The magic of crawling and creeping: Developing the skills for posture and balance

The magic of crawling and creeping: Developing the skills for posture and balance

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You may be aware of our passion at GymbaROO-KindyROO for encouraging babies to crawl on their tummies and creep on their hands and knees. This article discusses the research that suggests that early crawling and creeping patterns play a very important role in the stimulation of vision and that this has a profound effect on how the body learns to control posture and balance before moving into the more challenging upright position.

Research undertaken by a team from the Department of Kinesiology at San Francisco State University1 set out to investigate how the development of a certain motor development activity of babies – crawling along on the tummy – affected the development of later skills.  They found that babies who engage in ‘tummy crawling’ (also referred to as ‘prone locomotion’) learn to control a number of necessary underlying tasks that assist with later upright posture and balance skills – namely steering, attending to the surface of support, and maintaining postural control. Much of this learning occurs as a result of stimulation to the visual system. As they drag themselves along, they are learning how to accommodate numerous visual and spatial variations. In other words, the brain is learning to differentiate between near/far, up/down, over/under, on/off, in/out and to respond by making postural adjustments. With the body well supported by the floor, the brain and body can learn to adjust posture without hazard of falling and can fine tune adjustments before undertaking the riskier business of learning to balance in an upright position.

Further research by a team from the Institute for Human Development in California2 also showed that the ground provides an important source of information for the control of posture and locomotion. They suggest that both tummy crawling and creeping on all fours are important for ‘getting the basics’ right as the visual messages about space are linked to postural responses. Interestingly, the peak time for this ‘visual-postural coupling’ is around 9 months of age – exactly when a baby is creeping.

Crawling and creeping not only promote the healthy development of vision and posture, they also provide important foundational brain pathways for many other visual-motor tasks.  What our eyes see and how the brain interprets those messages affects that kind of motor responses that the body makes.  A further study3 examined the importance of visual-motor skill integration in relation to learning at school. The results determined that good performance at visual-motor integration tasks is significantly related to academic performance in primary aged school children.  So, when babies are crawling and creeping they are putting into place the foundational skills for higher order thinking and learning. Read more here: Why creeping and crawling matter.

Research4 also draws our attention to the importance of experiences and opportunities in the early years of development, and how these experiences can affect ‘genetic expression’. It has been found that genes have multiple potential ‘switches’. These switches can be turned on or off, depending on the types of experiences a baby and small child have – a process called ‘epigenesis’. This means that one developmental acquisition produces experiences that bring about a host of new developmental changes in the same and different developmental areas, and this in turn has a flow on affect as we grow older. Several of the researchers suggest that babies who crawl on their tummies and creep on their hands and knees provide the brain with information that enables certain genetic possibilities that benefit later development and learning.

Encouraging your baby to crawl and creep

  • Tummy time is the key to assisting tummy crawling. Try to give your baby lots of freedom and time to utilise the inbuilt reflexes that make them wiggle and squirm. They will eventually learn to push themselves forward along the floor. Watch GymbaROO’s free online video on Tummy Time with loads of tips and activities to help encourage happy tummy time.
  • Babies who spend time on their tummies crawling will naturally pick their bellies up off the ground when they have inhibited the reflex that stops them from raising up against gravity. They will then rock backward and forward while on hands and knees and shake their heads to and fro. This inhibits another reflex, freeing them up to move – first by creeping backward, and finally forward!  You can also encourage creeping by not sitting your baby up until they are ready to do it themselves. When you sit your baby up before they creep it takes away the desire to move, especially if you leave toys within reach! Some babies are so desperate to move that they shuffle along on their bottoms from this position and they never creep on their hands and knees.

Enjoy this preview of  GymbaROO’s free online video on The Benefits of Crawling and Creeping. Watch the full free video here.

Dr Jane Williams (PhD, BMgt, RN(Paeds)) is the Acting CEO for GymbaROO-KindyROO. Dr Williams is one of Australia’s leading experts on baby and child development. 

Dr Tessa Grigg (PhD, Dip Tch ECE and Primary) is the Research and Education Manager for GymbaROO-KindyROO. She has a wide range of experience teaching young children and adult students.

GymbaROO Images by Studio Z Photography

References: 1. Anderson DICampos JJAnderson DEThomas TDWitherington DCUchiyama IBarbu-Roth MA. (2001). Linking Movement to visual development (including visual perception) Human Movement Science. 20(4-5):461-87  2Lejeune LAnderson DICampos JJWitherington DCUchiyama IBarbu-Roth M. (2006). Responsiveness to terrestrial optic flow in infancy: does locomotor experience play a role? Human Movement Science. 25(1):4-17  3. Taylor Kulp, M. (1999). Relationship between visual motor integration skill and academic performance in kindergarten through third grade. Optometry and Vision Science. 76(3):159-63.  4. Meaney, M. (2010). Lifelong effects of good parenting: How experience affects gene expression. Paper presentation. Brain & Learning conference. Vancouver, Canada.