Once again, I was ever so lucky to get to see another Parenting Series webinar (I missed the live version because of teething but got access to the recording!). This week Kasha Pyka, a Pediatric Physiotherapist (PPT) working out of Toronto, Ontario was talking about motor milestones in children ages 0-12 months and 12-24 months.
If you didn’t know: Pediatric physiotherapists play with babies (literally – but they also do a lot more) and observe how they move, their symmetry and their stability, to identify any potential causes for motor delays. They use evidence-based tools to identify delays in development, and help to provide their clients with exercises to encourage movement.
I’m going to share some pearls from this webinar, that may be helpful for parents with little movers. Babies grow so quickly, they’re basically learning a new skill every few weeks! Kasha provided some great information on what the motor milestones are, when they should be happening (and there is a range of normal), movements we may want to discourage, and how to encourage the motor skills our children need to achieve!
*Disclaimer: This blog is intended for informational purposes only. The information on this blog should not be used as a substitute to medical advice or medical treatment. As always, your Primary Care Provider, a doctor, or another health professional is your best resource for specific questions and medical advice. If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing a medical emergency, please contact 911.*
Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Please note that all information below unless otherwise linked is credited to Kasha as above.
What is a motor milestone?
Rolling, sitting, crawling, walking. These are a few examples of motor milestones – they are developmental tasks that involve muscle movement.
There are other types of developmental milestones your child will be expected to hit at different times as they grow – such as social and emotional, cognitive, and speech/language milestones.
Kasha shared a great resource (which I will definitely be using more often for work and home now) for child development: Pathways.org. You can find a bunch of different resources & general guidelines for child development on this site, sorted by age.
One more thing before you continue on. It’s something I almost always say in my posts about babies, and that Kasha continuously reiterated in her talk: every baby is different. There is a range of normality for milestones – so your baby may not walk for example, right at the exact moment a guideline says they will (most actually give a range – for example walking alone should happen between 9-17 months, according to the Bayley Scales of Infant/Toddler Development; note that each scale will give slightly different ranges). Additionally, there is no specific order for milestones to happen in – the most important thing to look for, Kasha said, is that your child is working on a new skill about every 2-4 weeks in the first year of life.
0-12 Month Motor Milestones
0-2 Months (or so)
Your little one quickly transforms from that quiet, almost immobile newborn into a moving and interactive baby in this time period! Tummy time begins (and Kasha says it should continue on for the first year of life!) and your baby should be able to have some head control during it.
Visual tracking is another milestone that happens during (or around) this time period.
Kasha notes that it’s important to always look for symmetry with each of your babies new movements. At this stage, if you notice baby is sleeping with their head turned always in the same direction for example, she recommends trying to encourage them to sleep with it turned the other way as well.
3-4 Months (or so)
Kasha said some key milestones at this age are that baby should be able to bring hands together while they are laying on their back and prop themselves up with their elbows while doing tummy time.
You’ll notice everything goes in the mouth at this age – and it continues like this for some time! This is also a motor milestone!
4-6 Months (or so)
This is a turning point for motor skills as baby is going to start being more active as they continue to build their core strength (that is why tummy time is so important!).
One thing I love/loved about this stage was the feet obsession! Kasha explained that the hands to feet motion is something they look for as a milestone in this age group because it indicates good core strength development.
Rolling also usually begins or strengthens during this time period. Tummy to back is commonly the first way a baby rolls, Kasha says, because the weight of their head helps them along this trajectory. Funnily enough – Maggie was the opposite – she rolled back to tummy first all of the time until about 5 months when she started to do both! She noted that it back to tummy may not happen for many babies until the next couple of months (~6-9 months).
But wait – there’s more. 4-6 months is a busy time – baby should also be starting to sit independently for short spurts of time, Kasha says. It’s normal for them to still be using their hands and have some curvature in their spine at this point. If you notice that baby is really leaning forward or looking down, Kasha recommends lifting up their play surface in front of them by using a step stool which you place over their feet. You can then place their hands and toys on top of the stool to lift their gaze upwards. Other options are play gyms (see the one we use here!), or a laundry basket with strings or toys attached.
Tummy time should still be encouraged to continue that core strength building. You’ll notice baby will open their hands while in tummy time and push themselves up now with their hands.
Kasha called this the “cute stage” and honestly, I couldn’t agree more (see above for the cuteness I have to deal with!). The past 2 months with Maggie have been the most fun so far with all her movement and blossoming personality! Babies at this age are doing more exploration of just about everything – themselves, their surroundings, and their new transitions.
Your unsteady sitter should now be able to sit alone efficiently (usually around 6-8 months).
The most exciting milestone that happens during this time period is of course crawling (thought this is also a period of walking for those early walkers too)! There are many different types of crawls that your baby may start doing such as the army crawl, bear crawl, crab crawl, bum scooting (more on this one later) or the traditional crawl on hands and knees, also known as the “reciprocal” crawl (there are some good photos on this page of the different types of crawls).
Babies often (but not always) start crawling using the army crawl method – primarily pulling themselves across the floor with their arms. Kasha says this is normal, but if your baby does not progress their motor skills within 4 weeks or so, they may need to strengthen their cores more (tummy time!) or need more encouragement to get on their hands and knees.
Kasha says you should also start to see baby pulling themselves to stand or “furniture cruising” at this stage.
With all these movements symmetry is key and something you should look out for. Encouragement to use both sides is important as Kasha explains that delays in walking and other milestones are often related to asymmetry or the favouring of one side.
At this stage, Kasha says that your baby may begin increasing their balance and/or strength every 2-4 weeks instead of gaining a new skill at that rate. These skills include: standing alone without support, standing up from the floor, taking their first steps, and even walking independently (however this can occur anywhere between 9-18 months).
If baby is not walking by 18 months, then this is, per Kasha, considered delayed and you should see your primary care provider or paediatrician (and you may also enlist the help of a PPT!). If you notice your baby is struggling with skills before this, don’t hesitate to book an appointment sooner.
Once walking, you should also see baby walking to toys, squatting down to pick one up, and then walking on.
If you notice baby is struggling with balance at this stage, Kasha says there are exercises to use to increase it such as placing baby on a cushion to encourage balance, or having them take one of their hands off a supportive surface.
12-24 Month Motor Milestones
At 12+ months, Kasha says that your child is working on increasing their awareness of their own body, working on their co-ordination, and doing lots of exploring! They are also working on mastering some more advanced skills such as jumping, running, and balancing.
Your little one should be starting to crawl up the stairs (down will come later, as it’s much harder and scarier); moving from a seated position to standing; and doing lots of ball work such as corralling balls with their hands, catching them, rolling them forward and throwing larger balls.
At this stage, you will see your little one start to crawl down the stairs, and walk up the stairs with a one-hand support (they will use two feet per step). They should also be able to walk backwards and kick a large ball.
Running, sideways walking and jumping – all a part of this stage. Stair walking should become more skilled and be done without support, and they should be able to kick a ball forward ~3 ft and throw one both over and underhand. Isn’t it crazy how quickly they develop and learn these things?!
How Development Varies and What to Watch Out For
Development can have many different variations, according to Kasha. They may be common variations, but some are ones we want to discourage or work to change (sometimes with the help of a PPT if needed).
Bum scooting is one of those things. Although it is really adorable to watch, we want to encourage baby to crawl from their tummies instead of move on their bum. It can cause issues with walking later on. Working with a PPT can be helpful – however Kasha explained that this can be challenging to correct for the first few sessions.
Kasha also spoke briefly about not holding your baby’s hands and leading them to walk. Although we are all excited for this milestone to happen, doing this actually doesn’t encourage walking, she explains. A baby will walk when they are ready to – but they need to be working on standing up and must be interested in pursuing the skill of walking. If you want to encourage your baby to walk, encourage them to stand on their own and strengthen their legs, she says.
When your little one is over a year old, you should also watching for a seated position called “W-Sitting“. It causes weakness and also puts the hips in a bad position and poor alignment. To discourage this, Kasha suggests that you have your child sit in a chair or elevate toys so that they kneel instead of sitting down on the floor like this.
How can I help my baby achieve their motor milestones?
Kasha explains that children learn by doing and by trial and error. The best way to help your child achieve their milestones is to create an environment that supports them doing things and learning.
She suggests having a good play area set up in a safe area with a play mat, where nothing (or almost nothing – because I know it can be challenging) is off limits.
In this area you should have a variety of engaging toys – different textures is always good (for sensory development too – check out these Infantino textured balls, Maggie loves them). Kasha says that toys do not have to be complex, bright or loud – simple is best. Toys with holes for hands to go into, or “cause-and-effect” toys work great. Anything your baby will be interested in interacting with.
She recommends also having different “levels” for your baby to explore – such as an ottoman, chair, basket, play mat or other structures (making sure they are of course safe, and that you are of course, monitoring baby). Mirrors are another fun component and they can help to keep your child engaged.
And although not every child may need it, sometimes having baby down to just the diaper is helpful in encouraging movement.
She recommends placing toys just out of reach of baby to encourage them to move towards the toy and explore!
Please check Kasha out on Instagram to learn more!