Between the age of seven to ten months, most babies begin to crawl on their hands and knees. This milestone is highly anticipated by parents, but it is more than just something to note in the baby book.
I am constantly telling my patients about the importance of crawling. New research is being published regularly that links certain developmental stages to brain growth and future learning abilities. As children crawl their brain is making more and more connections. Each connection is a solution to a problem that they have solved by, and with crawling. The more a baby crawls the more efficiently these connections become and the more automatic the skill becomes. Crawling provides an opportunity to explore the surroundings, and as the skill becomes more intentional, a baby’s spatial skills also begin to develop and improve. (Spatial skills are the ability to locate objects in three dimensions using sight or touch.)
Research also shows that crawling facilitates the development of cognitive skills, including the skills that allow a child to locate an object by sight or touch. One study showed that children who were crawling on hands and knees were able to locate a hidden toy correctly more often than children who were not able to crawl in this typical fashion.
Crawling plays an important role in the development of spatial and cognitive skills. Some development experts call this stage the “psychological birth” of a baby because it spurs specific growth and refines many other skills. It increases hand-eye coordination, gross and fine motor skills, balance, and overall strength.
Unlike army-crawling (belly crawling), hands and knees crawling requires contra-lateral or cross-lateral movements. This simply means that opposite hand and leg move together – or “cross movements.” Doctor and author Carla Hannaford explains, “Cross lateral movements, like a baby’s crawling, activate both hemispheres (of the brain) in a balanced way. These activities work both sides of the body evenly and involve coordinated movements of both eyes, both ears, both hands and both feet as well as balanced core muscles. When both eyes, both ears, both hands and feet are being used equally, the corpus callosum orchestrating these processes between the two hemispheres becomes more fully developed. Because both hemispheres and all four lobes are activated, cognitive function is heightened and ease of learning increases. Additionally, with the spinal axis giving her an up and a down, she will now be able to move any way she wants – three dimensionally.”
The cross midline ability plays a role in:
- Spine rotation: a twisting coordination through the torso
- Strengthening the lower back in preparation for standing and walking well
- Preparing the ankles for the bending and straightening needed for walking
- Strengthening hand-eye coordination
Crawling also helps reshape the hip sockets to prepare for walking. But the research doesn’t stop there. The brain development that is taking place throughout this stage of infancy is linked to reading skills years down the road. When a baby crawls, her body acts against the weight of gravity, developing her vestibular and proprioceptive systems. When crawling, the baby touches different surfaces and textures and will develop the sensibility in her palms and fingers, allowing her to grasp and hold small objects (such as a pencil or crayon to draw, write, or play a musical instrument) in the future. This is extremely important for her neurological and cognitive development. All in all, crawling supports learning, creative problem solving, and overall brain function.
If you are a new parent and want to help encourage your baby to crawl, remember that daily ‘tummy time’ is key to setting your baby up for success.