Developing Your Toddler's Motor Skills

Spring into Action

Between the ages of 2 and 3, your toddler will master four skills in the following order: running, jumping, galloping, and hopping. Each activity builds on the previous one, and adds a new challenge. What's the significance of mastering these activities, beyond being able to play childhood games like hopscotch? Learning how to balance on one foot, spring into a jump, or master an asymmetrical gait are skills that allow you to adjust your movements to changing or unexpected conditions -- for example, shifting your weight on a moving bus or sidestepping a branch on a sidewalk so you don't stumble. (Beginning walkers don't have these skills -- they love wide-open spaces but when confronted with an obstacle they have little ability to maneuver around it.)

  • Run, run fast as you can! The first time your child runs usually happens when he is walking fast, gets excited, and starts pushing off faster, creating what kinetic experts call "the air-time flight phase." He can go fast and straight, but if he has to stop on a dime or turn a corner, he may fall.
  • Giddyap Why is galloping a crucial milestone? It's the first motion in which one leg is doing something different from the other -- the front leg is walking, the back one is running. "It takes babies about twelve months before they can do different things with each hand. It takes them another year before they develop this ability with their legs and feet," says Jensen. "Galloping is the equivalent of opening a jar with your hands -- one hand is holding the jar and the other is turning the lid," she says.
  • Hippity-hop Hopping presents much more of a balance challenge than jumping. Kids have to figure out how to balance on one leg, push off, and then absorb the force of landing -- a pretty advanced move that most kids can't do until the age of 3.
  • 1-2-3-Jump! Kids typically begin jumping with a two-foot takeoff around age 2. The challenge is learning how to calibrate force to get their body in the air, then control it in flight. It's hard enough just becoming airborne. But with practice, toddlers will figure out how to change their force and speed to reach different heights and distances.

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