There are many milestones in motor development as infants turn into toddlers but how important is crawling as milestone?
Education and developmental problems such as ADHD and dyslexia have been linked to infants not crawling or only briefly crawling before learning to walk. Key to this theory are primitive reflexes that help an infant learn to control their body but fade as the infant develops. In some children the reflexes are retained and they handicap the infant’s development just as stabilisers on a bike help a child to learn to ride but if they are left on, they hold the child back.
Proponents of primitive reflexes such as INPP and Stopping ADHD believe that the most critical milestone for motor development is crawling. As an infant learns to crawl they learn lots of new abilities such as moving the head, arms and legs independently. Once mastered, this allows the toddler free and coordinated movement. It’s thought that children who do not crawl miss out on learning this critical skill. Their movements are not coordinated and they struggle to move limbs and head independently. This can manifest itself at school when the child learns to write, a skill that involves sitting still whilst moving the arms. If a child cannot move their arms without moving their legs then they will struggle to sit still.
But is crawling such an important milestone for an infants development? Some research casts doubt on its value. One study looked at 20 children who had been bottom-shufflers or bottom-scooters; children who had pull themselves across the floor whilst sitting on their bottom. Researchers tested these children when they were between four and eight and found no evidence that they had any motor development problems.
The very notion of babies needing to crawl may be flawed. All the early work done on infant milestones was done by white western researchers who generally looked at white middle-class parents. In other cultures, it appears that crawling is not so widespread. Research into the tribes of PapuaNew Guinea found that crawling was very rare. In the first 12 months, infants are carried for 86% of the time by parents or siblings. When the infant was put down on the ground they were placed in a sitting position, not on their stomaches. Some researchers have speculated that it is only in cultures with dry and solid floors that babies are allowed to crawl. In more primitive conditions, allowing an infant to crawl across ground covered by mud and animal droppings might not be very desirable.
It is clear that crawling develops muscle strength and improves coordination in infants. What is not clear is how important crawling is as a development milestone. It could be that it is not the crawling that is important but the time spent learning how to move muscles and developing the cerebellum.
Previously on Myomancy:
How we learn to walk