The title of this post is “helping your baby learn how to walk” instead of “teaching your baby to walk” because contrary to what most of us think, you can’t actually teach a child to walk. He teaches himself. A lot of adults do try to teach the child by holding his two hands and trying to walk him or putting him in a walker. Even though these are done with good intentions, it can be an obstacle to the child’s proper development. Instead of holding his hands, there are three things that we can do to help the child learn how to walk.
1. A safe prepared environment: This is the most important. The child needs a safe place with as much space as you can make available, where he can practice without being interrupted. This place should be free of wires, glass objects, and items that the adult is worried about the child bumping into or falling on. It should be prepared in such a way that the adult can give the child freedom to practice.
2. Proper clothing: Flexible clothing that lets him bend his knee, so no tight jeans. Legging and cotton shorts or trousers are great. Shirts should not be too long so that the child does not step on it and he is trying to pull up to a stand. As much as possible, the knee and toes should be exposed as he uses them to pull up. No shoes is best but if necessary, shoes should have very thin flexible soles. The child’s arch is not formed at birth and the wrong shoe can affect the formation of the arch which can lead to lasting problems.
3. Things to pull up and cruise on: I recommend a stool and a walker wagon.
You probably have a stool at home so I don’t have to convince you that it is necessary. Just put it in the area where the child is practicing and watch him navigate the room with it. The walker wagon is not very popular (at least not in Nigeria) but I think it is a great developmental material to support the child’s development of movement in the form of walking. It is so much better than the walker that most families use (I used one as a baby too) and I’ll tell you why. First what is a walker wagon?
The walker wagon is a wooden cart on four wheels with a raised handle bar which the child can gold on to and push. Ideally the base should be heavy so that it doesn’t move too fast for the child. They are available commercially but can also be made by a carpenter. I have seen two made by carpenters and they worked just as well.
So why do I recommend a walker wagon over a walker or holding the child?
As their names imply, both the walker and walker wagon are intended for use when the child is cruising and learning to become a “walker”. However, the walker is designed in such a way that a baby who is not at this stage developmentally can still be put in it and therefore have his or her development potentially affected. The walker wagon however requires the child’s arms and leg to be developed to the level of pulling up and pushing for him to use the wagon. Also, a lot of children have to stand on their tip toes to touch the floor when in the walker. Some of them later struggle with balancing on their feet to walk and so may take longer than necessary to walk.
Encourages Independence and Self Confidence: The child can use the walker wagon independently. He can choose to crawl to it, pull up and push it. When tired, he can choose to stop and leave. This is not the case with the walker, which the child has to be put into and taken out of. The child is therefore dependent on the adult and can get frustrated when he is done but the adult is not available to help him out
Safety: I have heard of babies tipping themselves to get out of the walker. Again all the child needs to do with the walker wagon is let go. Usually if the child can pull up by himself, he would have also learnt how to let go can get back into the crawling position
Opportunities for Problem Solving: We had three issue with the walker wagon when we first assembled it. It did not have brakes, it moved too fast and it only moved in one direction. To solve the first two problems, we put heavy books in the wagon to slow it down and for the third problem we just used to turn him whenever he got to a dead-end. Even with the heavy books the wagon used to move a little when he was pulling up on it. He realized this and started pulling up on the side before transferring to the back to push. Eventually he figured put how to stop it from moving while pulling up. Recently we got tired of always having to turn him around and my sister asked why we had the weights in the wagon. These made us take them out. the first two times, the wagon was going really fast but by the third time he had figured out how much weight and pushing to apply and slow it down. Finally since we were taking longer to respond to his requests to turn the wagon around, he figured out how to do it himself! The wagon provides these opportunities for problem solving and allowing the child to understand how much effort and force he need to exert and the capacities of his body. In addition to this knowledge is the satisfaction and self confidence that the child gets from solving a problem.
Trust me, the child feels a sense of achievement from this situations. The smile tells everything.
Isolation of difficulty:
I have mentioned isolation of difficulty on the blog before. It’s allowing the child to focus on a specific skill instead of bombarding him with different activities or skills in one activity. I have noticed it encourages the child to repeat the activity which then makes him concentrate and get better. A lot of walkers have buttons, rattle, lights and a lot of other activities and distraction but the kind of walker I am recommending has no buttons to press, mobiles to watch or rattles to shake. All you do is push or pull the walker. For some people this may not seem like an advantage but it is. Nothing cooler than watching a child focus on one activity for 1 hour and literally get better with every passing minute. If you think about it, you want the child to look at where he’s going right? If yes, then isn’t have those other activities and distractions telling him that he can walk without looking?
Aesthetics, Quality and Longevity: Quality objects made from natural materials like wood are usually beautiful and last longer that plastic materials. I recently visited a school and they has a plastic rocking horse and other materials for gross movements and all of them were broken or cracked. This would not be a problem if they were wooden. Wood will last longer and probably just need to be washed and re polished to maintain. We park our wagon in our living room and it adds to the beauty instead of looking like a toy. The walker wagon can be used by multiple children or families and even passed down from one generation to another
Versatility: The walker wagon can be used indoors and outdoors. We love to take ours downstairs and to the park. They can be pushed by the child or pulled by the adult (the child can sit in it when he is tired). The can be pushed by the infant who is learning to walk or used by the toddler/child to push items or friends around. The walker is not as versatile.
Body Scheme: I learnt about body scheme during my training and it made so much sense to me. Body scheme is basically your understanding of the space you occupy. According to medical dictionary.freedictionary.com, it is kinesthetic awareness of body parts and the relationship of those parts to one another and to objects in the environment. It is acquired during the first two years of life. An example of the effects of body scheme is that if you think you occupy more or less space than you actually do, you may bump into things a lot. This totally applies to me. Think about a child in a walker. The walker is all around him and when he moves, it is moves as part of him. Psychologically it can become part of his awareness of the space he occupies and can distort his body scheme. The walker wagon is separate from the child. He pushes it but is not attached to it and he knows because he can stop and crawl or walk away when he wants. Note that while I have compared the walker wagon to walkers, most of the arguments also apply to the adult walking the child. With these points of mine, I hope I have convinced you to invest in a walker wagon instead of a walker.
When picking a walker wagon:
- Pick a simple one that doesn’t have other activities or functions
- Pick a wooden one with a heavy base
- Think about what you child may eventually want to transport and make sure it can fit. I highly recommend one that the child can fit in
We purchased out Radio Flyer Walker Wagon from Amazon. If you live in Lagos, I know the store Laterna has a walker wagon but if you don’t but have access to a carpenter, leave a comment and I will email you the measurements and instructions to make one. As always, thanks for reading and please contribute to the conversation.
Live a Good Life!
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