Stepping up and down: how young children adapt their actions to the physical environment

Important principles in task and goal oriented developmental movement therapy 

  • Motor learning is always task specific. 
  • Central to any analysis of a child's goal directed actions is the interaction between the child, the task and the environment. 

Successful performance of a task such as stepping up and down, depends on adapting the postural responses and patterns of movement to the structure of the environment, provided by visual information pickup. 

The most obvious information needed for stepping up and down is the height and stability of the step. 

This video clip of Will (33 months) and Roan (4 years) stepping up onto and down from a small plastic step beautifully illustrates how young children adapt their actions to suit the physical environment. 

When stepping up the ROM of hip flexion is adjusted to allow the foot to be lifted up onto the step. 

Will needs to add lateral pelvic tilt to allow the foot to clear the step. In this sequence he is using the wall for support so does not need to pay as much attention the balance as he does when stepping up without hand support. 

W 32m step up 21.jpg    W 32m step up 22.jpg   W 32m step up 23.jpg   W 32m step up 24.jpg W 32m step up 25.jpg  W 32m step up 26.jpg  W 32m step up 27.jpg   

Step height also affects the amount of momentum that is needed to supplement to hip and knee extension as the COM is raised when stepping up. 

W 32m step up 1.jpg W 32m step up 2.jpg  W 32m step up 3.jpg   W 32m step up 4.jpg   W 32m step up 5.jpg   W 32m step up 7.jpg

Roan is able  to step down by flexing the hip and knee in a controlled manner, with the trailing foot only leaving the step once the weight is transferred to the leading foot. 

R 4y step down 1.jpg       R 4y step down 2_1.jpg   R 4y step down 3.jpg   R 4y step down 8.jpg   R 4y step down 9.jpg

For Will the step height is such that hip and knee flexion do not allow the foot to be lowered all the way to the floor, so the stepping down action includes a flight phase. 

However, Will has adequate control to absorb the momentum and maintain balance he lands on the leading foot. 

W 32m step down 1.jpg   W 32m step down 2.jpg   W 32m step down 3.jpg  W 32m step down 4.jpg  W 32m step down 5.jpg

One aspect of the stepping up and down actions of both children is how they position their feet in readiness for stepping up and down.

When stepping down they both carefully position their feet on the edge of the step. 

W 32m step down 2.jpg   R 4y step down 2.jpg

Both children are able to walk towards the step and step up without hesitation. This involves planning  the preceding steps to allow the foot of the stance LE to be positioned close to the step. 

W 32m step up 1.jpg

Video: Roan and Will stepping up and down 

Follow on Facebook 

follow facebook.png