Understanding Motor Development
By Doris Ohlmann
Birth to three years of age
“Come on, come on, you can do it,” my four year- old son squeals as he wiggles a colourful, stuffed snake toy at his creeping little sister. She has been trying to keep up with him all afternoon as he trails one toy after another in front of her like a tantalizing prize to be won if she reaches him before he turns and, with a giggle, leads her in another direction.
He used to lie and tickle her toes when she was just in the wave-the-arms-and-legs mode. If she lay on her stomach, he’d pretend he was swimming right alongside her on the carpet. If she lay on her back, he’d become a turtle who had gotten stuck on his back shell and couldn’t get up. Their chortling and waving limbs were always entertaining.
Now, he’s helping her learn to crawl! Anyone who has been a parent and watched their children grow through each stage knows that it doesn’t take long before that tiny, sleeping baby is not only moving their arms and legs just because they can but also finding ways to become even more mobile, maybe before you’re even ready for it!
Babies generally don’t really start getting mobile until after six months. Some may start a bit earlier, if they’re really keen, by trying to drag themselves on their stomachs and using their arms to reach out and help pull themselves forward. But generally, they don’t actually get up on their hands and knees until about nine months.
Crawling is only one way to see that your child’s muscle strength and motor development is progressing. Some children go straight from sitting, to standing to walking and skip the crawling stage altogether.
Some toddlers will walk before they reach their first birthday while others take a little longer. Most healthy toddlers are walking independently by 18 months. Most can even climb stairs while holding onto a parent’s hand but their balance is still developing so watch them closely near stairs in case they try to navigate themselves before they’re ready. Even though two-year-olds can climb briskly up and downstairs, they still need adult supervision.
By age three, children walk with good posture and without watching their feet. They can also walk backwards, run and change direction, hop, stand on one foot, and negotiate the rungs of a jungle gym.
Ages four to eight
Now my son follows as his exuberant sister rushes up the stairs ahead of him and when they’re outside he proudly helps her balance on her bicycle until it’s time to take the training wheels off.
Four-year-olds can generally balance or hop on one foot, jump forward and backward over objects, and climb and descend stairs with alternating feet. Some four-year-olds can also skip. Because they are getting more confident with their movement, they may try to be daring. Monitor your preschoolers carefully, especially around stairs and climbing apparatus.
Five-year-olds can skip, jump rope, catch a bounced ball, walk on their tiptoes, balance on one foot for over eight seconds, and engage in beginning acrobatics. Many can even ride a small two-wheel bicycle. Eight- and nine-year-olds typically can ride a bicycle, swim, roller skate, ice skate, jump rope, use small garden tools, and play a variety of sports.
Ages nine to 13
My son and daughter almost seem to be in a competition to see who will get taller sooner, even though they’re four years apart. My son wonders why his sister has a huge growth spurt in one summer while his mark on the wall inches up slowly. I remind him that girls usually stop growing before boys.
In early adolescence, children develop increasing coordination and motor ability. They also gain greater physical strength and prolonged endurance. Boys and girls grow at about the same rate and are equally strong until puberty. At puberty some girls can begin growing at eight while others not until 14. Boys usually have a growth spurt between 10 and 14 but can continue growing slowly until the age of 20.
During growth spurts, some children can grow so fast they become clumsy or experience growing pains in the arms and legs. Usually this is because their hands and feet grow first so joints and muscles may ache. This is no cause for alarm, as the growing limbs will all even out when the bones finish growing as well. Once the teen has become used to their larger limbs, they will feel less awkward. The “growing pains” usually disappear after puberty.
It’s important to remember that children develop at different rates. Signs that their motor development may be delayed include not walking by 15 months of age, not walking maturely (heel to toe) after walking for several months, walking only on the toes, and not being able to push a toy on wheels by age two. If you are concerned about your child’s motor development, be sure to discuss their progress with a paediatrician or your family physician.
Mobility and Safety
Installing safety gates at the top of stairs or even the entrance to rooms you don’t want your child to explore are a good investment in your peace of mind. Make sure they’re sturdy enough and locked in place firmly against the door jams to hold the weight of a growing toddler. If they push or lean on it, will it collapse?
Lock not just the entrances and exits to your home but even some of the cupboards. Those special child-safety locks for low cupboards will prevent your child from getting into things they shouldn’t. You may be able to take a few pots and pans being clanged and dinged together but you wouldn’t forgive yourself if your child found the poisonous cleansers under the sink and decided they were thirsty. Better yet, store them in a higher cupboard to avoid the temptation altogether.
However, if your child is a climber — most children are to some degree at some point — don’t forget the medicine cabinet. Those colourful bottles all look so inviting to a young child, not to mention the tiny capsules found within some of them. A rattle they may sound like, but it won’t be such a happy sound if they get that bottle open!
Whatever time of year, ensure that the lock is on the gate to the pool at all times. Water is a natural curiosity for children; ensure no preventable mishaps occur by leaving a gate open or unlocked.