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Lumiere Children's Therapy Chicago: Mastering Gross Motor Milestones

Reaching and mastering gross motor skill milestones, is vital for proper child development. The following explains the five sequential milestones (tummy time, rolling, sitting, crawling and walking) and tips to help your child achieve them.

David Precious

David Precious

Tummy Time

Tummy time is important for your child to develop strength in his neck muscles. Neck muscle strength is important for your child to begin holding his head upright and in the middle, and contributes to his ability to roll over, sit, crawl and walk.

If your child seems fussy on their tummy, this is because it is a difficult position for your child. It is similar to an adult version of a plank— very difficult! Tummy time looks different each month of development, depending on your child’s age and level of strength, call Lumiere Children’s Therapy or attend one of our parent trainings to learn more about developmental positions and motor milestones.

Where can I do tummy time?

You can do tummy time on a blanket or foam mat on the floor, over your chest facing you while you are laying down, over your lap or carrying the child on his/her tummy across your forearms.

What should my baby look like in tummy time?

Tummy time looks different at each month of age. Initially in the first month, your baby will barely be able to lift his head off the surface to rest his cheek. Then, closer to 3-4 months you child will be able to lift his up further and further until it is at a right angle to his back. By 5-6 months, your child will start to push up on his hands with straight elbow. Then, it’s time to start pivoting and belly crawling.

Tummy Time Tips

  • Always supervise your child during tummy time. Get on the floor with your child so he/she is motivated to lift his/her head

  • Use a mirror, rattles, music-playing toys, or bubbles

  • Sing to your child during tummy time

  • Begin tummy time early on, as early as a week old!

  • Start in 2-5 minute increments and work your way up to total 60 minutes a day.

  • Perform exercises when your baby is the most energized and ready to play, such as after your baby has slept, eaten, and has a clean diaper, to ensure your baby is the best mood to “exercise”!

  • Note: some babies will need to wait an hour after eating before tummy time to minimize spitting up, especially babies with reflux. Ask your doctor about specifics if your baby has reflux.

  • Use a fun tummy time mat a comfortable tummy time mat will motivate your baby to stay on his tummy, engage in the toy, and be comfortable! Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick 'n Play Piano Gym or a water mat will also motivate your baby to perform tummy time! Hoovy Baby Inflatable Water Play Mat


Rolling

When should my baby be rolling?

Babies typically roll from back to belly around 4-6 months, and belly to back ~3-5 months. However, this is a range, and every child is different!

How can I help my baby roll?

There are a few fun activities that you can do with your baby to encourage rolling:

  • Reaching for feet: Rolling from back to belly requires quite a bit of core strength, so a great place to start is by encouraging your child to reach for his feet to really engage his core muscles.  You can do this by placing rings on your child’s feet to encourage him to reach up towards his feet to grab the rings. You may have to help him at first, but once he is able to do so let him do it more and more on his own until he does it on his own.

  • Reaching to one side: With your child on their back, use a toy to guide your child to look to one side and encourage him to reach for the toy by reaching across his body and rolling to his side. Sometimes you have to move the toy farther than you think to get him to reach!

  • Assisted rolling: Once your baby is reaching across his body for a toy, you can help your baby to his side by assisting at his hip. This helps teach him how to complete the motion with both his upper and lower body together. As he continues to gain strength, you can gradually decrease your support until he rolls on his own!  

  • Tummy time: The more comfortable and strong your baby is in tummy time, the more your baby will want to roll and tolerate floor time. Read above for tips on tummy time!

When and why would my baby need physical therapy to help with rolling?

Babies are all different and can develop at slightly different times, and that is okay! If your baby is showing any of the following “red flags” listed below, it might be a good idea to ask a physical therapist for an evaluation. (However, these are child specific. Call our and ask to speak with a physical therapist with any questions):

  • Not reaching with arms for toys at 6 months on back

  • Not able to lift head up in tummy time at 3 months

  • Not rolling back to belly by 8 or 9 months

  • Only reaching with one arm

  • Only rolling to one side

Additionally, your child may have another medical diagnosis that will make meeting motor milestones tougher, and a physical therapist can educate parents on treatment ideas and home exercises to teach your baby the motor plan to roll, as well as strengthen muscles!


Sitting

When should my baby be sitting?

Babies can begin prop-sitting while leaning on hands as early as 4 months, however while having a caregiver close by to assist with balance. Babies typically can sit on their own between 6-8 months. However, this is a range, and every child is different!


How can I help my baby sit?

There are a few fun activities that you can do with your baby to encourage sitting:

  • Prop-sitting: Hold your child around his trunk and help him lean forward onto his arms. At first, your child may only be able to do this for a few seconds at a time, but it builds arm strength! Work up to 30 seconds, then 1-2 minutes at a time, to your child’s tolerance. At first, your child will place his hands in front of his feet (around 4 months). As your child gets stronger, his arms will move closer to his knees (around 5 months), then hips, then he may place his hands on his own legs until he can sit without his arms (around 6-7 months). As your child gains strength, continue to sit close by and assist your child as needed.

  • Assisted sitting: Hold you child around his trunk and decrease your assist until your child can sit on his own. You can place toys directly in front of him to encourage him to sit up straight and lean his hands on a toy if needed.

Note: Babies do not gain the reflex to catch themselves on their arm from falling sideways until 6-7 months, and they do not gain the reflect to catch themselves on their arm from falling backwards until 10 months. Always be nearby and ready to catch your child from falling when practicing sitting exercises.

  • Tummy time: Similar to rolling, the more comfortable and strong your baby is in tummy time, the more your baby will have the core strength to sit. Read Part 1 for more tips on tummy time!



Toys for sitting

Cube activity Center: A vertical surface such as a large cube is great to provide some support for your child to place his hands on, and also encourage an upright trunk. Check it out here

Shape Sorter: A larger type toy is helpful to provide some support for your child to put his hands on as he learns to sit. Once he is sitting on his own, it encourages reaching and manipulating toys to further challenge balance in sitting. Check it out here


When and why would my baby need physical therapy to help with sitting?

Babies are all different and can develop at slightly different times, and that is okay! If your baby is showing any of the following “red flags” listed below, it might be a good idea to ask a physical therapist for an evaluation. (However, these are child specific. Call our and ask to speak with a physical therapist with any questions):

  • Not able to sit on his own by 8 months reach for toys on belly at 7 or 8 months

  • Not able to prop-sit while leaning on his hands by 7-8 months

  • Not able to sit upright when he sits (leaning to one side)

Additionally, your child may have another medical diagnosis that will make meeting motor milestones tougher, and a physical therapist can educate parents on treatment ideas and home exercises to teach your baby the balance to sit, as well as strengthen muscles!

Crawling

When should my baby be crawling?

Babies typically begin pivoting in a circle on their belly around 6-7 months, belly crawling forward on their belly between 7-9 months, and crawling forward on hands and knees around 8-10 months. However, this is a range, and every child is different!

How can I help my baby crawl?

There are a few fun activities that you can do with your baby to encourage crawling:

  • Sitting to belly: Once your child is able to sit on their own, its time to start introducing weight shifting to transition to his stomach. To do this,  start in sitting and you can lean your child to one side to lean on one arm while reaching towards a toy with his opposite arm. Then guide him up and over his leg and onto his belly.  Make sure to have him go over his side to protect his hips. This strengthens his arms and core and helps them learn how to shift his weight from side to side.

  • Kneeling at a surface: Next, help him kneel at a surface or a a low step to encourage weight-bearing on his knees in a modified crawling position. This a great place to practice lifting one arm to reach for a toy, to simulate reaching forward on all fours when crawling.

  • Rocking on all fours: You can also help him rock on all fours to help them slowly build strength in his core and arms. As he begins to get into all fours on his own (typically anywhere from 5-9 months) you can provide support at his trunk and legs to help him rock back and forth. Once he gets stronger, you can support his trunk and help him crawl forward as he moves his arms.

  • Tummy time: Similar to rolling and sitting, the more comfortable and strong your baby is in tummy time, the more your baby will want to pivot and crawl! Read Part 1 for more tips on tummy time!

When and why would my baby need physical therapy to help with crawling?

Babies are all different and can develop at slightly different times, and that is okay! If your baby is showing any of the following “red flags” listed below, it might be a good idea to ask a physical therapist for an evaluation. (However, these are child specific. Call our and ask to speak with a physical therapist with any questions):

  • Not able to reach for toys on belly at 7 or 8 months

  • Not trying to pivot on belly or move position on belly at 7-8 months

  • Not rolling back to belly by 8 or 9 months

  • Only reaching with one arm

  • Only rolling to one side

Additionally, your child may have another medical diagnosis that will make meeting motor milestones tougher, and a physical therapist can educate parents on treatment ideas and home exercises to teach your baby the motor plan to crawl, as well as strengthen muscles!


Walking

When should my baby be walking?

Babies can begin walking between 10-14 months. However, this is a range, every child is different, and this depends on their motor milestone acquisition thus far!

How can I help my baby walk?

There are a few fun activities that you can do with your baby to encourage walking. Always stand close by with your hands out during such exercises to catch your child from falling if necessary:

  • Assisted cruising: Once your child is able to pull to stand and stand at a support surface, you can start teaching him to move on his feet by stepping sideways to cruise along a table, coffee table, or ottoman. The surface can be about the height of your child’s chest. Once he has mastered cruising, you can encourage larger steps by having him cruise between two support surfaces at a 90 or 180 degree angle. Gradually, you can increase the distance between the surfaces to make it more challenging.

  • Reaching in standing: Walking incorporates both balance and coordination, and a great way to target this is by practicing weight shifting while standing. You can start by having your child stand with his back against a couch or wall, and practice reaching forward or sideways. You can do this by having him reach for a toy or pop bubbles, whatever interests him. You can also have him hold onto the toy as you for another way to help him gain balance in standing with decreased assistance.

  • Walking practice: Practice taking steps by holding your child around his trunk and walking/kneeling behind them. This promotes proper alignment while walking.  When your child can stand on his own >20-30 seconds at at time, he is likely ready to start taking steps. Stand a few feet away from him to encourage him to walk to you. You can start by holding his hand, or holding the same toy, then fade assist as he gains strength and confidence!

  • Squatting: When your child can stand at a surface, hold objects at the height of his knee to encourage him to bend down and pick up an object, then return to standing. Both knees should bend, and this strengthens his muscles! As he gets stronger, you can hold the object lower and lower until the object is on the floor. Make sure to do this to both sides.

  • Tummy time: Similar to rolling, the more comfortable and strong your baby is in tummy time, the more your baby will have the core strength to sit. Read Part 1 for more tips on tummy time!

Walking tips

  • Start with your child barefoot so your child can feel the ground and use his toes for balance.

  • Use positive praise and get excited for your child so he stays positive!

  • Use bubbles or a fun toy to distract him!

  • Note: Some children may need some support in their shoes to add some stability to assist in standing and walking. A physical therapist can assess your child’s foot alignment to determine if an insert or brace is indicated.


When and why would my baby need physical therapy to help with walking?

Babies are all different and can develop at slightly different times, and that is okay! If your baby is showing any of the following “red flags” listed below, it might be a good idea to ask a physical therapist for an evaluation. (However, these are child specific. Call our and ask to speak with a physical therapist with any questions):

  • Not standing at a surface by 12-14 months

  • Not cruising along a surface at 16 months

  • Refusing to bear weight through legs at 10 months

  • Standing/cruising on tip-toes

Additionally, your child may have another medical diagnosis that will make meeting motor milestones tougher, and a physical therapist can educate parents on treatment ideas and home exercises to give your baby strength and confidence to walk!

Thank you for reading our motor milestone series! If this blog post has sparked any questions about your child’s development, feel free to call our office to speak to a physical therapist! We also offer two “mom and tot” classes about teaching your child to move, listed below. Call our office at 312.242.1665 to try a class!



PARENT/TOT CLASSES

BUDDING BABIES* (ages 4-10 months)

Your baby may not be crawling yet but there’s lots they’re learning – and you can help! Learn how to position your baby to build strength and develop stability. Explore the senses and support visual and auditory development with tummy time, rolling and other key exercises. This class includes parent discussion time to help learn about your child's development.

*Parent Involvement Required

WEE WALKERS* (ages 11-22 months)

As your baby becomes vertical, a whole new world of wonder is revealed. Play environments are vital to encourage discovery, problem solving, balance and coordination. Parents learn to understand how their infant interacts and communicates with them and others.

*Parent Involvement Required

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