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Developmental Progression of Community Skills

Developmental Progression of Community Skills

The Functional Skills for Kids is a 12-month long series written by occupational and physical therapy bloggers on the development of 12 functional skills for children. This month the topic is community skills and this post will discuss the developmental progression of community skills.  Each month throughout 2016, we will discuss the development of one functional skill in children addressing the many components of that skill.  The ability to complete the functional task of navigating the community develops along a continuum.  Children need motor skills, visual perceptual skills, balance skills and safety awareness to be independent in the community.  The developmental progression of the following community skills will be addressed: walking up/down ramps, curbs, different surfaces, bike riding, crossing streets and on/off different modes of transportation.


After children have moved through the developmental progression of rolling, crawling, standing and walking higher level motor skills begin to be mastered.  Children normally learn how to walk on level, flat surfaces.  When the flooring changes from hard flooring to rugs children need to adapt and lift those little legs just a little higher to clear the rug.  When a new walker heads outdoors, uneven surfaces require additional righting reactions and balance skills.  The feet tend to separate to widen the base of support and the knees may bend to lower the center of gravity.

Learning to walk on uneven surfaces


Around 18 months to 24 months+, some children will begin to step on and off a curb without a hand hold.  Jumping down from the curb (with one foot leading) quickly follows.  Children develop the ability to safely go up and down ramps around the same developmental age.  Children can swiftly and safely run up and down ramps around 2-3 years of age.

Developmental Progression of Bike Riding


First, children learn how to propel a ride on toy around 18-24 months with their feet and progress to pedaling a tricycle around 36 months of age.   Around 5+ years of age, most children have developed the coordination, balance and motor planning to ride a bicycle without training wheels.  At this age though, safety awareness is a concern in terms of avoiding obstacles and cars so close supervision is a must with significant practice time.  Around 6 years+ of age, children begin to develop improved safety awareness but are still at risk for injuries and can use hand brakes.  Around 9-12 years of age, children can shift gears on a bicycle and are fairly aware of traffic laws. Children under age 10 ride primarily on sidewalks, playgrounds, and neighborhood streets.  Bicycle riders over age 10 are more likely to be found on neighborhood streets, bike paths, or major thoroughfares.


As children get older and begin to explore their communities, sometimes parents think children are able to handle traffic safely by themselves before they may be ready.  Young children cannot reliably and consistently accurately judge the speed or distance of oncoming cars.  Children under age 9-10 should cross the street with an adult.  From a young age, teach and practice with children to :

  1. look left, right, then left again before stepping into the street.
  2. cross the street at designated crossings.
  3. cross only when there are no cars coming.
  4. walk on the sidewalk.
  5. walk on the side of the street facing traffic if there are no sidewalks.
  6. recognize crossing signals.
  7. be extra cautious when crossing where cars are parked on the street.


By four years of age, most children can go up and down regular sized stairs without using a handrail.  To get on/off the school bus, children need to to be able to independently climb up and down taller bus stairs using the handrail.  Most children are able to do this by kindergarten age.  There are no standard, specific age guidelines for when children are developmentally ready to  wait, get on or get off a bus independently.  When children do start to ride the bus it is important to teach and practice with children to:

  1. stand at least three giant steps (6 feet) away from the curb.
  2. walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road until you are five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus if you have to cross the street before getting on the bus.
  3. make sure the bus driver can see you and you can see the bus driver.
  4. never walk behind the bus.
  5. never try to pick it up anything you dropped until you get permission from the bus driver.

Children will develop at their own pace independence with life skills through education and practice.

Stop by to see what the other occupational therapists and physical therapists in the Functional Skills for Kids series have written on the development of community skills.

How to Support Your Child’s Core Strength Development Every Day | Miss Jaime, O.T.

Tips to Help “Sensory Kids” at Stores and Malls | Mama OT

Attention and Behavior Concerns and Independence in the Community | Sugar Aunts

Modifications for Kids with Special Needs in the Community  | Growing Hands-On Kids

Calming Games and Activities for Outings  |  The Inspired Treehouse

Working on following Directions When Out  | Therapy Fun Zone

Using Community Activities to Develop Your Child’s Social Skills  |Your Kids OT

This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids: 12 Month series by Occupational and Physical Therapists. Read all of my monthly posts in this series HERE.

Need to track progress regarding an individual’s independence with various life and community skills such as safety awareness, transportation, community skills and more?  Check out Life Skill Checklists.

The 14 life skills checklists include: Dressing Skills, Personal Hygiene, Mealtime, Food Preparation, Chores, Safety Skills, School Routine (free!), Before and After School Routine, Personal Health, Interpersonal, Transportation, Self Advocacy, Community Life Skills and


Boyse, K (2009). Safety Out and About Walking, Biking, Scooter, School Bus and Shopping Cart Safety. Retrieved on 7/26/16 at http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/outabout.htm.

NHTSA.  School Buses.  Retrieved on 7/26/16 at http://www.nhtsa.gov/School-Buses

Rodgers, G. Ph.D. Bicycle Study – Consumer Product Safety Commision.  Retrieved on 7/26/16 at http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/112701/344.pdf.

Smith, T. (2002) AGE DETERMINATION GUIDELINES: Relating Children’s Ages To Toy Characteristics and Play Behavior.  Retrieved on 7/26/16 at https://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/113962/adg.pdf

Teaford, P et al (2010). HELP® Checklist 3-6 Checklist. VORT Corporation.