Don't expect an overnight transition as your baby approaches his first birthday. "Twelve months of age may have the marker of a year, but development does not happen in a proportionate, direct manner. If it were plotted out on a chart, the line would look more like a jagged edge with peaks and valleys. It's a continuum," says Beth K. Ryan, M.Ed., a senior child life specialist at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
What to expect: "A lot of people think that babies should be walking by one year, and many, many babies don't walk until they're 14 or 15 months, some even later," says Donna Eshelman, a movement specialist and founder of Stellar Caterpillar, a Los Angeles-based business that helps babies reach their gross motor milestones in the first year. Between 11 and 14 months is typical for the first independent step, she says.
Regardless of how your baby is getting from place to place, those little hands are probably busy. "They're so excited [at this age]. They're probably pointing, they're probably waving bye-bye, they're probably playing pat-a-cake and beginning to imitate activities like holding a book," Ryan says.
Babies this age might also build with stacking toys, sort basic shapes and imitate animal sounds, she adds.
Progression: As your baby gets closer to walking independently, she might take a few steps to the side and turn a little bit while cruising, Eshelman says. She might also get braver.
"You'll see them standing and letting go of the chair," Eshelman says. "Just learning to balance without holding on is a very big deal. That's a development that happens after learning to stand."
How to help: Eshelman suggests sitting with a hand puppet at the end of a coffee table to tempt Baby to walk toward you. But she advises against holding a baby's hands to practice walking until he takes his first steps on his own. "If parents have to guide the baby, the baby probably doesn't have quite the right balance and strength yet," she says. After a baby has taken some steps on his own, a parent's hand can offer a little extra stability, not the force behind the movement.
In the meantime, a child who is content to crawl is still developing key skills that will come in handy later. "When they learn to walk, they're going to fall," Eshelman says. "But if they have those earlier patterns really strong in their nervous system, like crawling and rolling, they'll fall into the crawling position. They're automatically protecting themselves. It's very healthy and helpful if they fall into that crawling pattern."
Create an environment that's safe yet rich, Ryan says. Babies this age are often fascinated by household objects, and pots, pans, wooden spoons and plastic food storage containers can all provide endless entertainment. Designate a drawer or cabinet as baby safe and let your little one practice opening, closing and rummaging through. Put a small ball in a pot, or rice in a small closed container, and show her how to shake it.
Another way to encourage fine motor skills is to turn a clear water bottle into a piggy bank with fabric over the top, and then encourage the baby to drop in pennies or other small objects (under careful supervision, to prevent choking). Putting O-shaped cereal into the compartments of an ice cube tray can also be fun practice, Eshelman suggests.
When you should worry: Your baby doesn't have a good range of motion and isn't able to use both sides of her body well. "Everything should work in tandem," Ryan says. "If you see one hand or leg doing a lot more than the other, that's when you want to talk to your pediatrician."
Don't freak out if: Your baby's skills seem to be temporarily lagging in one area. Babies might focus on different aspects of development at different times. "It's important, Ryan says, to remember that there might be an emergence of cognition between 11 and 13 months, followed by gross motor skill breakthroughs."
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