By Justine Sanders, TLC Infant Care Teacher
“You have to walk before you can run” is an old saying I’d like to amend. I’d have it read: “You need to crawl before you walk.” It is important for babies to learn to crawl. It is infinitely more beneficial for a child to learn to crawl than to skip ahead to walking.
One of the biggest benefits of crawling is that when a child crawls, their limbs cross the mid-line. The mid-line is the middle of the body from head to toe. Every time a child crosses the mid-line, connections are built in the baby's brain. These connections become essential later in life for both gross motor development (used, for example, when reaching for objects) and fine motor development (used, for example, when eyes track words written on a page from left to right.) The brain receives input from both sides of the body and registers that transitions are being made. These transitions enable the brain to process incoming information more clearly.
There are other ways to cross the mid-line in addition to crawling. Every time a baby brings something to its mouth, he or she is crossing the mid-line, so feeding becomes an opportunity for crossing the mid-line. Babies who like to pull off their socks and play with their feet are also crossing the mid-line. Even the act of passing a toy from the right hand to the left hand is crossing the mid-line.
Why is it so important to crawl, then, if there are so many other ways to cross the mid-line? Many parents with older infants will tell you that they are not sure if they (the parents) are ready for crawling because they don’t know how they will keep up with their baby. There is truth to this sentiment. Babies love to explore and once they discover that crawling allows them to do this independently they are pretty much always on the go. As babies transport their little bodies from one end of the house to the other, discovering kitchen cabinets, overturning interesting objects, and leaving a trail of debris in their wake, they are crossing the mid-line through it all. Crossing the mid-line in these crawling romps helps infants make connections that may someday help them write a 30 page term paper, throw a discus in a state track and field competition, and keep their own crawling infants when they have grown into healthy adults.