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CHILD DEVELOPMENT: HELPING KIDS LEARN TO CLIMB STAIRS SAFELY

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One of the most common things I work on in my school-based therapy practice is helping kids learn to climb stairs.

The majority of the kiddos in our school district live in single level homes or apartment buildings with elevators, so their exposure to climbing stairs is limited.

When these children get into their educational environment and are confronted with a flight of steep, long stairs, sometimes they panic! You will see them going down one step at a time (not alternating), grasping the handrail with both hands, and even stepping sideways! YIKES!!

When your child goes to school, he is expected to walk through his environment with his class without holding up the process — that means moving quickly on the stairs too! As an educationally-based physical therapist, if I see a kiddo struggling on the stairs, it’s my job to intervene. Here are some ideas for practicing stair negotiation before kids head off to school!

Ideas for Helping Kids Learn to Climb Stairs

1 || Practice stepping onto and off of a small step stool or stack of books. Have your child go up with one foot leading and then step off the other side with the opposite foot first.

2 || Check out our Quick Tip about Stair Climbing for ideas to encourage an alternating (foot over foot) pattern on the stairs.

3 || Have your child practice going up and down the stairs while carrying objects. Start light and move toward heavier (like the weight of a few books or a backpack).

The weight of the object(s) changes their proprioception and balance and they will have to learn to adapt and adjust. Try sending kids up the upstairs with the laundry (double the benefit – you get help cleaning up the house and kids work on their stair climbing skills!)

4 || Don’t forget about those pesky bus stairs! The typical height of the bottom step on the bus is 14” but could even be up to 18”. That is a BIG difference from the stair height in most houses (typically 7”).

To complicate things even more, there are usually 3 or more steps onto that bus that may all be different heights. That is a huge proprioceptive challenge!

Practice at home by using stools of different sizes, books stacked at various heights, couch cushions, chairs, etc. And, don’t forget to add some weight so that they can experience that proprioceptive change and learn to adjust.

5 || Visit a department store or library where your child can practice going up and down the stairs both with and against traffic.

6 || If you are at home, put on some music with a steady beat and see if your child can step in time with the music.

Practice now and you’ll see improved confidence when it’s time for school! Your child will be safe and efficient with moving through his school environment!

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