Friday, September 1, 2017

Benefits of Crawling! Why Crawling is Important in Motor Skill Development

Many parents get super excited when their kid starts walking - and who wouldn't be, what an exciting milestone to accomplish! Some parents even joke around saying that their kid will walk before they crawl. While some kids may skip crawling, crawling is extremely beneficial for development. This blog post talks about the benefits of crawling for motor development!

Crawling on hands and knees develops neck, shoulder, core, and leg muscle strength (Cimbiz 2005). Think of the last time you crawled on your hands and knees - do you think you'll be able to sustain that position for extended periods of time? Absolutely not! It requires a lot of work to crawl, which is why this form of mobility is so beneficial for infants. Visser et al (2010) found that children who crawl have more efficient pencil grasp, which could help in developing handwriting skills. Cimbiz et al (2005) found that child who don't crawl have lower stability in their hip joints as compared to their crawling counterparts, which can cause changes in movement patterns as they develop and possibly increase their chance for musculoskeletal issues in the future.

Crawling is also a great precursor to walking because it teaches the body how to weight shift laterally and move their arms and legs reciprocally. When we take a step forward with our right leg, we shift our weight over to the left so we can lift our right leg off the ground, then we swing our left arm forward. This reciprocal arm swing has been found to be the most efficient and economic way of walking, as it requires the least amount of energy to perform versus placing your arms at you side and holding them still (Collins 2009).

Along with strengthening, crawling allows children to explore their environment. Through this exploration, they figure out how to interact with objects around them and develop spatial awareness and proprioception. (Kubicek 2017; Schwarzer 2013). Bell et all (1996) even found that crawling can create more efficient pathways and connections in the brain!

In regards to crawling experience and how it reflects later motor skill development, McEwan et all (1991) found that noncrawlers demonstrated lower average and subtest-specific performance on selected measures of the Miller Assessment for Preschoolers, which is a screening tool that may be used by clinicians to identify preschool children who need further evaluation of sensory and/or motor skills. This shows that crawling helps to develop the sensory and motor systems of the body, therefore aiding in general motor skill development.

Here are some activities to help encourage your child to crawl!

1. Have them on hands and knees over your thigh. Holding the quadruped position (hands and knees) take a lot of core strength, and when our infants are learning how to move, just this position may be a challenge. Not only do you get to bond with your child through touch, but having your thigh as a place to rest their trunk will help them feel more comfortable being on their hands and knees. Make sure to place fun toys on the floor to get them to enjoy this position!

2. Place toys on a couch cushion and have them practice tolerating this modified quadruped position. If your hamstrings and low back aren't as flexible, let them play with their forearms on top of a couch cushion and rest their trunk over it while they're on their knees with their bottoms resting on their feet. You can sit behind them in a short kneel position and use your knees on the outside of their knees to help them to maintain this position.

3. Have them crawl over your legs to reach a toy. If they enjoy sitting, have them sitting next to you, sit with you leg out straight, and place the toy on the side of your leg opposite of the child. If the toy is motivating enough, they will transfer from sitting into quadruped and work hard to crawl over your leg to grab that toy.

4. Minimize/eliminate time in baby walkers, baby seats, and baby carriers. If you've read my previous post, The Dos and Don'ts of Promoting Independent Walking, you know that I am not a fan of baby walkers at all. Baby walkers are not only potentially dangerous for the baby, but they limit muscle development and time spent on the floor to practice crawling. Baby seats and baby carriers, while necessary for transportation, also decrease valuable experience and practice time for you little one to learn how to be mobile.

5. Don't force your child to crawl if they are letting you know that they're not ready. Respect the communication between you and your little one - if they are screaming their head off and are unable to console when you're trying to get them to crawl, they are letting you know that now is not the right time for them. Pressuring them to learn a skill they aren't ready for may actually slow the learning process.

In conclusion, every child is different and develops in their own way on their own time. Some children end up skipping crawling and are excellent walkers, some kids crawl for what seems like forever until they figure out they want to stand and walk. Remember that every child is unique and learns on their own timeframe. If you have concerns, contact your pediatrician or see your nearest pediatric physical therapist to see if there may be an underlying reason to delayed or atypical crawling patterns.

- Bell MA, Fox NA. Crawling experience is related to changes in cortical organization during infancy: Evidence from EEG coherence. Developmental Psychobiology. 1996;29(7):551.
- Cimbiz A, Bayazit V. Effects of infant crawling experience on range of motion. Neurosciences. 2005;10(1):34.
- Collins, SH, Adamczyk, PG, Kuo, AD. Dynamic arm swinging in human walking. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences. 2009;276(1673)3679-3688.
- Kubicek C, Jovanovic B, Schwarzer G. The relation between crawling and 9-month-old infants' visual prediction abilities in spatial object processing. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 2017;158:64.
- McEwan, MH, Dihoff, RE, Brosvic, G. M. Early infant crawling experience is reflected in later motor skill development. Perceptual and motor skills. 1991;72(1):75-79.
- Schwarzer G, Freitag C, Schum N. How crawling and manual object exploration are related to the mental rotation abilities of 9-month-old infants. Front Psychol. 2013;4(97).
- Visser MM, Franzsen D. The association of omitted crawling milestone with pencil grasp and control in five- and six-year-old children. South African Journal of Occupational Therapy. 2010;40(2).

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