The Importance of Crawling for Babies and Older Children
by Lauren Bacsalmasi, DPT
Kids Place Central Pediatric Physical Therapist
Frequently, we hear from parents of children who start walking without crawling, or they only scooted on their bottoms. It is important that children, even ones who are already walking, learn the skill of crawling and playing on their hands and knees. Here is why:
Weightbearing through the arms increases arm and shoulder strength. This allows for children to improve their posture, ability to complete self-care tasks, and fine motor skills. Having a strong shoulder girdle can also reduce the probability of shoulder injury later in life. For older children, you can encourage them to rise up to being on their hands and feet (like a downward dog yoga position) while crawling to further improve their shoulder strength by putting more weight through their arms.
Similar to the shoulder, weightbearing through the legs can improve hip stability. Improvements in hip strength can help with posture, balance, endurance with walking and running, and ability to acquire higher level gross motor skills. You can further challenge their hip strength by practicing crawling with supervision over obstacles or over large squishy pillows where they have to pick up their legs higher to move. You can also practice crawling up/down small hills or inclines.
Upper and lower extremity dissociation
With crawling, children need to learn to move one arm and one leg at a time instead of bunny hopping. This can improve coordination with higher level skills like walking, or even playing an instrument. You can encourage upper extremity dissociation by having your child reach for toys while in a hands and knees position and encouraging them to switch the hand they are reaching with.
Assists interaction with environment and allows for earlier independence
Learning to crawl can allow babies to interact with their environment earlier by giving them a way to get to new locations. This provides them with the capability of meeting some of their own needs, such as obtaining a toy on their own, playing with other children, or moving towards foods/drinks.
Vestibular development and balance
The vestibular system, related to the inner ear, helps us know where we are in space. When children learn to crawl, they are providing their inner ears with constant input about where they are in space, how quickly they are moving and what direction they are moving. This input strengthens the vestibular system and their balance. You can further challenge them by having them crawl over obstacles or unstable surfaces with supervision such as across couch cushions on the floor.
When crawling, children are able to experience exposure to different textures (tile, carpet, grass, etc.) and will develop improved tolerance to these textures. You can encourage your child to crawl across interesting textures with supervision like plastic, through kid’s tunnels, over carpet, tile, or rugs. Additionally, crawling causes gentle compression to the joints which triggers proprioceptors (receptors that help the body know where it is in space). This can further assist with balance.
Crawling requires the core muscles to help propel the body forward and advance the legs. A strong core can help improve posture and gives children a strong foundation to develop new skills. You can increase core strength further by practicing crawling over obstacles or squishy surfaces like pillows. For older children, you can challenge them by having them slightly lift their knees off of the ground so they crawl on their toes and hands with their knees hovering over the ground.
Development of hand arches
By bearing weight through our hands, we can build strength of the small muscles of the hand. This helps to develop the arches of the hands which can assist with the development of efficient gripping of items (toys, pencils, spoons, etc.). You can further improve children’s hand strength by encouraging interacting with toys while in a hands and knees position. This allows the child to practice coordinating gripping with one hand while bearing weight through the other hand.
With all of the previous activities, it is not hard to see how much coordination plays into crawling. Children need to learn to coordinate moving their arms and legs, and how to adjust their movements when faced with obstacles in their pathway. They also need to learn how to adjust their body position to maintain their balance when trying to play with a toy.
We encourage you to try these activities with your child. Please share pictures, videos, comments, and questions by replying below!