Imagine for a moment a baby sitting on the floor. He looks up and sees a colorful object on the other side of the room. He gets on all fours, applying pressure through the palms of his hands all the way up to his shoulder-girdle, and thereby receiving sensory input through his knees and into his hips. His abdominal wall and back muscles work hard to stabilize him as he alternates stepping forward on his hands and knees. The coordination required for this type of bilateral movement is challenging to both his body and his brain. Learning to crawl plays an important role in a child’s sensory, physical and brain development.
From a sensory perspective, crawling opens up a variety of experiences. The sensory receptors inside a little one’s joints—part of the proprioceptive sensory system—receive input that is then forwarded to his brain. This information is filtered and helps stimulate new pathways that will help him filter the world around him through a sensory lens. The child receives tactile input that further contributes to this experience. He is exploring a variety of sensations through his skin: soft to rough, wet to dry, cold to warm, etc. Crawling also enriches the vestibular system, which is responsible for our ability to balance and helps us know where our body is in space. This allows him to balance as he travels from one side of the room to the other and to calibrate his movements to achieve his goal. This sensory information is necessary to build the strength and coordination needed for complex motor activity. It feeds valuable information to our brain, an organ always hungry for input.
Crawling is very beneficial from a physical development and motor skills standpoint. The repeated input, balancing, coordination, and strength needed to achieve this symphony of movements slowly strengthens every major muscle group. It also provides the basis for postural control by creating what is often referred to as “co-contraction”: muscles working together to create stability. In other words, it helps the child develop the core muscles needed for him to one day stand, walk, run, jump, climb, and ride a bike, as well as sit at desk to do school work. It’s also essential for hand development. The side to side and front to back movements practiced during crawling help develop dexterity and shape the arches in a child’s hands. This is essential for achieving different types of grasps necessary for grabbing objects, eating, writing, and drawing a picture worthy of Picasso.
A child’s brain is always changing. Crawling, a bilateral physical activity, requires the motor-coordination of both sides of the body. It is therefore an excellent task for a growing brain. In addition, this complex task allows the child to integrate some of the reflexes that he’s had since birth. In a way, mastering crawling tells the brain it no longer needs to hold on to more primitive reflexes. It also helps your baby develop a stronger, more efficient corpus callosum (the area of the brain that helps the two sides of the brain communicate and work together). This will help him one day perform school work or play sports that require crossing the midline—reaching for the opposite side of the body. It’s even needed for more academic activities such as reading and writing.
When it comes to crawling, and other essential motor skills, small developmental delays can have a big impact on a child’s development and wellbeing. Qualified therapists can catch developmental delays before they become a major challenge for your child. CDI’s therapy team understands how all the pieces of development fit together. Contact us at (818)888-4559 for more information or to schedule a developmental evaluation for your child.