Gross Motor Benefits of Crawling
The center or proximal part of the body needs strengthening as it begins to move against gravity in order to initiate, sustain, and coordinate movement. Crawling not only strengthens core muscles but also develops stability in the shoulder and hip joints. These joints are molded and shaped into stronger and more stable joints as a result of bearing weight and movement; crawling. As these muscles and joints get stronger, they provide a more stable base to build higher level skills such as eating, breathing, and fine motor skills. Proximal (center) stability leads to distal (arms and legs, hands and feet, fingers and toes) mobility. The trunk or core muscles hold the body steady so that the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and finger joints can move well to help us use our tools and perform our everyday life tasks. Crawling on hands and knees symmetrically and reciprocally provides lots of practice moving against gravity so that we can become more stable and have more postural control to stand and walk. The quality of a child’s walking pattern can often be dependent on how he manages movement on all fours. While a baby is pivoting and crawling, he lengthens and strengthens muscles that will help with smooth breathing, speech and language, and development of his higher level gross and fine motor skills. In addition, crawling helps integrate and change patterns of movement that were once primitive and reflexive into goal oriented movements. Babies learn to move between positions, or exercise transitional movements so that they have more freedom and independence to explore and play. Babies that protest movement in and out of positions may need help getting motivated, alternative positioning equipment, or skill building exercises to get them “unstuck”. Finally, crawling helps babies develop bilateral coordination; or the use of both sides of the body working together to complete or perform a task. This is so important for brain development as the more a baby crawls with a sense of rhythm, space, and timing the more they strengthen the connection in their brain between the left and right side. This prepares them for nearly every activity they will need to grow, develop, and thrive.
Fine Motor Benefits of Crawling:
Crawling lengthens the muscles of the fingers and provides a dynamic stretch to elbows, wrists, and fingers while rocking back and forth on wrists and hands, that prepares a baby to use a pincer grasp and isolate finger movement. Crawling helps develop the arches of the hand and all of the areas of the hand that are required for stabilizing or performing skills like waving, building blocks, writing and coloring, eating, or dressing with buttons and zippers. Crawling develops the thumb and webbed space between thumb and fingers to help a growing child learn to control and manipulate items held in his hand and shifting weight from side to side helps elongate this web space to help him open his hand up and grasp and release objects.
Sensory Benefits of Crawling
Crawling requires progressive strengthening of the neck muscles that move the head in order to develop visual skills. If a baby can control his head and neck, he will have improved control of eyes to stabilize and focus on the image he sees. Crawling helps improve eye muscles and also helps improve the babies interpretation of what he is seeing; or visual perception. This leads to understanding of depth and spatial awareness as a baby begins to figure out how close or far away things are as he moves through space. Crawling helps babies interpret how their bodies understand gravity, balance, and motion (Vestibular System) and teaches them to respond to this input with their heads in a variety of positions. As they crawl they will need to make sense of all of their sensory systems such as touch, vision, sound, muscle and joint position (proprioception) and learn to make a map or motor plan using these sensations from the body to figure out how to move efficiently. When a baby learns to crawl, there is an increase in the part of the brain responsible for coordinating sensory input and motor function. Crawling babies have to attend to what their whole bodies are doing in response to what they are feeling, seeing, hearing, and responding to. This builds self confidence as it is often the beginning of decision making, success and failure, potential and limitations, and investigation into a world of discovery.
If your baby is not crawling, there may be an underlying reasons or wrinkles that can be smoothed so that he can develop and function maximally. If your child is older and you continue to see deficits in the skills that crawling develops, it’s never too late to help him improve and enhance these foundational skills through guided fun and playful activities.
If you have concerns about your child’s development, visit us for a free screening at BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy in Orland Park or Naperville, IL. You can submit your request to schedule online or call 708-478-1820.
Written by: Sheri Ireland-Berk, Physical Therapist