Babies first begin to move in the strangest of ways–on their backs pushing in all directions, on their tummies shimmying in circles, rolling haphazardly across the room, or on their booties scooting around. There’s so much variety in baby movement, and it really is the most adorable thing to watch babies try to move.
Nevertheless, the acquisition of true crawling is so very important to gross motor development. Each child learns to crawl on his or her own timeline, and as long as your child is progressing toward crawling, there is nothing about which to be overly concerned. If your child is making progress with mobility, then chances are, he or she is strengthening the necessary muscles in order to successfully achieve independent crawling.
A lot of us have probably heard of someone who skipped crawling and went straight to walking, and while this is totally normal, crawling can be very important for gross motor development and the acquisition of many other skills.
Why crawling is important
Crawling develops core strength
With each cycle of crawling, your baby learns how to turn his or her core on and off. Your baby learns how to utilize the core to stabilize on hands and knees and how to use the core to mobilize forward in order to explore the world. This core strength will help your child when he or she stands and walks for the first time. And this core strength will help maintain posture overtime, hopefully decreasing the potential for back pain and injuries in the future.
Crawling builds shoulder stabilization
By moving on hands and knees, your baby begins to develop shoulder stabilization. This stabilization is needed for skills such as climbing, throwing a ball, and participating in numerous sports. With early exposure to shoulder stabilization, your baby immediately begins to develop the proper muscle activation to maintain upright posture and stabilization needed for those future skills.
Crawling works on visual depth perception
When your child is crawling, he or she is now interacting with the world at all different depths. Your child will begin to develop an understanding of depth perception, and this depth perception is so important for safety when walking, participation in the classroom when looking up and down from the board, and when learning new skills such as throwing or kicking.
Crawling increases sensory immersion
Prior to crawling, your child was limited to the surface on which he or she was placed, such as a blanket, playmat, or rug. Now with crawling, your baby will begin to explore many new surfaces, and each new surface contributes to new and novel sensations. It’s important for babies to be introduced to new sensations and learn to adjust to the new surfaces and feelings.
If your child is working on crawling, there are many ways you can help promote their gross motor development. Here are my favorite recommendations to help strengthen a baby’s muscles and get them ready to crawl.
How you can help
Tummy time on the floor
Tummy time really is the main recommendation that pediatric physical therapists provide to families, and tummy time on a firm, flat surface is the best thing for your baby’s development. By allowing your child time on the floor, he or she is given the opportunity to strengthen the necessary muscle groups to acquire new gross motor skills. The muscles strengthened in tummy time are the muscles needed to achieve crawling on hands and knees. When allowed time on their tummies, babies learn how to use their bodies to begin army crawling, and that will eventually lead to crawling on hands and knees.
Ditch the equipment
Children need thousands of hours of practice in order to gain new gross motor milestones. When a child spends time in positioning equipment (think infant seats, exersaucers, jumpers, bouncers, swings, etc.), that is time that is not being spent in strengthening the necessary muscle groups for new skill acquisition. If you need something to keep your child contained while you are working on something else, try a travel crib (like a Pack N Play) or a playpen to make sure that your child stays safe but also has the opportunity to explore and practice new motor skills outside of positioning equipment.
Hands to feet play
Crawling is all about the core, and your baby will first learn to turn on his or her core musculature by reaching for his or her toes. You can encourage your baby to reach for his or her toes by showing them those toes. Babies have the flexibility to bring their toes up to their faces, so it’s fine to help them find their toes. You can also place novel objects on their toes, such as rattles or connecting links, and these will help encourage your baby to reach toward the toes. Babies will put their feet in their mouths, and this is definitely normal. Babies put everything else in their mouths, so why not their feet?!
Go barefoot (and clothes-free too, if possible!)
Foot musculature is so important for gross motor development, and babies learn how their foot muscles work by being allowed time barefoot. When warm enough, allow your child some time without socks and shoes. And taking it even a step further, you can allow your child some naked time too as well. While this is a risky move outside of diapers, even time stripped down to just the diaper can be beneficial for your child’s gross motor development. Clothing and diapers can limit the movement of a child, and it’s important to allow some time where your baby can fully experiment with how his or her body moves without the constraints of clothing.
Consider environmental setup
Start to place objects just out of reach of your baby. While this may seem challenging, it’s good to provide your baby with appropriate challenges. The objects can start by being just out of reach so that your child will have to reach a little bit farther or pivot his or her body just a bit. Eventually, those small adjustments will develop over time to larger movements and improved ease with moving toward objects just out of reach.
Reach out if you are worried
If you feel like your child could use a little more individualized attention to help acquire crawling, he or she may benefit from physical therapy. A physical therapy session can help identify specific muscle groups or skills that need to be refined in order to crawl independently. You can ask your pediatrician for a referral for physical therapy and look for a pediatric-specific clinic to schedule an initial evaluation.