• Anne O'Connor



Were you an early walker? Maybe you were a ‘bum shuffler’ or scooted backwards rather than crawl on all fours? Although learning to walk is seen as the big milestone in the life of most children, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the creeping and crawling process is really important for our all round development and wellbeing. Here are just 7 reasons why (there are more!)

  1. For cross lateral crawling, the arms and legs work in opposition to each other and it is this kind of patterning that sets up a ‘template’ in the brain which actually helps speed up later motor and intellectual development, particularly with regard to sequencing and planning (Macintyre 2009:7)

  2. Because it integrates the two sides of the body, crawling on all fours helps connect the two sides of the brain – the right and left hemispheres. This is important for everything we do as the different parts of our brain need to be able to connect and speak to each other.

  3. Crawling involves motor planning or ‘praxis’ as the brain works out which arm goes first followed by which leg. This is a huge development for a baby’s brain because so much of our motor planning needs to become automatic, so that we don’t have to use up valuable brain space and effort ‘ thinking’ how to move in certain ways e.g. marching, swimming etc.

  4. Crawling on all fours is important for visual development as it helps stabilize the eyes and encourages baby to co-ordinate both eyes together (binocular vision) which will be important for later reading and writing. Both short and long vision is further developed (and the ability to switch between the two) when the baby has to shift the gaze whilst moving, from close up (the floor) to out in the distance.

  5. Being mobile helps build physical independence but also an all-important awareness of themselves as independent little people. They can now choose (to a degree) where they go and what they interact with.

  6. Crawling on hands and knees strengthens the shoulder and hip muscles and reinforces a developing sense of balance and body awareness. Even just raising one arm and balancing on 3 other body parts is important for developing spatial awareness.

  7. To crawl on all fours, the palm of the hand needs to open out. This naturally inhibits the ‘palmar reflex ‘, which is what tends to keep a baby’s fingers curled in. If the body hangs on to the palmar reflex later in life, it can affect the way a child learns to hold a pencil and form a comfortable grip when writing.

But don’t be alarmed if you or your baby didn’t crawl in the regular fashion - there is nothing that says you can’t carry on crawling just because you’ve learned to walk! Many babies and children will naturally do this after they have started walking, especially if they get to spend lots of time playing on the floor or outside on the ground. Which gives us adults a good excuse to get down there and crawl with them!

We will have lots of good ideas for encouraging spontaneous, playful crawling in our next blog, but for now, get yourselves some cheap kneepads (from gardening or DIY shops) and get crawling!

Find out more about crawling and other fascinating aspects of children’s physical development in our book Understanding Physical Development in the Early Years: linking bodies and minds.

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