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Moving around - motor development of babies and toddlers

move; roll; rolling; crawl; crawling; sit; sitting; walk; walking; stand; standing; develop; development; motor; gross;

The information here is about what children are doing, on average, at certain ages. If a child is not following the patterns of motor development that are described here, that may be normal for that child, but it could be a sign that the child's development is not normal. If you are concerned that a child is not following this pattern of development, it may be useful to have the child assessed to see if there is a problem.

The Raising Children Network site has many topics on child development 
http://raisingchildren.net.au/  
Raising Children website is produced with the help of an extensive network including the Australian Government.

Contents of this topic

In thinking about the motor development of children, it is important to remember that children develop differently and at different rates. However, it is also important to know that children usually follow the same pattern of development. For example, a child learns to sit before he learns to walk, but the ages at which he sits or walks may be different from another child.

Rolling

The early movements that a baby makes are all part of motor development - of the baby learning to control his arms, legs and body.

  • At first when he lies on his back, a baby will make uncontrolled movements.
  • These soon become strong enough to shift his position, so that he may move along a little, or pivot around.
  • As he stretches his body and limbs he may begin to partly roll onto his side.
  • From 5 to 7 months he will work out how to move his arms so that he can roll onto his tummy.
  • Sometimes, as early as 4 months, he will 'accidentally' roll from his tummy to his back when he props himself up on his arms and lifts his head.
  • Once a baby can roll, he really begins to be mobile.

Crawling

  • A newborn baby placed on her tummy will lie with her head turned to one side and her knees drawn up under her tummy. As she gets older her legs will extend (straighten). It is safe to place your baby on her tummy when she is awake. Being on her tummy will help her to learn how to move. Turn her onto her back if she falls asleep.
  • By about 12 weeks she can lift her chin and shoulders off the floor with her legs straight out.
  • By about 5 to 6 months she may lift her head right up so that she faces forwards, and she takes her weight on her forearms.
  • Often by 6 to 7 months, children can start to move using their arms to pull themselves along with their legs trailing behind. Quite often their first movements are backwards!
  • By 9 to 10 months she may crawl along on hands and knees with her tummy high off the ground.
  • For a while before walking, children often crawl along on hands and feet, like a bear.

Other ways of moving

  • Some babies will become very good at rolling over to get to the place they want, rather than crawling.
  • Some will move along lying on their backs and bouncing their bottoms and legs.
  • Others will sit and shuffle (or 'hitch') along on their bottom using one hand. Children who move this way may be slower to walk (perhaps because they can get around easily, with one hand free). There is no evidence that moving around this way causes developmental problems at a later age.

Sitting

  • When a newborn baby is pulled into a sitting position, he is not able to hold his head up (called head lag), and when placed into a sitting position his back is very rounded. His head will 'bob' around as he cannot yet keep it still.
  • By 12 weeks when pulled up there is little head lag, and by 20 weeks his neck muscle control is good enough that his head comes up in line with his body.
  • By 5 to 6 months he will be able to sit up straight with a little support from pillows, and about a month later he can support himself with his arms.
  • By 9 to 10 months he can sit steadily by himself, and can reach out for things without falling over.
  • From 10 to 12 months he can move from sitting to crawling and then back to sitting again.

Standing and walking

  • When a newborn baby is held with the front of her feet against the edge of a table, she will make walking movements. This is a reflex (involuntary) movement, and this pattern of moving usually stops before 8 weeks of age.
  • By 5 to 6 months, babies can take some of their weight on their legs if they are held upright. Some may make 'dancing' movements, while other babies show no interest in this.
  • Between 9 to 14 months she will be able to stand holding onto furniture (such as a chair or low table), and pull herself up. Then babies can start moving around holding onto furniture, and some can walk along pushing a trolley.
  • The average time of being able to take a few steps by themselves is 13 months, but this can vary from about 9 months to about 15 months. Some children whose development is normal do not walk alone until they are at least 18 months old.
  • By 15 months she may manage to get up a step, and she may stand up without needing to pull herself up.
  • By 18 months she may get up and down a couple of steps by herself and pull a toy on wheels along.
  • By 2 years she will be able to:
    • run, turn corners and stop without falling over
    • bend over and pick up something, also without falling over
    • walk backwards.
  • By around 3 years, children can walk up stairs two feet on each stair, stand for a few seconds on one foot and start to use the pedals on a pedal toy.

Note: Early motor development is not linked to intelligence. Children who start to walk later than others often do not have a delay in other areas of development.

When to be concerned

The information given above is based on average times that babies can do different things. Many children will be a little slower than described here to achieve skills, but will be considered to have normal development.

If your child is slower to move than described, but is doing the different stages of moving in the way that is described, then it may be reasonable to wait to see how she is going. At any stage you could ask your physiotherapist, doctor or child health nurse whether what your child is doing seems normal.

In most situations if a child is not moving (crawling, etc.) by 12 months or not walking by 18 months, it is probably wise to have that child assessed.

Resources

South Australia 

  • Child and Family Health Centres. Call 1300 733 606 (9am - 4.30pm, Monday to Friday) to make an appointment.
  • Parent Helpline: 1300 364 100.

Pregnancy, birth and baby - Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is a national Australian Government service providing support and information for expecting parents and parents of children, from birth to 5 years of age. 
http://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/ 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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