On a regular basis I am asked if crawling on hands and knees is really an important milestone. After all, kiddos are learning to crawl at the same time that they are learning to pull themselves up into standing at different pieces of furniture throughout the house. Sometimes they seem much more interested in being on their feet and trying to walk along the couch (or maybe grab at Mom’s cup on the coffee table). Since our ultimate goal is to get the kiddos up and walking, do they really need to crawl if they aren’t interested in it?
The short answer is, yes, but let’s talk a little about the why. Although we use this skill for only about 6 months, the overall result of crawling lasts a lifetime. We progress our hand-eye coordination that we use for catching and reading. We strengthen our shoulders which helps us hold our arm still while we write. We develop our postural muscles, also called the core, which allow us to sit in a chair during school or a meal. All of these activities are things we will do on a daily basis for the rest of our life.
Crawling also teaches our body that it has a top and a bottom (arms and legs) that can do different things at different times. This is important to help us integrate a reflex called the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. If this reflex is immature (this can happen if kiddos don’t crawl at all or long enough) they can have trouble sitting upright in a chair and focusing during class since when their head looks down at their desk, their body wants to slump down into the chair. They may be clumsy or even fall because they struggle to hold their body upright while they are looking down at the floor for obstacles.
Crawling is also one of the early activities that uses both sides of the brain. You may have heard that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa, which is generally true. When learning to crawl our kiddos have to learn to process information coming in from one side and going out back out to the other. This is a newer skill as most things kiddos have done to this point have been centered around using one hand only or both hands doing the same things. Crawling promotes brain development at a new, higher level.
For all of these reasons, even if your kiddo is more motivated to walk than to crawl, it is too important to just skip. Instead, find fun ways to incorporate crawling skills into playtime. See if they can balance a bean bag on their head while crawling across to a pot or bowl to drop it in. Teach them how to create a bridge on their hands and knees, then collapse the bridge by sitting back onto their heels while stretching their arms out in front and resting their forehead on the floor.
And if crawling is too hard for your kiddo, encourage activities on their hands and knees where they can be more still. Maybe they can make water handprints on the cement or a piece of paper. Put some paper plates under their hands and see if they can swipe right and left or forward and back.
If your kiddo is struggling to crawl, is unable to sit upright on a chair, or if you have any other questions about how to support your kiddo’s growth and development reach out for an evaluation. Our therapists at Kid Physical have over 32 combined years experience offering specialized, holistic healthcare for children of all ages. Our top priority is providing support for both caregivers and children so that they can reach their highest potential.