Here are the "steps" it takes to develop advanced walking:
1. The child's stride length increases. This is due to greater application of force and
greater leg extension at push-off. From a biomechanical perspective, the child will grow taller therefore increasing leg length resulting in a longer stride.
2. Instead of a flat footed gait pattern, a heel to toe pattern emerges increasing range of motion.
3. The child moves from a position a pointing the toes out to a more neutral position.
4. The base of support narrows making walking mostly in the anterior posterior planes (front to back) versus sagittal planes (right to left).
5. The child progresses to extending the knee at heel strike and again at the push off phase of gait.
6. The pelvis rotates while the leg flexes and extends to allow the full range of leg motions and oppositional movement of the upper and lower body segments.
7. Balance improves.
8. Forward trunk inclination is reduced.
9. Coordination of opposite arm swing with the movement of the legs.
All of the above mentioned steps are dependent upon the child's muscle strength, balance, coordination, body awareness and biomechanics.
The next time you are evaluating a student's walking pattern don't forget to review the above steps to determine where in the gait cycle the child may need to improve.
Stay tuned for the next post in the locomotor series - the development of running.
Reference: Haywood, K. M., & Getchell N. (2001) Life span motor development. In J.P. Wright, and M. Feld, et al (Eds.), Development of human locomotion (pp. 121-142).Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics