Category Archives: WALKING

tips for baby motor skill development: walking


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


“Did you ever think about how many nursery rhymes include the action of falling in them?,” a wise grandmother asked me.  She confidently replied that it is because “we all fall down,” which also happens to be the last line in “Ring around the Rosie.”  She explained that through singing these rhymes over and over again, children get familiar with the reality that we all fall.  This familiarity may provide comfort and diminish fear.  Even one of the earliest rhymes sung to an infant, “Rock A Bye Baby,” includes this theme.  Through these rhymes the mother is also reminded that falling is part of growing up and playing.  Even mothers need to be reminded that “we all fall down!


So much of babies’ motor skill development includes falling.  Falling when learning to crawl, falling when learning to sit, and falling when learning to walk.  The falling is part of the learning process.  As balance, strength, and coordination improve the falling decreases.  Below are some of the favorite nursery rhymes which include the movement of falling in them. If you think of another one, please send it to me and we will add it to the list.


Rock a bye baby
on the tree tops
when the wind blows
the cradle will rock
when the bow breaks
the cradle will fall
and down will come baby
cradle and all.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Jack and Jill went up a hill
to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
and broke his crown
and Jill came tumbling after.

Ring around the Rosie
pocket full of posie
ashes to ashes
we all fall down!




The mother of my 11 month old stellar caterpillar student said to me, “She keeps falling down!  I am afraid she will hit her head.”  At 10 and a half months, after a lot of crawling and cruising, this baby embarked upon a new milestone:  walking!  She walked about six steps at a time and then plopped down on the floor after losing her balance.  After a couple more weeks she could walk 10 steps or so before falling down.  Now, she is turning one year old and she is walking distances quite quickly and confidently–a true stellar caterpillar!

The development of a baby includes learning balance with motor skills.  Balance is learned very gradually.  As babies learn to walk they can balance for only a few steps at a time.  As their balance improves they can take more steps before falling down.  Of course we see them sometimes choosing to crawl if they want to reach their goal very quickly!


There are many muscles and bones in the foot.  There are also two arches which help provide stability when we walk.  When baby first begins to walk, her feet are rather flat as she steps.  With time the muscles and arches gain strength and we can see the weight shift from one part of the foot to the other as baby walks, and her foot no longer appears “flat.”  It is strength in the foot muscles that baby develops as she takes her first steps and falls.  If you look down at her feet you will see the slight wavering of the foot as she shifts around to gain balance.  The stronger the foot muscles, the better baby’s balance, and the more stable she is when she walks.


If your baby is walking and falling, this is probably a normal part of developing her skill of balance.  You should see her gradually increasing the number of steps she can take before falling down.  Remember to babyproof so those falls aren’t too painful.  Bumpers for the corners and edges of tables are a must!  Move any pointy or hard objects off of the floor to avoid baby falling on them.  And if you have not already thoroughly babyproofed your home, now is the time to do so.


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How do babies learn to walk?  In the above video, Rochel begins to walk forward toward her mother.  She is still holding on to the coffee table, part of the side cruising skill.  However, some of her steps are now moving forward rather than sideways.  She only needs to hold on with one hand, not two.  Observe the close-up shot of her feet.  You can see her take one step forward with the right foot, then the left foot moves sideways, toward her right foot as in side-cruising.  She is still moving forward, but is slowed down somewhat by the occasional side step which is from the familiar side cruising skill.  Soon she will figure out that she gets where she wants much faster with only the forward moving steps of walking.


Cruising is the first motor skill where baby is supporting all of her weight on her feet.  It has taken many months for her baby bones and baby muscles to strengthen enough for this advancement in skill.  Observe the flat shape of the feet.  Moving in this upright position will begin to develop the muscles and arches of the feet that are necessary for balance, support, and locomotion in this vertical position.


An important aspect of motor skill development is transition, especially for changing levels.  We all have to learn to move from sitting to standing, standing to sitting, standing to crawling, rolling to standing, etc.  Rochel demonstrates perfectly how to transition down to the floor.  She steps forward on her right foot, shifts her weight onto that foot, which frees up her left leg so she can bend it underneath her.  Then she slowly bends her right leg to lower her pelvis down to the floor.  Through much practice, she has developed strength in her legs so she can make this movement quite slowly.  She immediately transitions again into a quick scoot to get to her toy, the stuffed animal.  The skill of sitting is a transition to move from standing and walking to crawling on the floor.  Once again, her movement is motivated by her desire to get to her favorite toy.



The journal Science published a study in 1977 offering promising evidence of the impact of mild vestibular stimulation on the gross motor skill development of babies.  Babies ranging from three to thirteen months were subjects of a research project.  The gross motor ability of each baby was evaluated prior to the project.  Each baby received sixteen sessions of chair spinning (four times a week for four weeks).  The researcher seated an infant on his lap and spun around in a swivel chair ten times, and after each single spin he made an abrupt stop. The objective was for the infants to receive stimulation of the three semicircular canals of the vestibular system.

The researcher varied the position of each baby from the following three positions:  sitting with the head tilted slightly forward, side-lying on the left side, and side-lying on the right side.  The variations in positions provides stimulation to each of the three canals in the vestibular system.  The babies loved this experience, and they expressed it through laughing and babbling!  Often, they fussed when the chair stopped for its thirty-second rest between spins.  In addition to this group that received the chair-spinning, there were two “control” groups of infants.  One group that did not spin at all, and one group that sat in the chair on a researcher’s lap for sixteen sessions, but did not spin.


The results showed that the group which received the chair spinning treatment improved in their motor skill development significantly more than the infants in the two control groups.  The babies who were spun showed advanced development of not only their motor skills, but also their reflexes.  It is noted that the gross motor skills of sitting, crawling, standing and walking were particularly improved in the group which received the stimulation.


What we learn from this experiment is that it is not only muscular strength that is necessary to develop motor skills, but also vestibular activity.  When baby learns each of the Stellar Caterpillar “Top 10″ motor skills, she is receiving vestibular stimulation which facilitates learning her next motor skill.  After baby learns “lifting the head,” which brings a certain amount of vestibular stimulation, she learns “rolling.”  When baby learns to roll, she often rolls across the floor, which brings an increase in vestibular stimulation.  This level of stimulation does not occur with a random roll, but with a series of rolls, one after another.  It also stimulates different canals from lifting the head.  From the above experiment we know that babies who receive vestibular stimulation may show advanced development of gross motor skills such as crawling, standing, and walking.  By “advanced development” we do not mean that they achieve these milestones earlier than average, but they acquire them with advanced skill.  Advanced skill means they perform the skill deliberately with repetition, confidence, and optimal mechanics.


photo of an exersaucer for baby

Parents must learn how the popular exersaucer impacts the development of a baby.  The “goal” of this baby toy, according to the marketing, is to “help strengthen baby’s muscles for standing and walking.”  Parents often love this item because they put baby in the center and then their hands are free for a while…what a relief!


Although baby seems quite content in this contraption, he has no choice.  Unable to change his body position or to sit when he becomes tired, his muscles fatigue and spasm (stiffen).  This leads to stiffness of not only the legs but also of the torso, making it more difficult to move.  Baby is stuck in a position where his view of his feet is blocked, making it more difficult for him to feel his coordination of moving his feet and leading to accidents.  Unfortunately, numerous exersaucers have tumbled down stairs with baby in them. The coordination of walking is very important, and it involves using one foot to push off the ground and shift your weight onto the other foot.  The fixed seat position of the saucer limits the movement of the pelvis and hip joints making it impossible for baby to properly push off the ground.  This may result in difficulty later in running which requires even more of a push off from the ground, since the motor coordination in the brain was not properly learned.


The bones of baby are quite soft and flexible.  The process of baby learning to stand and walk takes about a full year because not only do the muscles need to develop strength, but the bones do as well.  Baby’s bones are getting stronger with every crawl and every step.  In a forced weight bearing position, such as standing in the exersaucer,  the stress on the bones is much more difficult to reverse or correct.  The width of the seat presents another problem for the bones, as it may be too wide for the size of baby’s pelvis and hip joints, forcing the hip joints to widen and leading to reduced stability in walking.


The motor skill of walking requires the muscles and bones, but also the areas of the brain controlling leg movement.  Think of the brain as the command center for our voluntary movements.  The locomotive skills of crawling, cruising, and walking require an alternating pattern of the legs and feet:  Right, Left, Right, Left.  This is the pattern that the brain learns and executes as a result of movement experiences where the legs are alternating.  When baby is forced to stand, baby learns to reflexively put out both feet at the same time rather than alternate feet.  And as we discussed, baby does not learn to push off of the ground to shift his weight forward.


If your goal is to assist baby in standing for developing muscle strength, read the Stellar Caterpillar blog entries archived under “standing” and “walking” for alternative games to play with him at home. If you need to have your hands free, put baby in a playpen where he can choose what movements to do while being kept safe from harm.  Otherwise, put baby down where he has a lot of space to explore.  As baby moves around on his own he is strengthening muscles and bones while getting his power to move from pushing off the ground.  Soon, with nature’s guidance, you will have a shooting star!


Baby Development:  Walking

“Baby Walk” sounds like it could be a dance. For the infant it must feel like one since it is a new coordination demanding more skill than the rolling and crawling that has dominated his movement experience until now.  Balance, strength, and coordination work together as the infant travels fearlessly on the narrow base of support in the vertical plane.    When dancing, there is a thrill in moving oneself through space in a more skillful manner.  The undeniable bliss baby feels when moving in this new way is evident in his voice and on his face!   Parents long to see their baby walking as this is the pinnacle achievement of infancy!


Learning the coordination of walking echoes back to the early developmental phases of kicking, belly crawling, and hands-and-knees crawling.  Motor patterns are controlled in the brain and the coordination of walking is an alternating pattern of right-left-right-left. This is called differentiation of the legs, where they are used separately rather than as one leg. When the baby begins kicking his legs, eventually he feels the efficiency of the right-left-right-left pattern.  Soon he belly crawls by alternating the leg and foot that pushes against the ground.  Again we see this pattern in hands-and-knees crawling.  Even in side cruising we see the right-left-right-left coordination.

It is important to remember that there are activities that interfere with the development of this coordination.  Many parents put their tiny infant in a standing position on their lap as early as two months, and sometimes bounce them up and down.  Unfortunately, this is teaching baby to use both legs at the same time instead of the alternating pattern that is useful to him in his skills of locomotion.  (Locomotion means traveling around in space.)  I strongly recommend that parents avoid this activity and substitute one that guides the ideal patterns of development!  Research in the field of brain science confirms that we use our body in the patterns that we have taught our brain through movement.  For the infant who is put in this standing position and bounced up and down, he is learning to use his two legs as one leg, like the tail of a mermaid!  We would call this an undifferentiated use of the legs.  I have seen babies on their stomachs lift both legs up behind them and bend their knees in exactly the same pattern as bouncing – this is what their brain has learned!  However, it does not help them learn to move around on the floor, and they feel extremely frustrated!  Babies love to learn how to move around on their own.  Instead of standing baby, I encourage parents to give him time on the floor for kicking, rolling, and crawling which support the alternating coordination of walking.