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The Benefits of Crawling Volume 3: Developing the Other Senses

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

Crawl Before You Walk

The adage, “You must learn to crawl before you can walk,” is one of the oldest and truest for a good reason. Scientists and doctors keep finding new evidence to support that crawling is crucial to the development of not only a child's ability to later walk, but to many other aspects of development, as well. In fact, crawling forms the basis for most other motor skills including the ability to hold a pencil or more importantly the ability to even find and focus on a pencil in the first place.

In this third installment, we'll be discussing the benefits of crawling to the development of babies' motor senses. You can navigate back to Volume 1: Tummy Time and to Volume 2: Crawling here or at the bottom of this third volume.

The Benefits of Crawling Volume 3: Developing the Other Senses

As babies progress in their ability to use their neck muscles to control their head and, thus, better control their eyes, they develop the ability to stabilize the image they are seeing, even while moving. This is important because it helps babies get a clear picture of what they are looking at, rather than seeing a blurry image that bounces around.

In addition to muscle strengthening, crawling also challenges babies’ abilities to accurately move and adjust their eyes as they look at and scan for items in their environment. As babies assume and move through the crawling position their eyes can practice working together to move toward a targeted object or place in the room. This ability to use both eyes to focus in on a close object, then adjust both eyes to look out at something farther away, and then move the eyes side to side and up or down to scan the room or follow a moving object is an important part of what is referred to as binocular vision. When babies begin crawling, they no longer have to guess how far away objects are in their environment. Now they can feel how close or far away things are as they move toward them in space. They can begin to judge distance and size based on their experience of moving toward and away from objects as they crawl.

When babies rock back and forth on hands and knees, powerful stimulation is provided to the sensory system located in their inner ear that helps the body understand gravity, balance, and motion or the vestibular system. This type of sensory input helps develop healthy muscle tone, balance, postural control, and even visual skills since the vestibular and visual systems are closely linked.

In addition to vestibular input, crawling provides many different types of sensations to integrate. As babies crawl, they are charged with taking in and coordinating sensory information coming in from at least five different sensory systems in order to successfully coordinate and direct their movements. This ability to take in and integrate multiple types of sensory inputs is important because sensations sent from the body to the brain help babies develop a mental map of their body so they can efficiently plan movements as they learn new motor skills. Sensations from the body provide information necessary for planning movements, and the key to motor planning is a body map with accurate, tactile information. The sensory information related to the senses of touch, body awareness, and sense of self in space helps babies create a map of their bodies, which supports their ability to coordinate their muscles and sensory systems when learning new motor skills.

When babies first learn to crawl, they have to pay attention to what their arms and legs are doing, as well as what is going on around them; this is the motor planning part, the part where they have to consciously think about how to coordinate their movements. After they have consciously planned the act of crawling several times, however, that motor plan sinks into the brain and becomes a motor skill. And once a motor skill has been learned, it no longer requires conscious effort unless the situation or context changes.

Accurate processing of sensory information impacts our ability to create motor plans for learning new motor skills. Motor planning is the sensory process that enables us to adapt to an unfamiliar task and then learn how to do that task automatically, and it can be seen in activities such as learning to climb up on the couch, put on a shirt, or ride a tricycle. When kids do not develop a good map of their body, it can make it much more difficult for them to learn new motor skills because they are not receiving accurate messages from the sensory systems in order to tell the muscles when and with how much force to move.

In case you missed it or want to review Volume 1: Tummy Time or Volume 2: Crawling you can do so by clicking the links.

If you have concerns that your child did not spend enough time crawling or did not achieve some of these important milestones, please make an appointment to see one of our specialists at FHSportsMed.com.