Around this time, your baby is developing into a toddler, ready to explore the world. This is a very exciting time where nothing in your home will be safe anymore from little grasping hands, as your child is learning to move around without your help. At this time, your child may be able to crawl, stand with assistance, walk with support, or walk independently! All are examples of gross motor milestones, big movements that we use our larger muscles for.
Perhaps you remember the BabySteps article from a while ago about learning in the womb? Well, in that article we didn’t talk specifically about gross motor movements, but we talked about how in the womb babies learn lots of different things that they will need for life in the outside world. One of the skills that babies start to learn in the womb is their gross motor skills and almost everyone who has been pregnant has felt this learning process in action! Some babies in the womb are more like footballers and kick a lot, while others seem to be practicing yoga and tend to make stretching movements. Regardless of the exact movement, all these gross motor actions help to develop muscles, bones and brain cell connections needed for scooting, crawling, cruising, toddling and walking – all the kinds of gross motor movements that little ones typically start developing in the first few years.
Over the next few months your infant will be working incredibly hard. Because being able to walk isn’t just about placing one foot in front of the other or about ‘knowing’ how to walk. In fact, gross motor skills are as much about physical development (skeleton development, muscle strength, balance and limb coordination) as they are about brain development. While developing these physical skills in the first year or so, toddlers are preparing themselves for the moment that they will be able to walk. This process of learning to walk depends on a number of other motor milestones (such as learning to stand up without support) that your little one needs to reach first. This learning process is a bumpy road and sometimes infants might skip a step or have a short break followed by a spurt of developmental steps.
Learning how to move around, which is called locomotion, is a great achievement on its own because it will make your little one more independent and give them more autonomy. But at the same time, it brings all sorts of social changes with it too, because this new independence and autonomy makes it possible to interact with others and the world in completely new ways. Moving around gives an immense boost to the amount of social interactions that children have. Alongside these social changes, moving around also allows infants to learn many new things; for example, how to navigate drops and heights (e.g., getting down stairs) and how to shift your attention onto something further away and plan how to get there. And if they don’t succeed in their first attempt, it is also a great lesson in motivation and tenacity! Toddlers’ experiences of moving around and trying things out is crucial to how they learn many of these skills.
So, gross motor development can create many other learning opportunities and reinforce many other skills. And, at the same time, those learning opportunities and experiences can also strengthen gross motor development. Although most infants learn to walk between eight and seventeen months, this varies a lot between children – particularly if your child was born prematurely or has a disability. How a baby develops is a very sophisticated interplay between their in-born dispositions and their experiences, which makes each baby unique, and not all little ones hit each milestone in the “standard time” but most get there in the end and will start walking whenever they are ready!
If you would like to learn more about how babies’ and toddlers’ experiences with locomotion affect their early learning, check out this nice video from Dr. Karen Adolphs from New York University. It’s all about how babies learn to deal with heights.
Please remember that all children learn and develop at different rates. However, if you have any concerns about your child’s development, we would recommend that you speak to your GP or health visitor. You can also find additional sources of support in our “Need Some Advice?” article on the home page.