Learning to jump down

Typically developing toddlers love to climb up onto low tables, beds and chairs. Sometimes they climb up and sit down, but other times they stand up. 

Climbing up onto a relatively small surface is a tricky operation as it requires careful maneuvering to keep the COM over the relatively small base.

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Will at 3 years is able to safely climb up onto a wooden box and jump down onto the floor, tipping forwards and reaching out with his hands to break the fall. 

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Video: Will 3 years jumping down

Max is 2 1/2 and will jump down from a 15 cm high step, but lands on his buttocks. 

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How toddlers learn about heights
Toddlers with lots of experience of climbing up onto, and standing on, raised surfaces (steps, beds, chairs, tables) know when it is safe to jump down, and when a different strategy is needed, such as sitting down, turning around and sliding off backwards. 

See Is this safe? How infants learn about cliffs, gaps and slopes

This knowledge is learned when they have had experience of stepping and jumping down from a low step, and then from higher surfaces.  Below you see Max stepping down from a 10 cm high step. He has done this before and steps down with confidence. 

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When encouraged to jump down, he takes off from two feet, propels his COM up but not forwards and falls backwards onto the step. 

He has had lots of practice standing on these foam blocks and knows that is is "safe" to jump up and sit down on the the edge of the block. 

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Max at 2 1/2 jumps down from a dining room chair, leans forwards and puts his hands forwards when landing, but does not manage to control the momentum and tips forwards onto his face. 

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Children who jump from unsafe heights
Sometimes one comes across children who launch themselves off high surfaces with what seems no regard for safety. It would seem that they have not learned to pick up and use available visual information about height of the drop-off they face. If this is the case it is very important to provide the child with the experience needed to learn to look and make judgments about safe heights for stepping or jumping off, as well as their ability to jump off  increasingly high surfaces safely. 

Activities to train jumping down 

Start by practicing stepping and jumping down from a low step
Let the child step up onto a 10-20 cm high step and encourage him step down. 

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Also encourage the child to jump down from low steps. Because young children will often fall forwards onto their hands, or land on their buttocks, it is a good idea to put an exercise mat or mattress in front of the step for a soft landing.

If the toddler manages to step or jump down safely, use a higher, about 20 - 30 cm, step. 

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Progress to jumping down from higher surface onto a mattress

You can create jumping games by placing a mattress or large cushions in front of a sofa, arm chair.or bed.  

Very important note: It is important to supervise these games, especially for children who are inclined to jump without using the available visual information needed to make a decision about wether it is safe to jump, or not. 

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It is important to provide many opportunities for jumping down 

Provide the  child with many opportunities for jumping down from low steps with different surfaces, as well as indoor and outdoor environments so that they learn to carefully look at the height of the step and decide whether it is safe to step or jump down. 

If the child has not yet learned to jump off two feet, it is still important to practice stepping down and maybe landing on her hands, so that she learns from which heights it is safe to step down.