The transition from supported stepping to independent walking can be challenging. This is because walking without external support requires a whole new level of trunk stability, balance, coordination, and confidence! If you have a child who is efficient at cruising on furniture, utilizing a push toy, and walking with handheld assist but isn’t quite ready to walk independently, these tips and tools are effective ways to build confidence and skills all while decreasing support. Integrate these gross motor activities during play time and make sure your child is barefoot so he or she can strengthen their feet and ankles.
Head over to the dollar store to pick up a hoop or dust off the old hula hoop buried in the garage. While you hold onto one side of the hoop, have your child hold onto the opposite side so they are engaged and facing you. Once your child is balancing in the standing position you will slowly back up to encourage your child to take steps forward. Be sure you are holding the hoop low enough so that your child’s arms are below their shoulders (the lower they hold on, the more it forces them to engage their core and control their trunk.) This activity will require you to be scooting backwards on your bottom or knee walking backwards to protect your back.
To add more of a challenge, you can make the hoop a dynamic surface by moving it around (small, controlled but unpredictable movements) to encourage your child to utilize balance reactions to adapt to the movement of the hoop. In order to make the exercise easier, move your hands closer to the center of the hoop to provide a bit more stability for the child. (Pro Tip: Try singing songs, making silly faces, or telling fun stories during the activity to keep your kiddo engaged!)
Related Reading: 7 Hula Hoop Games Your Kids Will Love
Grab your child’s favorite hardcover story book to use as your productive play tool! You will begin with your child in standing facing you and the book. Hold the book open facing away from you so your child can place one or both hands on it if needed. (Note: it is more challenging to balance at a vertical surface like a wall/book compared to a horizontal surface like a coffee table/couch).
This standing position may already be challenging enough for your child. If so, begin with practicing standing balance by encouraging your child to let go to point at objects on the pages or help you turn the pages. Once your child is confident standing, slowly back up to encourage your child to take controlled steps towards the book. (Again, this will require you to scoot backwards on your bottom of knee walk backwards to protect your back.) To increase the challenge, move the book around to create a dynamic surface or back up further to encourage more steps in between page turns/standing breaks.
We love using everyday items as productive play tools! This tip/tool is to help save your back if your kiddo loves to walk with handheld assistance while encouraging progress towards independent stepping. The trick is, finding an item that is an appropriate length to optimize your posture and your kiddos posture. You want to find an item that is long enough that your child can hold on with one hand below shoulder level while you can stand comfortably holding the opposite end.
Some items to try are a ruler, a wooden spoon/spatula, a sports racket, or get outside and find a stick. Once you find the perfect length object, instead of providing a hand to hold for support and bending over while walking with your child, you can hold one end of your object while your child holds the opposite end to walk around. Just remember, if the child begins to “hang on the object” or take more support than needed, make the object dynamic by moving it around so your kiddo is forced to utilize balance strategies to keep themselves upright.
NAPA Denver therapist Karleigh enjoys play based pediatric therapy as it gives her the opportunity to be creative with her treatment techniques and create a positive, exciting experience for the children that she works with. Karleigh loves helping individuals recreate alongside their peers and has enjoyed volunteering for adaptive golf, swimming, and wheelchair/bike racing programs. In her time outside of the clinic, Karleigh can be found hiking, biking, running or exploring national parks (as she hopes to one day visit all 62)!