Research supports the idea that hands and knees crawling is an emerging new inter-limb (between limbs) pattern of coordination and is a preparatory phase for walking.
March 15, 2013 - Author: Kittie Butcher, Michigan State University Extension, Ashley VandenBerg and Terra Dodds, MPT
Crawling is an important milestone in your child’s development. Your child will typically start to crawl between seven and 10 months. It is important that crawling takes place on the child’s hands and knees, and a cross body pattern (meaning the right arm and left leg go forward together). This pattern is not the same as belly crawling or scooting. There are some prerequisites for the child to begin crawling, such as being able to lift their head off the ground, to support their upper-body with their arms, to get their knees underneath them and being stable on all fours. Usually children will first get into this position and just rock back and forth. This helps to build strength and stability in both their arms and legs. Usually crawling is a result of reaching for a toy that they can’t quite get to, and then they fall toward their outstretched hand. After they fall forward they realize they just moved closer to the object that they want. The skill of crawling has many benefits to both the child’s brain and future motor skills.
Children will also master the advanced technique that pediatrician William Sears calls "cross-crawling" – Moving one arm and the opposite leg together when a child moves forward, rather than using an arm and a leg from the same side. After that, practice makes perfect. Look for them to become a really competent crawler by the time they’re a year old.
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 they crawl the more streamlined these connections become and the more automatic the skill becomes. Crawling provides them an opportunity to explore their environment. Before the skill becomes automatic, the child is using a lot of their brain just to move, and figure out what is going on and how to achieve this great feat of independent movement. You should be able to see this skill becoming more automatic as their speed increases from very slow, to getting-into-everything, fast!
As they begin to develop this more automatic skill, their spatial skills also begin to develop and improve. Spatial skills are the ability to locate objects in three dimensions using sight or touch. Research 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 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 on their hands and knees. This was true no matter where in the room the child started looking for the toy. This demonstrates that crawling plays an important role in the development of spatial and cognitive skills.
Another benefit to crawling is a more flexible memory when learning new skills. A research study looked at children who were, and were not crawling; they wanted to teach them a new skill and test how well they remembered the new skill, if the environment was changed. The research found that children who were crawling showed greater memory retention when tested in both the same and different settings. Children who were not crawling needed the same stimuli and setting in order to show retention of a skill, whereas children who were crawling were able to show skills where either the stimuli or the setting were different. It has originally been thought that memory flexibility is due to age of the infant, the complexity of the task, and additional experience provided by an adult, but now research shows that crawling can also improve the flexibility of the infant’s memory. A great resource for why crawling matters is “7 Benefits of Crawling.”
Research supports the idea that hands and knees crawling is an emerging new inter-limb pattern of coordination and is a preparatory phase for walking. It also says that it helps develop many other components such as body scheme, motor planning, visual perception and eye-hand coordination. Although you may be ready for your child to walk, don’t forget that crawling is very important for his/her overall development. Crawling is important for proper brain development as well as for increasing bone and muscle strength. The average age for walking isn’t until about 12 months; this means that half of children walk after this age. Concerns of late walking shouldn’t start until 15 to 18 months. Michigan State University Extension reminds that you should crawl before you walk! Even though it is fun to show off a young walker, don’t push your child to walk before they are ready; let them crawl.