How do we learn to walk?

05.05.2022

Runtime - 06.19

Our bodies are designed to walk. But what is it that truly drives babies to take their first teetering steps?

It’s a moment many parents wait for with bated breath: that first clumsy, triumphant stagger. Amidst encouragement and plenty of cajoling, the first steps of life can feel like a miracle. When you consider how quickly babies develop, it seems they really are.

Deborah Kerry, Senior Physiotherapist at the Champion Centre in Christchurch, knows just how intricate the motor development of babies is. “It’s amazing,” she tells Frank Film. “From such a helpless little baby, in one year what you can achieve.”

From when babies first arrive - helpless, and looking like they’ve come from another planet - they’ve got a big task ahead, as Deborah explains. “When you’re born you’re very asymmetrical and you’ve got very little control of your limbs. Slowly but surely, you take ownership of your very big head and your jolly big brain,” she says. “This moves all the way down your trunk, and by six to eight months you have full control of your trunk.”

For the Mumata family, their son Jireh-Lee’s first steps really were a miracle. After a long period of trying to conceive, Naoia and Lee adopted Havilla. Six months later, Naoia found out she was pregnant with Jireh-Lee, who had trouble breathing from birth and was in and out of hospital for the first seven months of his life.

For his parents, it was amazing watching Havilla coax her little brother into his ‘firsts’. “Havilla would try her best to show him how to roll, get on four legs,” says Lee. “She was a great teacher for him.”

According to Deborah, the path to walking begins when babies are prone (lying on their tummies). “You can get up into sitting or you can get up onto all fours. You’ll notice that babies start reaching out and touching things, and they’ll notice something a little bit higher and pull themselves up a little bit,” she says.

Deborah confirms what every parent knows by observation: babies have grit. “Slowly but surely they’ll find the strength to get up. It’s having trunk control, it’s having control of your bottom. It’s your anti-gravity muscles you get control of, so you’re coming up against gravity,” she explains.

For Sam Lang and Sylvia Smyth, and their baby Orla, the road to walking became a big game. “When she was walking and would fall, we’d go, ‘yeah!’ So then she thought it was about falling over,” Sylvia recalls. “I guess a baby’s currency is attachment and love, and they do stuff when they get a reaction,” she says.

Deborah agrees, and explains that the best help parents can give is their encouragement, laughter, and lots and lots of joyful moments.

“I don’t even know how to describe it. We’d been waiting for a long time. I went crazy, literally crazy,” says Naoia of Jireh-Lee’s first steps towards her.

“She was so excited that she called me at work,” Lee confirms. “I was so happy she got to experience those first moments, it’s something very precious.”


Producer/Director: Gerard Smyth
Editor: Oliver Dawe
Story Producer: Ana Olykan
Production Manager: Jo Ffitch
Sound Mix: Chris Sinclair
Production Asst: Romah Chorley