personal favorite is using the game connect 4. I’m a fan of any toy/game that has a lot of pieces so you can do repetitive activities for a few reps without your child getting disinterested.
-Another way to work on standing balance is to have your child start carrying objects that require 2 hands. This will help bring your child’s arms down from the high guard position, and will also make them concentrate on their walking as they have to multi-task and carry an object at the same time.
2- Kicking a ball and walking outside require not only good standing balance, but also, good balance standing on one leg. I am big soccer fan, so I tend to introduce soccer balls even before my patients start walking independently. Kicking ball not only works on increasing balance when standing on one leg, it also helps motor planning, as most toddlers are used to manipulating an object with their hands and not their legs. But the benefits of playing soccer and other sports can wait for another day!
-Here are some activities to work on single leg balance and increasing awareness of where your toddler is placing their feet when they walk:
– walking over crumpled blankets, small pillows, rolled blankets, and pool noodles. Walking over all these items helps your toddler learn to pay attention to where they are placing their feet, and also that they need to lift their legs high enough to clear obstacles if they don’t want to trip. I also like using a hula hoop to help improve single leg balance. Hula hoops let you raise an obstacle to work on standing longer on 1 leg and taking larger steps.
-Outside you can use a garden hose as a fun obstacle to work on foot placement. Walking along a rock path is also good for learning foot placement. I also bring the hula hoop outside while walking on grass to make the activity more challenging.
-Don’t forget that kicking a soccer ball is also a great activity in itself. Most toddlers start by pushing the ball away with their hands, so I start with holding both their hands and walking into the soccer ball so they start to get the idea.
Don’t forget that you can obviously try the above activities that require increased balance to also challenge your toddler. IE- walking on grass, sand, gravel, walking outside on a sidewalk, and walking up/down driveways .
The above are just a few basic activities that I try with new walkers, so hope they are helpful, and remember to always supervise your new walking toddler for safety!
Feel free to contact me if you’d like more ideas!