How coffee tables and chairs can help your baby learn to walk

Let your baby scoot around furniture and play with ride-on toys. A new study says it helps them learn to walk sooner.

toys to help babies learn to walk

Gillian learned to walk when she was 12 months old—much later than her brother, Isaac. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

If you’ve met our family in real life, you’ll know we are a family of minimalists. We have few material possessions, opting for experiences rather than extravagant things. Admittedly, it wasn’t always this way. When our son Isaac was born, we were stereotypical new parents and had every toy and gadget imaginable. Many were gifts from our baby registry, but the collection of swings, bouncers, board books and noisy toys was excessive compared to our current standards.

Among the piles of baby gear were two ride-on toys, both requiring D cell batteries to operate the lights and sounds that kept Isaac captivated. I loved to hate those ride-on toys because, costly D cell batteries aside, our son’s favourite thing to do was run them into walls. It took the steady hand of our drywall repairman to fill, sand and paint the deep gouges when we sold our suburban Winnipeg home. The ride-on toys did not get packed for the cross-country move.

One of the things parents with more than one child do (whether they admit it or not), is compare the milestones of each kid. Isaac, by all accounts, hit all the infant developmental milestones on time or early—crawling at six months, first tooth at seven months, walking at nine months. Gillian was much later than that: she took her first steps just days before her first birthday. I remember being at playgroups with other moms who’d look at Gillian and ask why she wasn’t walking, while their babies—most under a year old—were toddling around the room. I tried not to be concerned because, after all, her fine motor skills had developed right on time.

Interesting research out of the University of Texas Arlington, however, suggests that those ride-on toys might have been the reason why Isaac walked early—and why Gillian took her time. With the aim of helping parents evaluate toys and other household items that can assist in their child’s motor skill development, assistant professor of kinesiology Priscila Caçola, co-developed a questionnaire for caregivers of babies aged three to 18 months. The Affordances in the Home Environment for Motor Development—Infant Scale (AHEMD-IS) questionnaire was published recently in the medical journal Physical Therapy.

Caçola believes parents don’t always consider how a toy or other household items impact their child’s motor skills. “But if they look at each AHEMD-IS question and each separation of the question, they can choose to buy toys that are different or that offer different opportunities for their infants,” she says. Chairs, tables, appliances or toys can all stimulate a child to begin walking, for example.

Already, the AHEMD-IS has been put to use by physical and occupational therapists around the world, with Caçola pointing out that the questionnaire is especially important for families that have preemies or a baby with a condition that impairs motor skill development. “Good motor skills predict a whole lot later in life, so it might be something that all of us should be concerned about early in a child’s life,” she says.

While I wasn’t worried enough to book an appointment with our doctor to discuss Gillian’s development, looking back I can see our lack of furniture and ride-on toys as a possible reason why she walked later than her brother. My biggest concern now with her at five years old? My not being fast enough to keep up with her.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

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