Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Crawl Before You Walk: More Than Just a Saying.

One of the most common childhood milestones used by parents to initiate conversation is walking. Despite the progress that infants make every day, such as opening their eyes, recognizing people, or turning their heads in the direction of familiar voices, gross motor skills (walking, rolling over, etc.) seem to be the favorite subject of these conversations. While it is impossible to ignore the sense of accomplishment on a child's face as they take their first steps, many parents try to rush their child to this milestone and end up ignoring the importance of crawling to their child's development.

The speed at which a child develops certain skills is incorrectly perceived by many as a measure of their intelligence. In particular when parents see other children of the same age walking while their child is still not, they may worry that their child is somehow behind. It is true that the study of different cultures throughout history shows that the development of motor skills in children is predictable and follow a sequence, however the time frame for these stages is unique to each child. For this reason, parents should always keep in mind that children can only be expected to develop at their own pace. Parents who recognize that there is more than meets the eye happening during the crawling stages, will be more patient and understanding of the pace of their child's development.

All motor skills are important and the development of them requires time. This processes does not occur from one day the next. Turning their head to one side prepares them to see objects that call their attention. This leads to them learning to reach, grab and grip objects that catch their attention. All these skills require time and practice. A child who is given the opportunity to move freely will develop these skills little by little on their own because they have been given the trust and opportunity to practice. Through using different parts of their body such as twitching their legs or extending their arms out periodically children are

exercising both their physical and mental ability to be able to roll over for the very first time. Because it is such a clear example of one of the first things a child does on their own, rolling over for the first time is a milestone that many parents remember fondly in the same way they will recall their child opening their eyes for the first time. In these cases parents do not feel like they have to rush their children to hit these milestones because “teaching” a child to roll over or open their eyes makes no sense. Parents should continue to exercise this level of consideration for their child's ability to learn on their own when it comes to the crawling stage because of the many skills that are being developed during this time.

Parents should be especially patient throughout this stage because crawling is the external reflection of all of the different ways in which a child is internally developing. Throughout this stage a child is learning to use their eyes, ears, arms, hands and legs all in unison and coordinated with each other. As they learn to use the different parts of their body in unison, they begin to learn and perfect their balance. This is a reflection of the strengthening of the connection between the two hemispheres of their brain. This connection is what enables the child to master their hand-eye coordination from when they begin to spoon feed themselves to later in life when they may become involved in a sport. Parents who assume that, after a short period of crawling, a child is ready to be taught to walk, either by a parent holding them up or a walker, are actually undermining their child’s ability to develop naturally.

Crawling literally shapes the way that children see the world. During this time learn to calculate distances between themselves and objects that they want to reach for, a sign that they are developing their binocular vision. Through crawling children explore their environment through their own initiative and this directly leads to them developing their peripheral vision. Children will also be able to try to tell the height and volume of objects at a distance as well as differentiate between which objects can move and which ones are stationary. A child will train their vision to focus on a distance of 30-40 cm, which is the distance that it is recommended a child place a book when they are learning to read and write.

In addition to the way they see their environment, they are able to experience the difference in the texture and temperature of different surfaces. At such a young age the amount of sensory experiences a child has is directly related to greater brain development. This does not always occur in the most obvious ways, for example crawling has been linked to a child's ability to foster the abstract thinking skills that will help them better understand subjects such as science and mathematics. Even the understanding of language is affected during the crawling stage as they learn to use both ears at the same time (binaural hearing).

Instead of trying to rush their child into walking, parents can help them develop naturally by facilitating them throughout this stage in several different ways. An adult should be present with the child by remaining at a nearby, not necessarily always engaged with the child, but close enough so that the child feels safe and comfortable. Children should be allowed a safe and clean area big enough for the child to be able to move freely. Emmi Pickler stressed that an area larger than a crib is recommended for the child to be in for extended periods of time because the “opportunity to move” is just as important as “when they want to.” (Sensory Awareness Foundation Bulletin Number 14 with excerpts from Emmi Pikler’s first book.) This area could contain a small amount of age-appropriate clean toys that the child can play with, reach for and safely put in their mouth. Children should be dressed in comfortable clothing that allows for them to move freely be it inside or outside. A couple of big blankets limited by some kind of physical boundary on most outdoor surfaces can provide a clean and safe area for a child to crawl. It is important for parents to keep in mind that as a child is learning new skills, they are constantly practicing and mastering those they already know. Respecting a child's crawling stage gives them the opportunity to make an effort to get what they want to reach, or go where they want to go. This effort might be challenging or even frustrating for them, but it gives them the satisfying feeling of, “I did it all by myself.”


"What's going on in there" How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years. Lise Eliot, Ph.D. Bantam 1999

El Gateo  Carlos Manuel Jimenez Trevi
Editorial Trillas S.A. De C.V January  2010

Wisdom of the body Moving (an Introduction to Body- Mind Centering
Linda Hartley, Berkeley Ca. 1994


Sensory Awareness Foundation Bulletin Number 14 with excerpts from Emmi Pikler’s first book. Winter 1994


  1. Thanks for the wonderful article! My son has Asperger's Syndrome and crawled backwards (or scooted really). I never tried to correct him. His unique crawl never hindered his walking ability and he learned to walk just fine. We should not interfere with their style nor pace of development.

  2. "The speed at which a child develops certain skills is incorrectly perceived by many as a measure of their intelligence". So true!! That´s why I firmly believe parents need information like this, to feel confident and value their children natural development. Thanks for the information. It´s precise and so complete!

  3. Gross motor development belongs to each child individually. Asking a child to do something before their time is an invasion on its development. We are so eager to make things happen that we forget that gross motor is "hard wired" into the brain. if we insist to move past it before a child is completely ready we are leaving huge gaps that will often cause problems later.

  4. Good article and really like it,
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