Babies learn to move around and investigate their environment as part of their natural developmental process. They begin by rolling, shuffling, sitting and finding different positions to reach objects or to move towards an object. Natural curiosity and a need to explore will result in more effective ways of getting around. At about 6 to 8 months a baby will learn to balance on their hands and knees and will gradually learn how to move forwards and backwards by pushing off with their hands and knees. Crawling usually happens at around 9 or 10 months, but some babies never crawl and find other methods to move around such as bottom shuffling or sliding on their tummies.
The Importance of Crawling
As a baby crawls he is learning to move around the environment on his own and therefore has a sense of independence. The baby can decide where he goes and he will start to develop decision making skills based on movement which include motor planning. His muscles are being strengthened in preparation for walking and he is using the limbs on either side of the body to develop bilateral co-ordination.
Crawling is seen as an important developmental milestone in terms of brain development. Some links have been made with the lack of crawling and dyslexia, poor co-ordination, ADHD and other similar problems in healthy children. There is, however, no proven evidence to support the link between not crawling and these conditions. Children with physical issues that prevent crawling have pre existing problems which cause them not to crawl. It is not the lack of crawling that causes these problems. Retained infantile reflexes such as the symmetric tonic neck reflex can cause many problems including learning difficulties. The underlying problem causes the lack of crawling and not the other way round.
Benefits of Crawling
Crawling has many benefits as it is part of the natural developmental progress to standing, walking and running. A baby needs to learn to lift its body off the floor whilst on all fours and maintain that position. This helps to align the spine and develop the muscles of the back, hips and shoulder girdle in preparation for standing.
Crawling is beneficial for many reasons which include social, emotional, motor, cognitive, sensory and personal (well being) factors. While crawling a baby will be able to connect with his parents in new ways. He can check to see where they are by turning around and looking back whilst crawling away. This develops a stronger 'self' identity and increases his independence. The baby will also be able to discover that things exist far away from him. He gains experience necessary to calibrate how far away an object really is, developing visual skills as well as perception e.g. the more crawling it takes to reach an object, the further away it is, and vice versa. He also learns how to navigate his environment and will learn from the environment as he notices and experiences new things.
Crawling helps to develop balance, strengthen muscle tone and develop eye-hand co-ordination. This is necessary for future reading writing and physical activities. Bilateral integration is improved through crawling as both hands, legs, eyes and ears are required to work in synchronisation, increasing left and right brain co-ordination. The crawling movement is repetitive and this stimulates brain activity to develop cognitive processes such as concentration, memory, comprehension and attention.
Crawling allows for the integration of sensory information. This allows the baby to have a complete picture of his environment. He learns spatial concepts and develops the visual and auditory systems. As the baby crawls he will use both ears simultaneously for reception to develop binaural hearing. Both eyes are also used to begin to develop binocular vision.
Crawling stimulates the inner ear of the vestibular system whilst the baby moves forwards (or backwards) and moves his head. This will help improve balance. Crawling will also give the baby sensory stimulation through his hands and knees as he weight bears through them. This is essential for gross and fine muscle development. He will also receive different tactile sensations as he crawls over different textured surfaces.
Not all movement 'styles' or variations on crawling give the same developmental benefits as the 'traditional' crawling movement pattern. Normal crawling uses both arms and legs alternatively to move. The movement is forward, however, backward movement is often seen when babies are just learning to crawl and that is normal.
Helping Babies to Crawl
Babies develop skills differently and some learn quicker than others. If a baby does not show interest in crawling or moving around (creeping, scooting, shuffling etc.), then they should be encouraged and enticed by placing objects out of their reach or by calling them to you. Most babies who have had plenty of Tummy Time will find crawling to be a natural progression because they are used to being on their tummy and have pushed up with their arms may times in preparation for movement. There may be underlying physical or neurological reasons why a baby will not be able to crawl, or it may simply be due to environmental or motivational factors.
There are many toys and stimulating object on the market to encourage our little ones to crawl. there are also ways to help and assist children with special needs to move about appropriately at that developmental stage. The baby may just need a small amount of encouragement by doing something different like getting down on the floor with him, laying him on his stomach and assuming the same position in front of him where he can see you. This may provide enough encouragement and incentive for your baby to want to move towards you. If your baby is not crawling by 12 months and has not moved on to standing or walking, then professional advice should be sought.