When a child first starts to walk, they are often in high guard (their arms up high), they are rigid through their trunk (no rotation or arm swing), and they have a wider base of support with a shorter step length. They are using all their muscles to keep their balance with each step they take. As they get more practice, their arms will start to come down, they will bring their feet closer together, and begin to take longer steps.
But, learning to walk on flat ground is just the first step. Unless they are in a very controlled environment, there aren’t going to be too many times in their life when they are walking on perfectly flat ground without any obstacles or changes in terrain. So, how do we help them to prepare for that? If you just start putting a lot of obstacles in front of them, it may be too much for them to handle. There are ways to grade this experience for them so they begin to do it naturally. It’s all about setting up the environment so they can practice!
We are a big fan of using yoga mats to help with this. You can start with lying a few yoga mats (or even just one) on the ground in your home so that as they walk around, they have to go on and off the yoga mat. A yoga mat tends to be a little softer so the ground is now just a bit squishier making them have to work just a little harder to maintain their balance. The same goes for navigating over the threshold of the mat. It’s not a big difference from the ground, but it is still a change.
If they are managing with the yoga mat, you can make it a little more challenging. We use spots and place them under the yoga mat. We could easily put them out on the ground, but at this point I still like to try to ‘trick’ them into challenging their balance. If they realize that an obstacle is coming up it is still too easy to revert to crawling to get around it. If the ground doesn’t necessarily look any different they may be more likely to attempt to navigate it and get in a little balance work all at the same time!
As they get better and better, you can put larger obstacles, such as books or bean bags, under the yoga mat, or you can just start to bring them out in the open. We have had a few families that just leave the toys out and about so their kids have to practice navigating around obstacles! (Any excuse not to clean up sounds good to me!)
You will also notice that as your child’s balance is challenged you will see them revert back to that new walker posture because they are once again using all their muscles to keep their balance with each step they take.