Exercise Toys to Help Baby Learn to Walkby Dianna Graveman
Like many developments and milestones your baby will experience, learning to crawl and walk is probably best aided by Mother Nature. Most babies crawl before they walk, and the muscles they strengthen while doing so will help them later get to their feet and gain balance. The only real "equipment" you may need to provide is a soft floor to fall on while experimenting with those first steps, and something for your baby to pull himself up on or to hold onto for support. Of course, be careful to baby proof your house by cushioning furniture corners and covering or removing any sharp edges your child can fall on or against while pulling himself up and learning to crawl or walk.
Many new parents like to give their new babies a boost in muscle development, however, and plenty of products are available to help you do just that. But just because a product is on the market doesn't mean it is right for you and your baby, or even that it is absolutely safe. Many health care providers no longer recommend parents use a jumper, which is a device that is suspended from a door frame and which allows your little one to bounce up and down to exercise his legs. Injuries to bones and joints have been reported, and there is also the possibility the device could become unattached and collapse.
Walkers may pose different but more dangerous concerns, according to Jay L. Hoecker, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic. According to his article on the Mayo Clinic website, babies in a walker run the risk of rolling down stairs, trapping a finger, or being burned or poisoned due to increased mobility which may allow them to reach for something dangerous or fall into a pool or tub. Dr. Hoecker cautions that even newer walkers that have brakes and are too large to fit through doors can still cause injury. "In addition," he says, "research shows that use of baby walkers can actually delay when a baby begins to sit, crawl or walk unassisted, as well as slow a baby's mental and motor development."
If walkers and jumpers are out, what's in? One possible exercise toy your fledging walker may enjoy is a simple push toy/wagon that is sturdy enough to support her as she forges ahead with those first steps. The push toy will move forward as she does, while helping her to feel more secure since she has something to hold on to for support. Try EKORRE Toddle wagon/walker, which retails for .99. More elaborate push walkers also encourage role play, like the Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Stroller Styled Walker, for taking dollies and teddy bears for a stroll, and the Little Tikes Gas 'N Go Mower.
Some activity seats, like the Go-Pod Portable Activity Seat from KidCo or the Evenflo ExerSaucer Triple Fun Jungle, provide a play area for your child while allowing him to stretch his legs and bear some weight. However, the activity seats do not have wheels and are stationary, eliminating most of the risks associated with walkers. Be sure to keep all furniture corners and sharp edges covered or remove them from your baby's environment, and remember that the more mobile she gets, the more potentially dangerous objects, like household cleaners or house plants, she can reach and ingest.
For the younger baby, consider one of the many colorful activity mats on the market. Gymini Monkey Island, from Baby Earth, has activities that your baby will enjoy while on her tummy to encourage her to hold up her head and strengthen her neck muscles. While on her back, she'll enjoy grabbing for and kicking at bright, colorful, musical toys, which will promote both leg and arm muscle development.
Don't forget some of the best things in life are free, and your baby will happily bounce between your knees while holding on to you for support when he is very young. As always, it is best to check with your health care provider if you have any concerns about your child's development or about which exercise toys and products would be best for your child.
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