pediatric physical therapy, Dr. Amie Dougherty, kid walking with push toy

My goal with these checklists is to create a resource for parents, a resource that provides both the age-appropriate milestones AND purposeful play ideas on how to help your little one stay on track. There is so much information out there, sometimes information overload, and having this in one place I hope it makes your parenthood journey a little easier.  

If you are reading this you probably have a baby transitioning into toddlerhood and they are on the move! Be sure you have baby proofed the house in a way you feel it is safe enough for your little to move throughout the house, especially as they begin to crawl, pull to stand, cruise, climb, and walk. For us it was baby gates, outlet plug/covers, and securing certain cabinets shut and all cabinets and dressers to the wall. Toddlers ARE fast, especially heading somewhere they are not supposed to be! 

A lot is happening from 12-18 months! This is the time when your child learns to navigate and explore their environment without your help, walking and crawling everywhere! During the 12-18 month range we see little ones get into standing by themselves and learn to walk independently. It is such a FUN age, yet expect to see a lot of bumps and bruises as your child refines their movements. 


Playing with purpose during this age (and most ages) is truly about toy placement and environment set up; placing the toy just out of reach to encourage independent mobility is key! I’ll break it down with a few essential activities for 12-18 months below:  

  • Standing: Your kiddo just stood in the middle of the room for the first time by themselves – eek! How exciting! Standing independently in the middle of a room is a precursor to walking. A child MUST be able to stand independently before they are able to safely take steps and control their movements. How can you improve your child’s standing balance? Have them stand on a couch cushion while singing a song or clapping, have them stand in the middle of the room while blowing bubbles, or encourage them to stand while reading a book to them. I also like to encourage reaching overhead and to the floor while in standing, you can use bubbles, toys, puzzle pieces, Tupperware, pots and pans, you name it! I love the "clean up" game too! You can have your little one practice picking up objects off the floor to help clean up, this repetitive bending over and/or squatting motion is only going to make them stronger! Reaching while standing encourages your child to navigate moving their center of mass while keeping their balance – a necessary skill when walking!
  • Walking: I am so excited for you; this is a HUGE milestone for all kiddos and families. I highly recommend starting with a sturdy push toy when your little one is showing interest. A push toy will encourage a kiddo to support themselves AND develop balance/coordination necessary to navigate their environment independently. If you walk with your child holding their hands, be sure to keep their hands BELOW their chest. This ensures they are once again supporting their own weight and learning proper body mechanics required to walk without support. Another pro tip: have your kiddo hold onto the hand of stuffed animal and you hold the other hand. This again allows your child to ground themselves and support their own weight and develop confidence without physical touch from another person. As they develop improved balance and coordination with walking try an obstacle course! Walking over couch cushions, stepping over broom sticks, walking forward, backward, and sideways to get around objects, and even walking on different surfaces (hardwood floors to/from carpet, sidewalks to/from grass). Practicing walking on different surfaces will prepare your little one for navigating playgrounds, school, and the community. 
  • Ball Skills: This is the age of ball play, it is so much fun! Try rolling a ball back and forth while singing songs in sitting. If your child is proficient at standing start playing catch, use a medium sized ball sensory ball with texture to make the game more successful. Bean Bags are a great way to practice throwing underhand and at targets, or even bowling with a small ball - make it a family night! And last but not least, kicking. Kicking is a great way to increase balance and coordination, I highly recommend starting with a medium sized ball, it allows your child to freely lift their foot without worry of missing the target, thus increasing their success rate and fun! You can even use painter's tape on the walls to make a goal for throwing and kicking practice. 
  • Climbing/Crawling up and down stairs: Oh man, the climbing can be intense during this age! Climbing onto couches, dining room chairs, tables, counter tops, up a flight of stairs, you name it! I highly recommend showing your child how to climb down from whatever surface they find themselves on. The best way is backward and, on their belly, feet first. 

This phase is an exciting one and it should be fun! However, remember development is a continuum and all kids move at their own pace. Not all follow the developmental progression and that is OK! So, hang in there! If your child is not crawling on hands and knees by 10 months and not walking by 16 months of age consider a pediatric physical therapy evaluation from your local therapist and don't hesitate to reach out to Milestones At Play, you can book a free discovery phone call! As a mom and a pediatric physical therapist, I am here to help! It is my goal to set kiddos and parents up for gross motor success. Stay tuned as I publish more blog posts with checklists from birth - 5 years of age! 

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Dr. Amie Dougherty

Dr. Amie Dougherty

Owner/Pediatric Physical Therapist

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