Baby may not be ready to go mountain climbing any time soon, but as they grow more mobile every day, they is growing closer to the day when they will learn to scale a slightly more manageable peak – the nearest staircase, whether it’s in the hall outside your living room or on the pavement leading up to your local library.
Giving Baby the chance to try out their new coordination and strength on the stairs can feel counter-intuitive to parents who have been told from the time their babies were born that one of the most important baby-proofing tools for homes with stairs is a baby-gate to keep their little ones away from the steps. Letting them loose on the stairs is actually the best way to work towards a point where those pesky baby-gates won’t be necessary. If the first time Baby is presented with stairs, it’s to get to homeroom in high school, they will probably have some trouble making it to class on time, so most parents eventually accept that the process of learning to climb stairs is probably a necessary evil. But when?
A 2006 study of over 700 children as they passed physical milestones determined that babies start climbing stairs around a year old, and that children whose parents specifically teach them to climb stairs begin earlier. Most, the study found, started climbing stairs after they learned to crawl, but before they started to walk, and most learned to climb up stairs before they learned to climb down them.
The 2006 study, conducted by researchers at the College of Staten Island, The City University of New York, pointed out that while stair-climbing is usually treated as a developmental marker on its own, there hadn’t, until that time, been much study of how environmental factors like access to stairs and parental involvement can affect when it actually happens. They concluded that, aside from physical and mental development, stair-climbing really is a skill that happens at different rates in different environments. What that means for Baby is that there’s no specific time when they should start climbing the stairs, though at a certain point, as they start moving through the world under their own power, it might be easier for both of you if they are ready to brave the stairs on their own.
Babies generally move through several different phases of stair-climbing, and Baby will be safest if they are supervised through the first few. These involve crawling upstairs, scooting themself down stairs backwards, and walking up with the help of a railing, one foot at a time until, finally, they are ready to use alternating feet to climb both up and down stairs. Baby might not get to that final stage until they're 3 or 4 years old, though, so don’t let that baby-gate go too soon!