If there’s one thing parents notice most about their baby’s development, it is the remarkably rapid emergence of motor skills. Imagine starting out as a helpless little slugger, all kicks and jabs, but without the strength or control to even roll over in your crib! And yet, by just one year of age, most infants are able to walk independently—a feat of coordination, strength, and agility that is light years ahead of where they started at birth. How do they do it?
The answer, of course, is practice—hours and hours of moving, strengthening, and balancing, constantly testing herself against the next challenging milestone! And the amazing thing is that babieshave the drive to do it all by themselves. No young child needs a personal trainer screaming down their neck to keep exercising. During their active, awake phases, babies are constantly in motion—quite unlike most of us parents, who may make it to the gym each day, but the spend the rest of our time mostly sitting still.
Driving him or her forward is your baby’s innate curiosity and motivation to see new sights and inch closer to those who care for them—you, your spouse, older siblings, a favorite babysitter. First, your child masters rolling over, with most babies managing to roll tummy-to-back before the reverse.While pushing up on their arms during tummy time, babies’ heavy heads tend to tip them over, so they end up rolling to their backs. Rolling back-to-tummy takes more work—think abdominal muscles!—but typically follows shortly after.
Next comes independent sitting, which parents can encourage by propping up your 3-5 month old baby with pillows. Stomach and back muscles do the hard work here, and there’s nothing like daily practice to get in shape for this rewarding milestone.
In the second six months of life, babies hit the really exciting stuff—independent mobility! Crawling evolves from all those kicks and practice push-ups your baby has been practicing on his tummy, not to mention his insatiable desire to see what’s on the other side of the living room! Some babies skip the crawling stage entirely (and there’s no evidence that it is essential for healthy development) but there are few cuter sights than a tiny child motoring around on all fours. So be sure to include lots of tummy time in your baby’s wakeful routine from the earliest days of life.
Finally comes independent walking—the gold medal event in infant gross motor development. This one is harder than all the others, as it requires the combination of so many skills—balancing on just one foot for a brief moment, smoothly swinging the other leg, lifting each knee and foot high enough to avoid tripping, and keeping the rest of your head and torso upright as you go.
While babies are strongly motivated to reach these milestones all by themselves, parents can help by preparing a safe, facilitating environment. Both standing and walking are aided if you have something to hold onto—like Mom, Dad, or a rounded-edgecoffee table. Let your budding toddler hold both your hands while you bend over and slowly walk backwards. The face-to-face encouragement will do wonders while you help stabilize your child’s balance during each little step.
Good toys can also help here, such as VTech’s Sit-to-Race Smart Wheels. Beginning around six months, your baby can ride on the colorful character in its rocking configuration, working on balance and strengthening those leg muscles. The fun dashboard—complete with handlebars, a horn button, and four number buttons—will make this rocking toy all the more engaging.
Later, you can reconfigure this clever toy into a classic wheeled walker; your baby can hold on tight while the sturdy character rolls forward with each hard-won step, taking a break to play on the fun, interactive dashboard.
Motor skills take hard dedicated work, but luckily, most babies enjoy the challenge, and VTech’s gross motor toys make this learning all the more fun.