We’ve all heard the saying that “you have to crawl before you can walk.” But why is crawling so important? And why should we, as parents and caregivers, encourage our child to crawl?
“Crawling is one of the most essential developmental phases for optimal future learning.” writes Sharon Promislow, an Educational Kinesiologist and Educational Consultant. Not only does it strengthens the neck, arm, link and trunk muscles of a young child, but the mechanics of crawling actually stimulate different areas of the brain which influence the child’s ability to learn. Neurophysiologist Carla Hannaford, in her book entitled, Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head, states: “Physical movement, from earliest infancy… plays an important role in the creation of nerve cell networks which are actually the essence of learning.” In fact, according to Rebecca Anne Bailey and Elsie Carter Burton, authors of The Dynamic Self: Activities to Enhance Infant Development, whenever babies move any part of their bodies, there exists the potential for two different kinds of learning to occur: learning to move and moving to learn.
Besides the fact that infants are built for movement, there are a great many reasons why infants need to move. Rae Pica, nationally known children’s movement specialist and author of Your Active Child: How to Boost Physical, Emotional, and Cognitive Development through age-Appropriate Activity writes that the truth is, even though a baby’s movement capabilities are quite limited, “movement experiences are now thought to be more important for infants than for children of any other age group”. She is not alone in her beliefs. Many educators work from the premise that basic functions affect higher functions. This means that movement skills (basic functions) affect cognitive abilities (higher functions). Linda Hartley, in her book entitled Wisdom of the Body Moving states that “movement is in fact essential for the future physical, sensory, perceptual, psychological and mental development of the child.”
This helps to explain why we need to encourage our children to crawl. Research has revealed that through the repetitious movement of crawling, the infant’s neural network connections in the brain become stimulated, organized and better developed. This allows the brain to control cognitive processes such as comprehension, concentration and memory more efficiently.
The production of myelin is increased when a baby starts to crawl. This is important because myelin, a substance coating the neuron, helps the brain send and receive messages faster and more clearly. The more myelin, the faster the transmission…in fact, according to Dr. Lise Eliot, a Neuroscientist with Chicago Medical School, myelin sheaths enable brain signals to travel 100 times faster! Information that has been “myelinated” in the brain through movement is fundamental to all future learning.
The cross-lateral movement of crawling strengthens and integrates both hemispheres of the brain. This helps to simultaneously coordinate the use of both eyes, both ears, both hands and both feet. This enhances learning by not only allowing the brain to share important sensory information, but by helping the brain store and retrieve information more rapidly. Shayne Niehaus, a registered Specialised Kinesiologist in South Africa, feels that crawling is a crucial milestone for a developing child. She found that crawling stimulated the “receptive” and “expressive” parts of the brain and formed such a vital phase in a child’s life that if the process was hindered or interrupted in any way, the child might, at worst, exhibit learning difficulties, or at best, “create adaptive, compensatory and less efficient learning methods.” Niehaus estimates that babies need to make about 50,000 crawling movements to create enough neural pathways to integrate left and right hemispheres fully, and to enable optimal learning capabilities as they grow older.
Crawling refines both gross and fine motor skills by strengthening the large and small muscle groups. This facilitates hand/eye coordination, strength, muscle tone, balance, finger dexterity and language development; skill sets later used for reading, writing and physical activities. Recent research has determined that the cerebellum, the part of the brain previously associated with motor control only, is now known, as Eric Jensen, author of numerous books on brain-based learning, and founder of the Jensen Learning Corporation, puts it as, a “virtual switchboard of cognitive activity”. In fact, numerous studies have confirmed the connection between the cerebellum and such cognitive functions as memory, spatial orientation, attention, language and decision making, illustrating clearly that a child’s earliest learning is based on the development of their motor skills.
Furthermore, crawling stimulates the near and far, visual and tactile senses of the child. Up until a few years ago, neuroscientists believed that the structure of a human brain was genetically determined at birth. They now realize that although the main “circuits” are “pre-wired” for such functions as breathing and heartbeat, the sensory experiences that fill each child’s day are what actually determine the brain’s ultimate configuration and the nature and extent of that child’s adult capabilities. The more sensory experiences an infant has, the greater the development of their brain. In fact, when crawling, the baby starts to understand where they are in their environment, stimulating abstract thinking skills, which, when developed, will assist them with tasks such as mathematics.
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Crawling also assists with the understanding of language, which is stimulated when an infant crawls, as they use both ears simultaneously and develop binaural hearing. The child must look down and focus in the distance when it is learning to crawl which helps to develop their binocular vision. Paul Dennison Ph.D., founder of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation and author of the Brain Gym® program, believes that the efficiency of the development of visual and auditory skills establishes dominant input in the learning process. Part of the vestibular system, this input turns on our entire brain and unlocks our sensory channels enabling more efficient learning.
Paul Dennison appreciates, as do many others, that movement is the door to learning. The earlier a child crawls, the stronger their body and their brain become, increasing their cognitive and physical potential. Encourage your child to crawl and let them crawl. Infants need plenty of free, safe movement on the floor to integrate reflexes, complete developmental stages, and develop a strong neurological foundation. Everyday millions of babies try their best to move and develop, but are prevented from doing so. They are placed and kept in carriers, jumpers, swings, playpens, cribs and strollers which restrict their freedom to move. Simply allowing for and supporting early developmental movement on the floor will prevent major learning and behaviour difficulties from developing. A study by McEwan et. al., demonstrated that infants who did not crawl scored lower on pre-school assessment tests than those who did crawl. It verified the influence that early crawling experience had on the child’s learning ability, and noted that the process of crawling provides not only hand-eye coordination, but superior vestibular processing, an improvement of physical balance and equilibrium, spatial awareness, tactile input, kinesthetic awareness and social maturation.
There is a reason why babies need to crawl – they are designed to learn through whole-body movement. Encourage your child to crawl…the benefits will last them a lifetime!
For more detailed information about the benefits of crawling or to discover the unique new line of clothing specifically designed to encourage your child to crawl, stimulate their senses and enhance their learning profile, please view our online catalog. For additional information on the Educational Kinesiology Foundation and the author of the Brain Gym® program, please visit www.braingym.org.