From Crawling to Walking to Talking

Should we worry when our children don’t crawl?  Is there a connection between motor skills like crawling, walking and language development?  Current research continues to focus on the fascinating relationships between motor and cognitive development in babies, and it is becoming evident that there are some interesting relationships between motor and cognitive milestones.

Children naturally develop at different rates; some infants start to crawl at five months or as late as 13 months and are still within the expected age range for crawling.  Some infants might not crawl in the traditional way, but shuffle or even skip the crawling stage.  However, crawling is an important part of development that should be encouraged.

Crawling plays a role in building upper body strength and developing central core stability.  Studies show that this is very important for later learning, writing and playing sports.  The stability from crawling moves from the central core through the shoulders and upper arms and into the lower arms and hands.   Tummy time and placing age appropriate toys on the floor are all effective ways to develop the muscles needed for crawling.  As babies rock back and forth on their bellies, they get a better feel for the movement of crawling.   It allows them to stretch, explore their surroundings and raise their head to strengthen head and neck muscles.  As children seem to respond, push-a-long toys and soft balls can help encourage a baby to crawl.

Once a child crawls, studies show that it helps them to discover distance and placement of objects. This helps with spatial awareness and even basic problem solving skills.  Discovering distance and placement of objects assists with a child’s vision. Examining a distant object and then trying to eventually use their hands in order to reach that object forces their eyes to adjust to the varying distances and encourages the eyes to work together. This development helps with later skills such as catching, driving, and even copying words off of a board in school. Research confirms that the movements required to crawl even make the two sides of the brain interact; eventually improves coordination.

Research is also showing that cognitive development, such as talking, is related to the development of gross motor skills such as crawling or talking and fine motor skills such as grasping or manipulating objects.  The relationship between motor development and language development is complex.  Motor skills like sitting upright, crawling and walking, can provide lots of opportunities for a child to practice skills that are important for language development. Developmental specialists are definitely seeing relationships; for example, a few weeks prior to babbling, infants are showing a lot of arm movements like banging, shaking and waving.  Other research confirms that babies often take things apart before saying their first words.

Speech therapists are and should continue to inquire about any possible delayed motor skills that might be related to a delay in speech and language development.  Parents and caregivers should also continue to discuss any gross and fine motor delays to their pediatrician or other specialists. The research is still developing but continues to indicate fascinating links and relationships between the gross motor, fine motor and cognitive development of our young children.