As parents, we eagerly anticipate the moment when our toddlers reach that major milestone of taking their first independent steps. How can we assist our toddlers on their journey to walking? Are there toys that encourage walking?
And what are the factors to consider when selecting toys that can support our toddlers during this developmental phase?
Toys that encourage walking, such as safe “push” toys, can be used depending on the toddler’s stage of development. A precursor to walking is when toddlers pull themselves up to a standing position and then take a few steps, known as “cruising”. A baby walker is dangerous and should be avoided.
There are ways to encourage walking through our interactions with our toddlers and by using the correct age-appropriate toys safely. Before making those choices, it’s important to understand the phases in a toddler’s development that lead to walking. The context in which we select toys that encourage walking is critical to bear in mind.
Phases In Babies’ Development That Lead Up To Walking
Learning to walk is a natural process, and there are phases babies typically pass through before taking their first steps. As babies grow, they develop many skills, including balance, standing up, and supporting their body weight. Each new skill builds upon the previous skills, making them more prepared to start walking
Each baby is unique, and it’s normal for babies to leave out some or all of the stages listed below:
- Sitting: Babies start to sit at about six months
- Crawling/Creeping: Crawling typically starts between 7 – 10 months, and babies use their hands and knees. Creeping is where babies pull themselves forward using their arms and drag the rest of their bodies behind them. At this stage, their arm muscles are stronger than their leg muscles. Or babies may glide along “army-crawl style” on their bellies.
- Scooting: Some babies push with their arms and slide along on their bottoms.
- Pulling themselves up to a standing position: From about nine months, toddlers start pulling themselves up into a standing position using furniture such as a coffee table or a couch. It would be best if you make sure any item your toddler may use to stand upright is child-proofed with no sharp corners or risks of tipping.
- “Cruising”: At about 8 – 12 months, toddlers can get into an upright position, and while holding on to a piece of furniture, or the hands of caregivers, can take a few steps.
- Signs of increased readiness to start walking: Your toddler’s balance is improving, or he can stand upright for longer, indicating greater strength. Or, if he is competently pushing a toy with handles and wheels, he may be able to let go soon and take a few independent steps.
- Walking: At 9 – 18 months, your toddler may start walking.
Toys That Encourage Walking
When your toddler pulls himself up to a standing position using a piece of furniture, you could place a toy he loves just out of reach on the couch or table. That might encourage him to move towards the toy.
You could also consider getting a “push” toy for your toddler.
Click image for more info
Push toys: From about 12 to 15 months, some toddlers may be able to push a sturdy toy that has a bar or handle they can lean on, with a rod attaching it to a small cart or trolley. Holding a push toy will give toddlers something to support and guide them as they walk.
This action then provides toddlers the opportunity to exercise their legs and improve their balance as they transition from “cruising” to walking. It can help them learn to look ahead to make sure that they avoid obstacles. This could boost their confidence.
Toddlers should always be supervised when using a push toy. And push toys shouldn’t be used near stairs, fireplaces, or potentially dangerous items in the home. You don’t want your toddler falling down stairs or facing other dangers.
Tips For Selecting A Push Toy That Encourages Walking
- Height: the handle shouldn’t be too low or too high for your toddler. Some push toys come with handles that can be adjusted as your toddler grows.
- Robustness: Don’t select something too lightweight. The toy mustn’t fall over when the toddler pulls himself up.
- Wheels and speed: What are the wheels made from, and how easy or difficult is pushing the toy? Some push toys have non-slip wheels that can easily be controlled. Others have coatings that prevent them from leaving marks on the floor. The wheels can be adjusted to either slow down or speed up the pace on some push toys. You can put the tension on a tight setting while the toddler is learning to walk and gradually release it as she becomes more confident.
- Versatility: All toys are age-appropriate. There are “two-in-one” and “three-in-one” push toys that can be used from about six months until your toddler is 3 to 4 years old. They have “activity panels” with interesting activities to keep a seated baby engaged. When the toddler is ready to walk, one re-attaches the sturdy frame with wheels or unlocks the wheels, allowing the toddler to pull himself up and push the toy.
- Safety: A push toy, like all toys, should have these essential safety features:
- No part of the toy must be small enough to be swallowed, inhaled, or put into an ear.
- There shouldn’t be hinges or slots that can pinch a toddler’s fingers
- There shouldn’t be any string or cords that can choke or strangle a toddler
- No part of the toy should be poisonous: make sure it’s labeled as non-toxic and doesn’t contain lead.
- It shouldn’t be possible to break the toy and leave sharp edges that can cut or scratch.
Toys To Avoid When Encouraging Your Toddler To Walk
It’s important NOT to use a baby walker that a baby can sit in and wheel around. Thousands of babies have suffered many serious injuries due to moving around in baby walkers, mainly from falling down stairs. In fact, baby walkers are banned in Canada. The American Academy of Paediatrics has also called for a ban on the manufacture and sale of baby walkers in the U.S.
“They are dangerous because they give very young children mobility far before they are able to handle that type of mobility,” according to Gary A. Smith, Director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
“Children in a baby walker can move across the floor at up to four feet per second. At that age they have no sense of danger. They are curious, but they don’t recognize danger.”
A large research study examined the types of injuries babies suffered in baby walkers over two decades. It found that ninety percent of injuries were to the head and neck. Nearly 40% of the babies admitted to hospital had skull fractures.
The researchers also found that most injuries were in young babies. “The majority of injuries were in children who were about eight months old. There is no reason for an 8-month-old to be walking; they are barely crawling at that age,” according to Dr. Nina L. Shapiro, Director of Pediatric Otolaryngology at the David Geffen School of Medicine.
Not only are these toys unsafe, but they actually “slow normalmotor development, inhibit normal spinal curve development, and affect baby’s posture.” A toddler’s leg muscles may not develop correctly because a walker makes it so easy for them to move around. (please insert pic of baby walker: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/beware-the-baby-walker)
Ways To Encourage Your Toddler To Start Walking
The best way to encourage walking is to let your toddler have the opportunity to explore and try various moves for herself.
- Play together: When you’re engaged in playing with your toddler, you help him feel safer during playtime. Toddlers are then more comfortable exploring their environment.
- Encourage movement. If you kneel in front of your toddler, holding out your hands, this could encourage her to come to you.
- Assist your toddler’s “cruising”. After taking a few steps when holding on to a table, your toddler may then seem afraid or unsure of what to do next. You can help by lining up stable furniture that he can use to steady himself as he takes a few more steps. Make sure your coffee table, TV stand, and any other items your toddler might use to hold onto are child-proofed, with no sharp corners or risks of tipping.
- Hold her hand. You can also encourage independent stepping by walking with your toddler while holding her hands for balance.
- Limit time in activity centers, strollers, carriers, and swings. Time spent in these don’t enhance walking skills, even if your toddler can stand up next to an activity center and play in one. Toddlers need to develop torso and arm muscles as well as leg muscles in order to walk, so limit the time in an activity center to 30 minutes.
- No shoes for now: The best footwear for beginning walkers is nothing at all. Indoors and on safe surfaces outdoors, let your toddler walk barefoot. This helps build muscle tone in toddlers’ feet and ankles and assists with developing their arches. It also helps with balance and coordination.
Hopefully, the journey of all toddlers as they approach the magical milestone of taking their first steps is a safe and happy one. Some toys encourage walking, and there are also other ways we as parents can support our little ones in achieving this significant goal.
Nemours KidsHealth: Your Child’s Development: 1 Year (12 Months)
Parents: Ways to Help Baby Learn to Walk
Nemours KidsHealth: Movement, Coordination, and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old
HowStuffWorks: Do Push Toys Really Help Kids Learn to Walk?
Mom Loves Best: Best Push Toys for Babies of 2021