Stepping over obstacles

The ability to step over a low obstacle is one of the tasks that young children need to master in order to walk safely indoors and out of doors. 

Toddler stepping over obstacle_1.jpg

Stepping over an obstacle requires several abilities:

  • Balance: stand on one leg and at the same time lift the other foot over the obstacle..
  • Visual pickup: look ahead, notice that there is an obstacle, as well as its position and size.
  • Motor planning: plan the movements needed to achieve the goal.

Video clip: Max 2y 9m walking over rough ground and stepping over obstacles


What young children can do  

New walkers sometimes take a while to learn that they need to look ahead and notice any obstacles in their way, and then make a decision about walking around the obstacles or stepping over it. 

Early walkers will approach the obstacle, stop in front of it, and then lift one foot and step over the obstacle.Depending on the size of the obstacle, the toddler may decide that the best way to get over the obstacle is to step onto it. 

With practice young children learn to take obstacle crossing in their stride. The walk towards the obstacle, carefully adjust their steps so that the one foot lands close to the obstacle and then easily lift the other foot up and over and continue to walk forwards. 

Activities to train stepping over an obstacle

Stepping over a broomstick  or narrow plank 

Place a narrow plank or broomstick, about 60 cm long, on the floor. Let your toddler stand a short distance from the broom. You stand on the on the other side of the plank and encourage him/her to walk to you. 

At first your toddler may first step forwards and stand facing the obstacles, then pick up one foot and step over. 

   Toddler-stand-facing-low-obstruction.jpg   Toddler-stand-step-over-obstacle.jpg

If your toddler is reluctant to step over the plank, it may help if you position it close to a wall or piece of furniture that can be used for hand support. 

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Let your toddler walk towards and step over the plank several times to build confidence, improve balance and reinforce the importance of looking ahead.

After a few training sessions you will notice that your child starts to adjust his/her steps as the obstacle is approached, and starts to step over without first stopping. 

Stepping over a series of low obstacles

The next step is to make the task a little more difficult by laying out several low obstacles in a row.  You will need 3-4 low and narrow obstacles positioned parallel to each other and about 40-50 cm apart. 

Initially you will probably notice that your child stops in front of each of the obstacles, but with time he/she will start to adjust the steps between the obstacle and be able to keep moving forwards and easily lift the feet over the obstacle. 

Toddler-facing-several-obstacles.jpg

Raising the height of the obstacles

You can make this activity more challenging by increasing the height or breadth of the obstacles. 

The easiest way to raise the plank or stick is to rest the ends on a beanbag.   

Some ideas for making obstacles

You can make a long stick by rolling up a newspaper and securing it with tape. 

A rolled up blanket makes a good larger obstacle. 

Pool noodles make good obstacles. 

Use beanbags to keep the obstacles in place

Position a sandbag on either side of the obstacle to keep it in place when it gets kicked. 

Motivating your toddler to walk over the obstacles

The most difficult part of this task, especially during your first training sessions, is to motivate your toddler to walk from point A to point B. 

Sometimes it helps to create a walkway - lay the obstacles across a yoga mat and encourage your toddler to walk on the mat. 

Most toddlers cannot resist following a ball. Roll a ball over the obstacles and encourage the child to fetch it. 

Toddlers will also engage in games that involve carrying objects from one location to another. My favorite is a box of water bottles partly filled with water that need to be moved to another box. 

What next

Provide many opportunities for stepping over obstacles 

  • Find door lintels that need to be stepped over.  
  • Create obstacle courses using  a variety of objects. Your child will have lots of ideas about how to arrange the obstacles. 
  • Find an outdoor space where the ground is a little rough  and uneven to practice looking ahead and planning steps to negotiate obstacles.