Holding your breath waiting for your baby to walk? Each baby approaches this incredible milestone in his own good time. Some wait to take those first steps until they're totally sure they won't fall on their butts and make fools of themselves; others launch themselves into toddler-hood as soon as they can stand.
Before your baby starts walking, she needs to develop the same dynamic combination of skills as an Olympic gymnast: adequate balance, trunk control, hip stability, leg strength, confidence and the ability to plan and carry out a sequence of actions - it’s a pretty amazing combination of skills.
Physical therapist Robin Bump, a cofounder of Making Milestones, suggests these five games to help build the muscles and skills your baby needs for walking. Plus, they’ll be fun for both of you!
1. "Mommy Says" Game
This version of Simon Says uses your baby’s love of imitation to get her moving.
Equipment: A mat or rug, the springier the better
Benefits: Reinforces skills the baby has already learned, and helps with mastery of transitions (from sitting to crawling to pushing to standing to cruising to walking), coordination, confidence and spatial awareness.
How to Play
• Sing “Do what I do, do what I do” while you demonstrate these exercises and wait for your baby to mimic you. (Move your baby’s body to imitate yours if she doesn’t play along at first.)
• Pat your head (strengthens abs and upper body strength)
• Lie on your tummy and push up, just as an infant would (strengthens upper body and core muscles)
• Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you and move them together and apart in a scissors motion (for leg strength and balance)
• While sitting down, stretch out your legs and touch your toes with your fingers - or at least try to touch them (strengthens core muscles)
• You can also incorporate movements that mimic animals' - for example, say “woof, woof” and crawl around on all fours.
2. Core Muscle Bounce Game
Bouncy? You bet. Most babies love this kooky exercise.
Equipment: An exercise or other ball that’s big enough for your baby to sit on without his feet touching the floor
Benefits: Develops core strength, trunk and hip stability and dynamic balance.
How to Play
Holding the baby’s hips, place him sitting on the ball, facing you - only support him at the hips, so he supports his own trunk. Never letting go, gently roll the ball forward and back and then from side to side. Since you’re not holding his upper body and trunk, he’ll have to use those muscles to maintain his balance and stay upright.
3. Balls in the Basket Game
This game can be tailored for many levels of physical development; encourage your baby to do it while crawling if she’s not ready to cruise.
Equipment: A basket; balls (or some favorite toys like stuffed animals or soft blocks); a stable object that the baby can cruise along, such as a couch.
Benefits: Develops confidence, leg muscles, coordination and the ability to balance while in motion It also motivates your baby to take those first steps.
How to Play
Scatter balls just out of the baby’s reach and then ask her to collect them and put them in a basket. How far away you put the basket - very close to the cruising station, or a little further - can depend on how much of a daredevil she is. As she grows more adventurous, move them further down the cruising station. You can also create new challenges by asking your baby to fetch two balls, just red balls, and so on. She’ll love the sense of accomplishment she experiences when all the balls are put away. Of course, then she’ll dump them out again.
Try these exercises with a baby who's just getting comfortable cruising or one who's almost ready to stand.
4. Pass the Balloon Game
Equipment: A balloon or bubbles; any stable surface the baby can hold on to, such as a chair or couch; a soft mat or rug.
Benefits: Develops confidence, eye-hand-coordination, balance and core muscles.
How to play
There are a number of ways to play this simple precursor to catch.
• While your baby is holding on to something stable, tap the balloon to him and ask him to tap it back to you.
• If he’s reluctant to stand, start him in a sitting position near the chair or sofa so that he’ll have to reach up or pull himself up to tap or catch the balloon.
• If your baby is standing, see if he can kick a balloon or ball while holding on to a “base.”
• To change things up, try blowing bubbles in his direction so he can try to pop them.
• If your baby's not ready to stand, have her sit or squat and tap the balloon or roll a ball back and forth between you, roly-poly style.
While your baby is lying on her tummy, pick her up by her trunk and legs. Hold her carefully as she walks on her hands.
5. Wheelbarrow Walk Game
This is a great way to develop upper body strength, which is more important for walking than you’d think.
Equipment: A soft mat or rug
Benefits: Develops upper body strength, trunk control, core muscles and stability
How to Play