Infants and toddlers are naturally driven to build their gross motor skills. They practice over and over again, pulling themselves up to a standing position, crawling onto and over low objects, teetering along furniture well before they have the balance needed to stand unsupported.
Some children are so intent on movement they practice pulling up, climbing, and crawling on everything they can reach - even things that are not designed to support them - challenging their parents to find ways to support their development while keeping them safe.
All of these activities help them get stronger and more stable, building control over muscles and movement.
What Is a Pikler Triangle?
The Pikler triangle, created by Hungarian pediatrician Dr Emmi Pikler, is designed to support independent gross motor development. With a wide base and low rungs, children who are in the early stages of crawling and standing can develop these skills as they learn to grasp the lowest rung and pull themselves to a standing position.
Babies who have been allowed to develop gross motor skills independently, using their own impulses to strengthen their core and build their muscles, develop an understanding of how their bodies move and what they can and cannot yet do.
Time spent on the floor, lying on both back and front, provides infants opportunities to develop core strength and the movements that will eventually lead to sitting and crawling. Babies who are allowed to reach, push, pull, and stretch independently, without adults prodding or holding them up, or “helping” with devices that prop the child in a sitting position, will have a greater sense of what their body is capable of - a skill that will keep them safe as they learn to stand and climb.
Babies learning to sit independently are less apt to topple over because they have developed the strength and body awareness to maintain their position and to handle all the transitional stages between lying down and sitting. And they are less likely to fall when climbing.
Is the Pikler Triangle Safe?
Giving babies the opportunity to independently build body awareness, strength, and coordination offers them skills that will help them know what is safe and what is too risky as they become more mobile. They learn about the limits of their bodies while they are still on the ground, when the consequences of failing (and falling) are small and virtually harmless.
The Pikler triangle is designed to support this independent gross motor development.
The best time to introduce the Pikler Triangle is when your child is eager to practice pulling up and is crawling on furniture throughout the house. Designed specifically for this stage of development, the Pikler Triangle is a safer alternative for climbing activities than the couch, chairs, shelves, countertops and other household furniture, all of which is not specifically designed for children’s climbing.
When creating a space for indoor gross motor development, you can increase the safety of the Pikler Triangle by offering it on a carpeted floor with ample clear space around and underneath. Be sure to be present while your child is using it - allow them to explore the Pikler Triangle independently, without hovering or assisting, but be nearby and observe their play. Think supervised, but independent play.
Keep in mind that hands-on helping of a child who cannot climb independently is actually making it riskier for the child. Your ‘help’ prevents them from learning the limits of their own body and can create expectations that you’ll ‘save’ them if they slip. They are more likely to take greater risks than if they have had the opportunity to learn their own limits.
How to Support Independent Gross Motor Development
Allow them to initiate the movement and succeed (or fail) as they learn about the way their body moves and the consequences of certain movements. When they move independently they will do only as much as they are capable of. As their skills and coordination improve they can climb higher. Your presence should be observant and reassuring, but should never push them to do more than they are comfortable with.
The addition of a climbing ramp and slide offers additional flexibility and skill development to the Pikler Triangle for older children who are skillful walkers and climbers.
While babies are born small and helpless, seemingly lacking any control over their own bodies, they are also born with innate abilities that help them transform from helpless newborn to walking and talking toddlers.
When babies are allowed to develop their gross motor skills independently - without adults propping them in sitting or standing positions - they learn the capabilities and limits of their body.
Parents can support and encourage their baby’s independent gross motor development by providing an environment that is inviting and enriching. Offer opportunities for them to reach for interesting objects, pull themselves toward a desired toy, and learn what their body can do without adult intervention.
For parents eager to support and encourage child-led learning and development, the Pikler triangle is a perfect addition for gross-motor development. An environment free of clutter but rich in opportunities for exploration sparks curiosity and encourages movement. What have you done to support your baby’s gross motor development?