Sometime between the age of nine months and a year, your baby will start showing interest in trying to get up on his or her own feet and walk. This happens slowly, in stages. First, the baby learns how to ‘pull up’, which means pulling themselves into a standing position by holding on to the furniture (or you). The second stage is usually ‘cruising’, which is essentially baby’s first sideways steps, still holding onto the furniture. Some babies become quite adept at this and manage to make very quick trips all around the room while hanging onto one sofa or another.
The third stage is unassisted walking, and the age at which this comes varies greatly from child to child. Some start walking very early, almost straight after they perfect the art of crawling; others take much longer, and prefer assisted walking because they feel more secure when supported by someone or something.
One of the best ways to teach your child how to become independently mobile, and to increase their ability to move around the room, is a push toy. Push toys help your child develop gross motor skills by allowing them to walk with the aid of a supportive toy. They come in three varieties:
- The push and ride toy: This kind of push toy is developed to last a baby right into toddlerhood. It is shaped like a ride-on toy (a miniature car or bike) with a raised handle at the back, or a seat which flips up to become a handle. The idea is that your baby holds the back of the toy for support while learning to walk, and then uses the toy as a conventional car or cycle when he or she gets older.
- The activity center/push toy: Push toys are often designed with two functions in mind, walking and entertainment. Many come with an activity center, blocks, or a shape sorter that baby can sit and play with when not walking. Ultimately they work out to be an economical buy, as they fulfill two purposes at once.
- The role–play push toy: Some push toys are built to mimic an adult item, like a lawnmower, baby pram or vacuum cleaner. The baby uses it in a way that mimics mom, and so begins a game of learning how to walk while pretending to do something else.
It’s important to choose carefully when you’re buying a push toy for your little one. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the toy sturdy and heavy? If it isn’t, your baby will tip it over when he or she attempts to pull up to a standing position. It could also tip over while being pushed. Wooden push toys are ideal in this regard, but plastic ones work well too as long as they have a wide base and a low center of gravity.
- Is the handle placed in a position that will be comfortable for your baby to hold? Try the toy out – can your baby easily hold the handle or bar? Some push and rides are harder to push as the back wheels tend to get in the way, so make sure this is not the case.
- Are all the parts fitting together neatly with no gaps or cracks where baby’s fingers could get trapped? It’s worth paying a little extra to ensure a good quality toy that will stand up to everyday wear and tear and not start breaking up.
- Does the toy offer any extra features that your child will enjoy? Activity centers and shape sorters, for example, are very popular with babies aged 9 months and above, so try and pick a toy which combines walking support with some form of entertainment.