Category Archives: WALKING

tips for baby motor skill development: walking


baby with push-toy in grass

Explore the space in front.

Baby drags push-toy behind her when walking.

Explore the space behind.

toddler pushes toy near edges of a wall

Explore the edges of the space.

A baby plays on the grass at a park and bends her ankles more because of the uneven terrain.

Navigate the uneven terrain.


When babies play with push-toys it develops their awareness of the space immediately around them.  By focusing their attention on the moving object at the end of a stick they train their focus to be a bit further in front or behind them.  This skill is important for baby safety because it trains the child to notice when a stair in coming up in front of them or if a toy is lying in their path that might cause a fall.  This awareness is key for developing advanced skills later such as riding a bicycle.  When riding a bicycle a child must keep constant attention on the space in front of them (where they are going) as well as the space around them (so no one runs into them).  Baby develops a clearer sense of the space around them as they also discover the edges of the space.  The edges define the space.


Exploring space both inside the home and outside, at a park for example, develop strength in muscles as well as spatial awareness.  The uneven terrain at a park requires more movement of the joints and more strength in the muscles to navigate.  A gradual sloping hill, an edge of a sidewalk next to the grass, a stair, or a metal plate are examples of changes in the terrain that a baby may encounter in an outside play environment.  Each of these requires more demand on the muscles and joints to change the level (on a hill or a stair) or to move from one texture to another (sidewalk to grass).  The open space at a park invites baby to travel a lot and explore which is wonderful motor skill development.





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When baby masters the motor milestone of walking, it is time to buy baby shoes.  But, please do not buy just any baby shoes.  Prior to this moment, shoes were worn primarily for photo moments.  Now shoes need to be purchased that allow baby to move efficiently and have a textured sole to prevent slipping.  This allows her to master the motor skill of walking.  When purchasing shoes, take into consideration how the construction of the shoe effects the mechanics of baby’s walk.  This means parents should observe how the fabric, the sole, and the shape of the shoe effect how baby moves her body.  Thanks to the above video from SagetoSummit’s youtube channel, we can observe the skill in an infant’s new walking ability with soft-soled shoes vs. a stiffer shoe (in this video the stiffer shoe is made by NIKE).


When you see your baby walking, look closely at his stride before and after you put a pair of shoes on him.  The term “stride” or “gait” refers to how the legs and feet move while walking.  When a baby learns to walk their stride can be a bit wide (feet are wider than hips).  This helps them feel balanced.  A wider base of support can be more stable than a narrow base.  Some babies learn to walk with their feet under their hips (a narrow stride), especially if they have received skilled movement lessons.

In the above video when baby wears the stiffer soled shoes  (NIKE baby sneakers) his stride gets even wider showing less balance.  When he wears the baby sneakers (stiffer sole) he also has to pick his feet up quite a bit to take each step forward.  This is because his ankle joint is not able to move as much due to the stiff material of the shoe.  If you have ever skied before, think about the feeling of wearing a pair of skis or snow shoes which do not allow for ankle movement.  You have to pick your feet up as this baby is doing in the video.  With the soft-soles shoes, the baby walks with more articulation (bend) in the ankle joint and a slightly narrower base of support.  As a result, with the soft-soled shoes baby walks faster due to his improved mechanics.  The baby sneakers slow him down.  Save them for the basketball court in another ten years and buy soft sole baby shoes for now.




The “Wisdom” series presents observations spoken by experienced grandmothers that should be heard by all mothers.


A very wise mother, grandmother, parenting coach, and mother/infant group faciliatator loves to share the tips parents find most helpful.  Founder of a parenting group in 1978, she has many years of experience working closely with new mothers.  Our conversations often turn to the coaching of motor development, the main focus of  I often describe how common it is to see parents of babies as young as two months holding the babies on their laps while bouncing them on their feet.  She often exclaims while shaking her head, “Bouncing her on her feet?!?  At 2 months!?!”  She is clearly horrified by these stories.  What emerges from each of these conversations is one of the most prized pieces of wisdom yet from the grandmothers, “We knew NEVER to put a baby in a position or movement that the child could not do on his own.”


Following this teaching parents would understand why the following activities/contraptions are detrimental to baby’s motor development:  bouncing baby on her feet, holding her under the armpits while walking her forward, and putting her in the jumper, exersaucer, or bumbo chair.  These devices force baby into positions or movements that baby is simply not capable of doing on her own.  Her bones and muscles are not strong enough.  Parents can instead learn what each motor skill is teaching baby and understand why there is no need to rush her through this developmental process.  Baby will emerge from infancy with more strength and coordination if given time for each major milestone such as rolling and crawling.


This grandmother’s wisdom echoes the philosophy of  We emphasize giving baby clues which trigger the motor program in the brain so she does the movement all on her own.  What a reward that is for baby to discover something new that she can do all by herself!  The happiness you see on her face is proof that one of the greatest joys in life is learning to do a new movement!  As time goes on this includes learning to ride a bike, throw a ball, dive into the swimming pool, hit a baseball, jump rope, and more.  And this is where it all starts: infancy.


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When a relatively newborn baby is held under the armpits, his feet are placed on a flat surface, and his body weight is inclined slightly forward the stepping reflex is elicited.  The baby appears to walk forward by taking  a series of steps.  Normally present in the first six weeks after birth,  the stepping relex is categorized as a locomotor reflex because it resembles the voluntary movement of stepping.  The above video from LouisTurcanu3′s youtube channel shows a relatively newborn baby demonstrating this reflex.


Many parents who are so excited to see their baby walk create this reflex by holding the baby on his feet and “walking” him forward.  They proudly show how strong he is getting and how much he likes to walk.  But, what most parents do not understand is that reflexes are involuntary movements, the baby has no control over them.  So, they will not get tired and rest.  This results is overused muscles and spams.  In addition to this, the baby’s bones are not strong enough yet to support his weight.  Please do not do this with your baby.  This will delay optimal motor skill development.  Let him spend time on the floor learning several motor skills such as lifting the head, rolling, and crawling.  When his bones and muscles are much more developed he will stand and walk all on his own!




Every parent experiences the joy of watching their infant walk for the first time.  That joy is soon followed by a slight fear as baby falls.  Fortunately, she is not far from the ground!  This cycle repeats over again several times as baby develops her balance, coordination, and strength to walk upright for an extended period of time.  As we discussed previously, falling is part of developing the motor milestone of walking.  What is important to examine is how to develop safe patterns of falling.


With babies and children, the most commonly broken bone is the clavicle (collarbone).  The clavicle is the bone that is long and thin and runs from the shoulder joint to the sternum (the vertical bone in the center of the chest).  There is one on the right side and one on the left side of the body.  This common injury occurs from falling.  In these cases when the fall occurs the baby or child stretches out a hand and arm to break or stop the fall.  This results in both over movement and too much impact on the clavicle.  The result of this excessive force is a broken collar bone.  In these cases usually the body did not know what to do when the fall was happening.  The baby or toddler probably landed from splayed out in a random, haphazard position with limbs outstretched.


The way to teach a baby to fall safely is to guide them through infancy with motor skill training.  A baby that masters each of the Stellar Caterpillar Top 10 Motor Skills will gracefully maneuver the walking and falling cycle.  When a baby spends a lot of time in the patterns of rolling and crawling these movements and positions become very familiar to the muscles and bones.  In the ultra-quick descent of a fall, the brain sends the signals to the muscles to fire one of these familiar motor patterns allowing for a smooth and safe recovery.

Baby lands safely from the fall onto her hands and knees, the crawling position.  Or, baby falls into a rolling position which continues the movement of the fall very smoothly and safely.  The major joints of the body quickly bend to adapt to the quick descent toward the ground:  knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows.  This safe landing, which we call recovery, happens so quickly it seems like a trained reflex.  The walking milestone now includes a smooth cycle of fall and recovery.  In fact, it occurs so smoothly that baby does not mind falling at all.  She remains comfortable and in control, and this develops her confidence.


The more mobile baby gets, the more she wants to explore her surroundings.  Baby-proofing is important at this stage because baby can also hit her head on the corner of a table or something dangerously sharp.  Purchase and install some padded bumpers for the corners of low tables.  Please avoid leaving sharply pointed toys or objects on the floor in case she falls on them.  If you can give her socks with traction on the soles it will also prevent slipping on wood or tile flooring.  Electical outlet covers, cabinet door locks, toilet seat cover locks, etc. are all a must.   If you have not finished baby-proofing now is the time!



Who can resist buying an adorable pair of baby shoes for a baby gift?  They are adorably small and come in stylish designs for both boys and girls.  However, when a baby reaches the motor skill milestone of walking it is important to carefully choose her shoes.  Prior to walking the baby should primarily wear socks and they should not fit too tight.  Before she has learned to walk, soft booties are OK to wear in the cold weather to keep her feet warm.  Once she begins to walk shoes should be carefully chosen with the understanding of how the construction of the shoes affects baby’s movement of walking.

BABY SHOEs:  materials

How do baby shoes affect her walking?  It depends on the materials and construction of the shoe.  Materials vary from soft cloth fabrics, resembling a pair of socks, to very stiff and hard rubber.  In between these two are several variations.  The material used in making the shoe determines how flexible or stiff the shoe is.  The soft cloth-like fabric is very flexible and bends easily where the extremely stiff rubber does not bend at all.  The flexible materials allow for more movement to occur in the bones and muscles of the feet, more adjustments as baby tries to maintain her balance.  The stiff materials do not move as baby walks, they stay more rigid and fix the foot and ankle in place.

Usually the softer and more flexible shoe is the best option because it allows for the movement of the foot.  The softer shoes provide protection for the soles of the feet from the outdoor elements yet allow her to use her bones and muscles as she walks.  The stiffer materials often make it very difficult for baby to walk because she can not easily balance.  Her feet are more rigid in these shoes.  However, there may be situations where this shoe is preferable, such as for a baby with low muscle tone who may need some extra stability which the shoes provide.  It is important to be aware of the differences in materials and to choose what is best for your baby’s motor skill development.


Once you have decided whether to look for soft or firm shoes, it is important to understand the value of good shoe construction.  In our culture today the shoes that are extremely popular across ages and sexes are shoes that are easy to put on and easy to take off.  These often include slip-on clogs or velcro closing styles.  For both babies and children it is extremely important to choose shoes that are built so they will stay on the foot securely.  This usually requires shoe laces, a snug fit that is not too tight, or well-designed velcro that securely latches.  A loose shoe is a common factor in accidents such as falls, even in adults.  When a shoe slides around it causes a baby, and even an adult, to slip or trip on it and down they fall!

When baby shoes do not fit securely the body alters the mechanics of walking to keep the shoe from falling off.  For example, a clog-style shoe (such as the popular plastic crocs that toddlers wear) can easily slip off the foot.  The baby or toddler (and even adults) wearing them learns to walk so they do not properly roll through the foot because when the front of the foot is down and the heel is lifted the shoe can slip off.  They start to walk a bit flat-footed like a duck which leads to poor development of motor skills such as running.


A mother of one of my 12 month-old stellar caterpillars said to me, “I bought her some shoes but she keeps falling in them.  I don’t know….she can’t seem to wear them.”  I asked, “Would you like me to take a look at them?  They might be a bit too stiff.”  She brought them in so I could see them and they were an adorable pair of sneaks with laces, which was good, but made of very stiff rubber, which was not so good.  When we tried to bend them, they would not bend at all.  She observed, “Yes…they are really stiff.”  I explained how she might be better off with more flexible shoes so she can move her bones and muscles better as she walks.  I also reminded her that since her daughter is walking, she needs textures soles or she will slide right down onto the floor.  She revisited the store, made a better choice and her daughter is now walking comfortably and confidently thanks to flexible soles and a snug fit!