Baby Series: Is Crawling Really That Important?
Updated: Aug 1, 2020
(This article was originally published in the Canadian Family Military Magazine)
When it comes to developmental milestones, walking and talking seem to be the two that parents tend to focus on. What they may not realize is that crawling could be the most important milestone of all - there’s so much more to crawling than just getting from point A to point B. Whether you’re an eight-month-old or an elite athlete, crawling on all fours can have physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits.
Crawling requires the opposite arm and leg to work together in order to move fluidly. When the opposite sides of the body work together, the connection between the right and left sides of the brain strengthens. This is a fibrous band of neurons called the corpus callosum. The stronger this band becomes, the more rapidly and efficiently the two hemispheres of the brain are able to communicate. Not only does this improve processing time, but it also lays the groundwork for emotional regulation.
Physically, crawling strengthens the core, shoulders, hips, and hands which provides the stability that is later required for complex movement tasks, including running and jumping. It also begins to shape the hip joint in preparation for walking. Weight-bearing through the arms strengthens the hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, creating the foundation for fine motor skills such as printing. Even carrying a block in one hand while crawling begins to develop the hand for holding a pencil later in life.
Visual skills are also improved during the crawling stage. When an infant looks down at their hands then up to their destination then back down to their hands, they are beginning to develop binocular vision. This means that both sets of eye muscles are learning to work together to prevent double vision. Binocular vision is important later on in life for skills such as reading, copying from the board at school, and playing sports. Hand-eye coordination also begins to strengthen with crawling.
As an occupational therapist, I often hear from parents that their child used a “creative crawling” method such a bum scooting or commando crawling. Generally, this is an indication to me that the child was having difficulty with coordination, strength, or weight-bearing from very early on. There are many reasons why a child may struggle with crawling, but not spending enough time on their tummies and spending too much time in containers (such as car seats, jolly jumpers, and Bumbo seats) are frequent culprits.
There is research that indicates that children who miss crawling may have learning challenges later on in life. Poorly coordinated eye muscles, unintegrated primitive reflexes, and a weak connection between the two hemispheres of the brain are all potential contributors to learning disorders and diagnoses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and developmental coordination disorder.
As adults, crawling can help us to decrease stress and anxiety through strengthening our corpus callosum and “resetting” our nervous system (why do you think you spend so much time on all fours in yoga class?). It also increases strength and coordination by forcing our hips and shoulders to work together, boosts body awareness, and improves hand-eye coordination. This is all because of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to re-wire itself.
If your infant is struggling to crawl, your local occupational therapist or physiotherapist can suggest ways in which to develop the skills required for crawling. Placing toys just out of reach of an infant who is close to crawling may be all it takes for them to take that first step. It’s also not too late if your older child didn’t crawl as a baby. Encourage them to get down on their hands and knees by creating obstacle courses, crawling through tunnels, and pretending to be various animals.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you of the incredible physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits of crawling. It’s time to grab your family members, harness your inner child, and get down on your hands and knees – your body will thank you for it!
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