Toddler abilities: locomotor, agility, climbing tasks

What a toddler of 18-36 months should be able to do

By 15 -18 months most toddlers have acquired the ability to walk, run, negotiate obstacles and clamber and climb up onto raised surfaces at a basic level of control. Over time, with practice and experience, typically developing toddlers improve their ability to adapt these basic abilities to meet the demands of different contexts and goals. 

Here I provide a list of all the basic motor locomotor abilities, sometimes referred to as fundamental motor patterns, that toddlers should acquire between 18 months and 3 years of age. 

Standing balance and stability

Stands easily and independently with feet hip width apart

►  Can look to the side and behind.  This action requires good standing balance as the LEs and feet have to adapt to the twisting action of the head and trunk. 


Reaches down to pick up toys from the floor   

Can maintain a half squat position with ease. 

T 2y 1m stand reach down.jpg

Can stand, hold and maneuver a large object 

►  Lifting and moving large and heavy objects requires effective anticipatory postural adjustments to stabilize the head and trunk, and realignment of the trunk and limbs to maintain balance. 

pour-water-from-big-bottle_1.jpg   T 2 y watering can_1.jpg  T aged 22m playing boxes_1_1.jpg

Can lift a ball and throw it from above the head 

Maintains balance, may take a small step. 

2y 11m lifting ball to throw.jpg

Stands on a raised surface with confidence

Low stool, bathroom step, low plank bridge, kitchen chair, bed. 

Standing on a high surface is important for developing tolerance of heights and balance when standing on a raised surface. 

Toddlers also need to learn to judge whether they can step down from different heights. 

Stepping up 20m step 16.jpg   jumping fown from box 1.jpg   Walk-on-raised-plank.jpg


Walks on an even surface with confidence

Does not fall or trip easily.
Looks ahead, avoids obstacles, notices changes in surface, slope.

Walks across an uneven surface

Out of doors, on grass, on an uneven path.

  • Looks ahead to plan steps.  
  • Foot placement is adapted to suit the irregular surface. 
  • Ankle muscles must work to stabilize the foot.
  • Falls occasionally, but not regularly. 


Walks on a soft surface

Can walk across a mattress, over pillows large sofa cushions laid on the floor.

2y 6m walking on soft surface.jpg

Walks up and down a 15-200 slope with confidence 

  • This requires good balance, especially walking downhill.  
  • Step size needs to be adjusted and the trunk needs to be slightly inclined to keep it balanced over the feet. 


Walks on a 15-30 cm wide raised plank with confidence

Walking on a raised surface challenges the toddlers balance, because the drop-off on ether side changes the visual information the toddler uses for maintaining balance. 

Walk-on-raised-plank.jpg  jem-walk-the-plank.jpg

Walks across a raised plank carrying a ball or other large object. 


Walks carrying large or heavy objects

Carrying large and heavy objects challenges a toddler's balance, trunk muscle strength and stability, as well limb strength.

It also requires careful use of visual information for planning actions. 

T aged 22m playing boxes_1.jpg

Stepping up and over 

Steps over a small obstacles laid end-to-end

Early walkers will usually first stop in front of the obstacles before stepping over. 


With practice and walking experience, toddlers learn to walk or run and step over any small obstacles in their without first stopping.

T 2y 7m stepping over obstacle 1.jpg

Steps up onto a 10-20 cm high step

  • May initially need light touch hand support. 
  • After some practice can step up without hand support onto increasingly higher steps. 
  • Sometimes a high step will require a different strategy
  • Step up low step touch support.jpg   2y 1m step up 10 cm 5.jpg   Stepping up 27.jpg

Steps down from a 10-20 cm high step

Initially with hand support, but with practice with no hand support (by 3 years of age).

 stepping down.jpgT 2y 1m step down 30 cm 3.jpg

Walks up stairs holding the stair rail or an adult hand  

  • Walks up one step at a time - ie one foot on the next step, back foot follows and is put down on the same step. 
  • By age 3 years a toddler who regularly walks up stairs should be able to walk up without holding onto the rail. 
  • It takes a little longer before a young child can go up stairs moving the bottom foot up passed the front foot onto the next step. 


Walks down stairs holding the stair rail or an adult hand

  • Walking down is more tricky than walking up stairs. 
  • Stepping down requires good coordination of the action of the hip, knee and ankle muscles. 
  • In addition, the trunk needs to be slightly inclined to keep it balanced over a changing support base. 

Steps over a gap between low steps

  • Initially over a small gap, but with practice negotiates larger gaps.
  • Initially may seek som light touch hand support for balance. 

stepping-stones-hold-for-support.jpg       jem-stepping-stones-bigger-gap_1.jpg


Standing up, sitting down and squatting 

Can stand up from a 10-15 cm high step 

  • Does not push up on arms 
  • Can stand up and sit down several times in a row with good control. 


Can squat down and stand up again

  • With good control - movement is graded 
  • Can also hold in-between positions 

will 18 m squat to stand 1.jpg   will 18 m squat to stand 2.jpg

Stands up from sitting on floor easily and quickly

  • Pushes briefly on the hands as he gets up. 
  • Can also sit down on the floor from standing with good control.

2y 11m stand from floor.jpg


Runs easily on an even surface 

  • Has fairly good balance on even ground.
  • May get a speed wobble when stopping or changing direction suddenly. 
  • Can run and stop suddenly and also change direction suddenly without falling over. 

T 2y 7m running 3.jpg

Runs on uneven ground

  • More likely to fall running on uneven ground and especially running downhill.
  • When falling the hands are used to break the fall. 
  • Does not bang head when trips and falls forwards. 



Climbing and clambering 

Clambers up onto a couch, bed or chair

Is able pull self up by pushing or pulling with the arms. 

clambering 1.jpg

Climbs onto a dining room chair and turns around to sit 

This requires good planning abilities and coordination between trunk and limbs. 

2y 11m climb chair_2.jpg

Climbs up onto a low table or dinning room chair and stands up

climbing onto box.jpg   jumping fown from box 1.jpg

Climbs onto the lowest rungs of the jungle gym

The ability to climb on a jungle gym with confidence takes practice. A child's abilities will depend on experience. 

toddler 2y 9m climbing frame.jpg

Slides down a small slide with confidence

  • Climbs the ladder of a small slide. 
  • Gets to the top of a slide and sits down ready to slide down. 

on slide.jpg


Jumps up off two feet 

By the age of 2-3 years a toddler should be able to jump up off two feet and then land on two feet  again. 


Jumping up off two feet has two stages: bending the knees  to prepare for jumping, then rapidly extending the legs and taking off. 

Sometime after the second birthday one sees toddlers getting ready for a jump by bending the legs and then working hard at developing the coordinated between the hip, knee and ankle muscles needed for launching the body into space. 


Jumps over a low obstacle with two foot take off (by 3 years)

jump over a low obstacle_1.jpg

Jumps down from a 20-30 cm high step 

jump down cube 2_1.jpg   jump down cube 1.jpg   

Runs and jumps/leaps over a low obstacle

One foot take-off  (by 3 years) 

T 2y 7m stepping over obstacle 1_1.jpg

Ball skills 

Catches a soccer sized ball with two hands

  • Holds arms ready to catch.
  • Catches ball on forearms and then bends arms and secures ball against chest. 

2y catch scoop ball.jpg

Throws a soccer sized ball with two hands

  • Still has poor control of direction


Kicks a soccer sized ball 

  • Control of the direction is poor. 

T 3y 2m kicking ball 5.jpg

Intercepts a rolled ball

  • Watches the direction of the rolling ball and moves towards it to stop it with two hands. 
  • Watches direction of rolled ball and moves to a position where the ball can be stopped using the hands. 
  • This important skills trains visual attention, predicting the direction of the ball and moving to the right place at the right time. All these skills are needed for catching a ball. 
  • 2y 11m catching rolled ball.jpg

Toddler Gross Motor Tasks Checklist

Available to TOMT 0-3 subscribers 

The TGMT Checklist is a list of all the basic motor tasks a toddler should master by the age of 2-3 years.  The Checklist allows parents an overview of their toddlers' strengths and weaknesses, and identifies tasks that need to be practiced.

Each task is briefly described, goals are identified and space is provided for recording progress towards achieving each goal. 

To download a sample TGMT Checklist please register as TOMT User  (this is free) and then click on this link: TGMT Checklist Sample PDF

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