Climbing stairs is an uplifting milestone that will elevate your child’s motor skills. Get it? Okay, no more stair puns! All jokes aside, it is truly exciting to see your child develop the ability to climb up and down stairs. Aside from being a basic life skill, learning to climb stairs has a lot of developmental benefits, such as building leg muscles, strengthening balance and coordination, and boosting spatial awareness.
Becoming comfortable around stairs also helps little ones learn how to properly assess the risk factor when approaching a step. It may feel tempting to make stairs a general “no-no” for safety, but taking time to practice going up and down them with your toddler is a safer option! That said, stairs should always be blocked with safety gates, even after she’s learned to climb a step or two. A good rule of thumb is to only remove safety gates when she’s learned to open them, climb over them, or safely move up and down the stairs on her own. Most importantly, all of her stair practice should be carefully supervised.
Stair skills build on other climbing skills that your child has been developing since babyhood.
Around 9 months, babies feel more and more comfortable crawling, until they begin to crawl up a few steps on their own. Of course, crawling down steps is a different story! By 11 months, babies start to feel more confident in their ability to crawl up a step on all fours and then shimmy their body back down by moving backward.
Even if they’re power walking around the house, it’s normal for young toddlers to drop to all fours and crawl up stairs. This is a safe and common way for children to become comfortable with the rhythm and flow of stair climbing. When little ones are crawling up and down stairs with ease, the next step is attempting to walk up the stairs.
Between 17-20 months, toddlers get better at stair climbing in the upright position, but they do so leading with the same foot, and still need lots of guidance and support. When they’ve mastered the art of going up stairs, they can begin to practice going down – still with support. But remember that going down stairs is always a bit more tricky! As they progress, they may be able to walk up stairs will only one hand on the handrail, but they need support on both sides to go down.
Around 22 months, going down the stairs doesn’t seem so scary anymore, and toddlers get better at doing it on their own (still using a handrail). By about 2 years old, with all that stair climbing practice under their belts, toddlers start to move up and down the stairs on their own, still leading with one foot. Just keep in mind that stair climbing is still a big feat for their size! They still need to take is slow.
It’s important to also remember that some little ones are exposed to stairs more often than others. Children around 25-27 months who are frequently exposed to stairs may be able to climb each step without support, leading with one foot and taking it one step at a time. Between 28-30 months toddlers more familiar with stairs will likely be able to walk up and down the stairs without support, and can start alternating feet. By 36 months, walking up and down the stairs without support and alternating feet is a strong possibility! Children who aren’t frequently exposed to stairs may take a bit longer to master these milestones.
For inspiration, explore our BabySparks Climbing Stairs activities, which will guide you, step-by-step, in helping you teach your child this important skill.