Early Childhood: A Typically Developing Timeline

If pediatric mobility aims to mimic the timeline of a typically developing infant, it’s important to know when infants develop the skills that eventually lead to crawling, standing and walking.

Reaching Out at 5 Months

Lisa Watanabe, BSc, specializes in early childhood education and has taught infants, toddlers, and preschoolers for decades.

Ambulation, even for typically developing infants, is not a single, stand-alone skill, she explained, but rather becomes possible due to a compilation of smaller skills acquired over time.

At around 5 months, infants typically begin reaching with hands and arms. “Generally when they start reaching, they see something they want to touch because they’re very sensory at this age,” Watanabe said. They see a ball, and they start moving their arm toward it: What is this thing I’m looking at? Oh, it’s round, and it’s hard or soft.”

Those early skills lead to independent mobility, typically by 7 months: “Most of the kids I’ve seen start if not crawling, then scooting, at 6 months. Girls typically are a little faster than boys. Scooting goes to crawling, and crawling goes to pulling up [to a stand]. It can start before 6 months for some children.”

The Importance of Letting Babies Experiment

“Once they start creeping or crawling,” Watanabe added, “the more they do that, the better they get at it. We have low shelves [in classrooms], and they reach for the shelf and pull themselves up. Or [they] use something low and stable, like a table. They’re trying to use their leg muscles so they can start standing.”

But those first steps toward independent mobility depend on developing foundational skills, such as understanding cause and effect, which Watanabe said happens “As soon as they’re able to move, so as early as 5 months. If they can move anything — maybe not their entire bodies, but if they can move their hand — going back to the ball that’s sitting there, they reach for it, but they tap it, and the ball rolls. And they didn’t know that. But they see that if they touch it too hard, it’s going to roll: I did that. That’s interesting. Is anything else going to do that? Maybe they see a block, and they do the same thing, and it doesn’t move as much. It doesn’t roll. So they learn that a ball rolls, but a block doesn’t.”

Watanabe said anecdotally that she can deduce which infants are frequently carried by parents because those babies often depend on others for mobility. While peers will proactively scoot or crawl to get to something interesting, babies who are frequently carried tend to wait for assistance.

“I understand it [when infants are] very young, but once they get to crawling or even before that — if parents asked me, ‘Should we carry them all the time?’, I would say no,” she noted. “They have to learn to be mobile on their own; that’s part of their development. Not just physical development, but also emotional development and mental development. It all links together.”

Lisa Watanabe is the sister of Mobility Management’s editor.

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Mobility Management.

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