Walking is elementally being human. It is our first and most important achievement. We are the only mammalian species that engage in and with our world as bipeds – on our two feet, facing forward and upright.
As babies, we didn’t spend our time lying around and suddenly stood up to walk. Each day, we were exploring our own bodies and its movements, discovering our own bodies, engaging with our environment and relating ourselves with the outside world. One day we discovered our right hand, we stared and examined it for days. Then we began reaching for things around us; we saw new perspectives when we rolled over; we closed distances to our favorites toys or our parents by squirming on our belly and then crawling.
Each stage of discovery is small yet profoundly significant. Each incremental step lays the foundation for the next; before we grabbed our toys, we had to first discover our hand and its movement potential. The developmental movement stages of the human body to achieve upright walking is genetically embedded in our body’s intelligence. We didn’t need lessons, we learned those lessons on our own. The natural progression has its predetermined order that grows and develops into our most crucial ability to be human.
Sometimes, though, this order gets disturbed through certain congenital development difficulties. In our modern world, disruptions often occur because of new gadgets and expectations. How often do you hear one says, “She’s so clever, she started walking very early even without crawling!” The baby stores are amply stocked with a range of walkers, seats, assisted belts and handles to help the babies to be upright, aimed at hastening their ability to walk as soon as possible. Parents – innocently and with good intentions – are propping up their babies to sit or walk. And there are also babies who are not given the space and time to explore and move, but placed in front of a television or gadget instead.
Going back to the natural developmental order, each new step (e.g. seeing their toes and then moving them) is a switch turned on in the babies’ neurological wiring pathways. Hence, the act of moving is a highly crucial brain development exercise.
Our baby spends its first one to two years mastering their relationship with gravity in order to gain freedom to move and there are ways we can support their natural movement development so they don’t miss out on any steps along the way.
Plenty of Floor Time
Every movement requires support. The floor is the ideal form of support: it is stable and firm compared to seats or chairs; babies can roll over, push up and crawl safely with trust on the floor.
Go down and Play with Them at Their Level, Not Bring Them up to Yours
Young infants are unable to move to interact and their view of the world is shaped by the range of movement their eyes can see. When our baby is learning to roll on to its side, we can be the best view for them when we lay down next to them to talk and play instead of lifting them upright. When they are already on their belly and pushing up on their hands, we can imitate them by doing the same. As the baby progresses to sitting and standing, their view of the world gradually moves to a higher level. When we prop our babies to be on a higher position like standing before they attain it themselves, they tend to dislike going down on their belly again, naturally because the world is far more interesting up there than below.
Observe, Observe, Observe
Standing back and watching them struggle through some movements can be difficult for us as we instinctively tend to reach out to help. Allowing our baby to feel frustrated, supporting their determination to try and then helping them after several unsuccessful attempts can be a lesson on independence. Our baby truly masters its movement when it learns to do it independently. As parents, we must trust in their ability to learn and discover.
Let Them Take Risks
When they are learning new moves, their vestibular system is working with gravitational information and the learning process takes some mistakes as it gradually fine tunes to perfect the new movement or position. We can always ask ourselves if we are truly providing support or if we are giving them enough opportunity and space to learn.
Babies are truly marvellous beings of intelligence and determination that put adults to shame. When it comes to learning how to master walking, we can take a back seat and watch them do their thing!
Amy Tan is a movement therapist and educator who is the director of Zentrum, a movement-based healing centre in Kuala Lumpur. She lives a free-range life on a farm and that’s where she’s raising her daughter. She writes about learning how to live in harmony with your body and nature on her website, Moving In The Wild.