This is part two of the Tribute to Magda Gerber series.
Notice the picture of the baby in the walker. This isn’t really walking. This baby isn’t ready to walk. Walkers don’t teach walking. Walkers can have a negative effect on the baby’s future walking skills. You can’t tell from this picture, but the baby’s toes are the only part of his feet in contact with the floor. This can cause the baby’s calf muscles to shorten leading to toe-walking, other unnatural gaits and a lack of walking coordination with more frequent falls and injuries later on.
This baby isn’t walking either. This activity doesn’t teach walking. This baby is clearly not ready to walk. In addition to all the perils listed above, this activity can load the baby’s spine, pelvis, legs, knees, ankles and feet in gravity before those structures are ready to support his weight in an upright position. This activity is also hard on the baby’s shoulders. For some reason, in our culture, this activity gives parents great pleasure.
This baby isn’t standing. She can’t get into a standing position on her own. All the negative consequences listed above apply to this activity. Note the expression of pleasure on the mother’s face.
This baby isn’t sitting. Prolonged propping in a seated position can load the spine and pelvis in ways that’s not healthy for a baby who can’t get into a sitting position on his own.
Parents are excited and proud to have children who sit, stand and walk earlier than their peers. I call this competition the Developmental Derby. Parents like the idea of training, exercising or helping their children to accomplish these motor skill goals. Although, when we do this we potentially cause harm to tiny bodies. We also deprive our children of their own process on their own timetable. This normal learning process includes frustration, trial and error, synthesis, learning from experience, integration of skills and pride of accomplishment.
My oldest son, Jason, spent time in a walker and a Johnny Jump-Up, the contraption pictured here. Like most other American parents I propped him up when he couldn’t get into a sitting position on his own, I stood him up and I “walked” him. After he learned to walk on his own, until he was about 5, he had a perpetual bandage on his chin – sometimes with stitches underneath. He was fearless – often overestimating his capabilities. He fell a lot and usually landed on his chin.
I met Magda Gerber when I was pregnant with my second son, Adam. She taught me to let him develop in his own way. I learned not to interfere. I allowed him to find his own way in his own time. He met most gross motor skill milestones a little later than average for American children, but he has always been graceful, grounded in his body and less prone to falling and other accidents.
The developmental derby is seductive. I still really want you to know that Jason, in spite of his frequent falls, was able to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels at 4 1/2. Note the expression of pleasure on my face.