18 to 36 Month Motor Development: Coordination and Strength

The word that comes to mind when I think of the “rugrat” set is:


From the ages of 18 months to 36 months, little ones become courageous adventurers.  Until they happen to crawl out of eyesight of Mom and become quite anxious.  Just think of what might be going on in your little one’s thoughts:  “She was just here a moment ago.  How could she just disappear like that?  My Mommy is gone!  Forever!  I’m never going to see my Mommy again!”  Tears amid squeaks of fear bring mom (or dad or other caretaker) back to the rescue.  Hugs and reassurance brings the safety back to the baby and all is well again.  Back to that never-ending EXPLORATION.

(I’ll write more on this developmental issue of how a 3-year-old learns to explore without the need for mom’s immediate presence.)

All this EXPLORATION requires coordination and strength.  Here’s how the good folks with the “Washington State Early Learning and Development Benchmarks–Review Draft, November 2004” assessed our Young Adventurers’ abilities:

Some Indicators for Children:

  • Carries toys or objects while walking.
  • Walks and runs with skill, changing both speed and direction.
  • Walks backwards.
  • Walks up and down stairs.
  • Climbs both in and out of bed or onto a steady adult chair.
  • Pounds object with intent and precision (e.g. hammers peg with accuracy).
  • Kicks and throws a ball, but with little control of direction or speed.
  • Jumps in place.
  • Balances on one foot briefly.
  • Bends over easily without falling.
  • Walks a straight line.

Some Strategies for Caregivers:

  • Encourage child to run, throw, jump, and climb.
  • Provide a variety of materials and equipment (e.g., riding toys, low climbing structures).
  • Provide physical activities that promote balance (e.g., rocking, swinging, rolling, spinning.)
  • Encourage child to try different body positions (e.g., bending, twisting.

Remember, we’re talking about your very young child: 18-36 months.  Some children walk at 9 months and some at 12 months.  The same holds true for 18-36 months.  Some can jump up and down on a wobbly base, while others need a steadying hand on a solid base.  Children not only have individual physical skills, they also have their very own set of emotional strengths and weaknesses.

I once observed a man with two little boys, both under the age of 6, looking at our granddaughter of 3, who was romping totally fearlessly in the ocean.  His boys were hesitant about the icy cold water, the rippling of waves and the distance from shore.  The man was intent on getting both of his boys to enjoy the water as much as our little girl was.  He first used his voice and then his arms to propel both boys further out into the surf.  My heart went out to his boys.  How fearful they must have been.  They had no idea that they were in this silent competition with a 3-year-old girl.  They just knew that the ocean was something to be cautious with, to explore gently.  I hope that those little boys have been able to overcome the fear that must have welled up in them as their father threw them into the two feet of ocean water.

Be gentle with your children, be gentle with yourself.  Let the natural curiosity of the RUGRAT EXPLORER provide the innate propulsion into higher physical skill and strength.

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