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Five Major Milestones for Early Physical Development

By Deanie Barth, MSPT Physical Therapist


The first year of a child’s life is its busiest and most important developmentally. It is at this time when they develop the muscle strength and control that will help them to hold their body up and move against gravity, to initiate purposeful movement and complete simple tasks. The acquisition of these simple skills will allow them to jump, run, play baseball, do gymnastics and clean their rooms when they get older.


There are many milestones over this first year that involve gross motor development, so to keep this piece short I tried to remember five major ones where parents called or emailed me so excited to share the good news. Or when I consoled a mother who missed the first time their child demonstrated acquisition of a milestone. It was hard to pick just five, but here goes in Letterman Style:


Gross Motor Milestone #5 -- Rolling Over

At around 2-3 months, if a child is placed on his side, he should be able to roll on to his back from his sides. At around 4-5 months, he will start to roll from his back all the way to his stomach. At this time and in these positions, his abdominals, back and neck strength are starting to increase to prepare him for…


Gross Motor Milestone #4 -- Sitting Independently

Around 6 months, your child should be able to sit independently without support. This is not to say you should place them on a stool and leave them – they are still pretty shaky at this time and may even still need a little help getting to this position. Give them a nice, padded environment to practice balancing, so if they topple over they will not get frustrated. You need to build that confidence up to get to…


Gross Motor Milestone #3 -- Crawling (technically known as creeping)

Once they are getting in and out of sitting positions independently, your curious little one will not be satisfied to stay in one place. Once they discover they can get on to all fours and actually move forward a bit to grab and destroy your cell phone or remote control, they will soon be racking up the miles on their hands and knees. Did you ever wonder why it doesn’t hurt their knees to crawl on them all day long? Here’s a little tip – it’s not because they’re so resilient at that age or because their adorable little legs are so pudgy, it’s because their knee caps don’t develop until they are toddlers! Isn’t that convenient? In any event, the reciprocal movement of their legs and arms prepare them for yet another milestone, which will come later. But first, on to…


Gross Motor Milestone #2 -- Standing up

Around 9 months, your child will start to pull to stand and then start cruising using furniture. This constant up and down, up and down to retrieve objects you would rather they not will help strengthen their legs. It’s the equivalent of squats at the gym for adults, but far more fun and adventurous. Pretty soon, they will be standing up without support of another object and at that point they are ready for the milestone of all milestones…


Gross Motor Milestone # 1 -- Walking!!!!!

Usually somewhere between 9 and 15 months of age, your little one will stand up and take a step or two. At first, they walk with their legs spread wide apart and their hands way up in the air. This helps to increase their base of support and assist their balance. As their muscles get stronger and their balance improves, you will see a narrower base of support and their arms lower until they are swinging appropriately at their sides. At this time, prepare to be on high alert because with walking comes increased curiosity and an intense need to explore their environment without boundaries. Good luck!

Please keep in mind these time frames are guidelines and not absolutes. If you have concerns that your child may not be achieving milestones at an appropriate age, consult your pediatrician.


If you liked this article, you may also want to read our other developmental articles:


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