You likely don’t remember your first steps, but you’ll hold the memories of your child’s firsts forever. Your baby is growing up fast — sitting, then pulling up, and now standing. Walking is next, and you have your camera ready to capture those exciting, wobbly steps.
But walking is only the tip of the iceberg. Over the next few years, your toddler will be growing their skills every day. And before you know it, you’ll be chasing them around the house. Or asking them how they managed to get the cookies that you’re sure you placed out of reach on the counter.
It’s time to take a fantastical journey into your child’s gross motor skills development. Here’s what you can expect as they continue to grow.
From baby to toddler — those first steps
Sometime around their first birthday, you’ll see your baby begin to toddle. They’ve been crawling or scooting for a few months now, and then experimenting with standing and cruising, gaining confidence and strength.
Now they’re about to take those first slow, steady steps to get to their most cherished things — their favorite stuffy, special snacks, and most especially, you. It’s hard not to smile as they make their way to you, falling on their little bottom before picking themselves up to try again and again.
On the go — squats and kicks
The next 6 months will be a blur of activity, so have those cameras ready. Video creates the best memories as your child continues practicing their new walking skills, traveling in circles while humming their favorite tune, or exploring every open room in the house (luckily they haven’t figured out doorknobs quite yet).
Then you’ll notice something new — squats. When they drop their favorite traveling buddy, they don’t have to fall back into a crawl to grab it. Now they can squat to reach their stuffy friend and just keep moving. This may not feel as big of an accomplishment as walking, but it’s a huge step in their development. Their little legs are getting stronger every day.
If you’re playing outside with a ball, you’ll soon notice them giving it a kick. At first, it’s a fluid movement as they take a step, but soon they’ll begin kicking with more intention. Get ready for years of backyard soccer games!
Time to chase — running
Your kiddo is fast approaching two now. And contrary to what you may have heard, two is an exciting time. Yes, your little one is sure to be strong-willed, but they are also full of cuddles and kisses.
As they move closer to two, they grow the skills needed to play the best childhood game — chase! For some, it seems running comes only days after walking (especially if they have older siblings). Others need a little more practice and reassurance before they race off without you.
Whether they’re running wild shortly after their first birthday or taking off closer to two, the best moments are always when they come running back to you.
Reaching new heights — jumping and climbing
Now that your child is running, what’s next? They’ll finish out the toddler movement trifecta with jumping and climbing.
As they grow, take some time to rework your babyproofing. Safety is always a top priority, and once they learn how to move your dining room chairs for climbing, no space is safe from their inquisitive, little hands. Also, keep a close eye as they make their way up and down stairs — their excitement to go, go, go is likely to overtake their judgment.
Need some safe spaces to help them burn off some energy? Playgrounds and indoor playsets are perfect spots for your experimental toddler, giving them plenty of opportunities to test and improve their new skills in a safe environment. They can climb ladders and rock walls while jumping off balancing beams and low platforms. There’s always something new to try! And as they practice these skills, they’ll grow their bodies and their confidence.
Learning and growing together
Your toddler’s early years are full of growth, learning, and fantastical play. And their new gross motor skills are the building blocks for so many activities. Here are a few ways you help your little one thrive during toddlerhood.
Children learn best through play. This doesn’t mean veiling educational moments as “fun” games. Instead, let your child have plenty of time for open-ended, self-directed play.
Look for high-quality wooden toys that give their imaginations a chance to soar. And find safe, indoor playsets to help them practice their new skills as they discover fantastical worlds of wonder and bravery.
Join in when you can, but don’t worry if you don’t always have the energy to be in the middle of their games. In fact, step back and let them take the lead. You can search for new islands from the couch as they sail the seven seas in their pirate ship. Or help them draw a map to the dragon’s treasure, then send them on their quest. It’s amazing what your toddler can dream up as they play.
Provide safe spaces to practice skills
Your toddler will practice their skills anywhere and everywhere. But if you don’t provide them with safe spaces to jump and climb, you’re likely to find them scaling your kitchen cabinets.
Once a child starts to climb, there is no going back. Toddlers are created to repeat things over and over — it’s how they learn. And it’s why one song and one book always seem to be on repeat. They need you to help them safely grow their skills by directing them to the appropriate spaces.
Show them how to remove couch cushions to make a soft landing zone. Or, if you’re not a fan of them moving pillows and pieces of furniture throughout the house, invest in a play couch or a beautiful piece of indoor climbing furniture. This gives your toddler the practice they need while keeping both your home and your child in one piece.
Practice patience as they learn
Toddlers are full of “I do it”s. But even if you know to expect those words of independence, it’s frustrating to hear them all day long. We’re often zooming from place to place, always in a rush, with little time to slow down. But slowing down is exactly what your child needs from you right now.
As they learn and grow, pad in plenty of time for them to tackle new challenges. Jacket zippers and putting on socks may take 10 minutes, but the confidence your child builds in those moments will follow them throughout their lives.
Give your child chances throughout the day to do tasks themselves to keep those toddler tantrums at bay. Find kid-safe choppers and knives to help your child prepare their breakfasts and snacks. Prepare a pitcher to allow them to pour their own water. Set out self-correcting toys and puzzles to keep them learning. And step back to watch as they tackle their next big climb.
By providing your toddler with age-appropriate independence, they learn that you believe in them. So take a deep breath, harness every ounce of patience you can muster, and give them their chance to shine.
Your toddler’s work is never done
Can you remember climbing trees while exploring your neighborhood? Or creating flower crowns for all your stuffy friends? In those moments, you were free to discover, work through challenges, and grow your imagination. You told stories without knowing where they would take you. You played to learn.
As your toddler tackles these gross motor skill challenges, they’re working their way towards a world of imaginative play. You may already see moments of it as they pretend to eat their wooden play food or imitate you talking on the phone.
As they become masters of their body, it frees up their mind, opening up an entire imaginative world. By knowing what to expect in their development, you have the information you need to guide them, gifting them the time they need to learn. And once they tackle these challenges, their imaginations can truly take off.
Their journey keeps going, and it’s a wild one. We hope you have a blast traveling it with them.