Neuroplasticity programmes

Learning to crawl – how our development relates to learning

I adore watching babies make involuntary movements in their first few months of life. These involuntary movements are primitive reflexes, and are governed by the brainstem – the only part of our brain that is mature when a baby is born.

Very soon, babies start to be able to control their movements, and start being able to explore in the world. A baby has to inhibit primitive reflexes before moving to the next stage of development.

This video is a fantastic demonstration of how we should learn to crawl.

In some cases, babies do not get onto their hands and knees and push up to crawling like this. Some babies get around by rolling or “bum shuffling”.

Is this “normal”? Should we worry if we have a bum shuffler? Take a look at this video: these children will more than likely find it impossible to concentrate for any length of time at school, and will develop vision difficulties.

We must give babies every opportunity to cycle through the developmental stages themselves – that means no props to sit them in, no walkers, no bouncers, and as little time in car seats and even slings/carriers as possible.

As demonstrated by Baby Liv in the video, the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) is a reflex that helps babies learn how to start crawling by rocking back and forth on hands and knees. It strengthens the core, and is a pre-cursor to the integration of the ATNR reflex. Crawling is an extremely important step of development because the associated movements myelinate and strengthen connections in the corpus callosum, which is the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres.

In fact, it is very important to have a well-connected corpus callosum in order to learn how to read and decode efficiently, as well as to be able to write numbers and letters the right way around and even to ride a bike. Children who have not learned to cross crawl (opposite hand and knee on the floor at the same time) do not have such dense neural pathways, which often leads to problems with convergence and near and far vision.

There is an interesting theory that a child is ready to learn to read once they loose their top front teeth, and I’ve heard that Steiner schools look at tooth loss as an indication of readiness for learning to read and write. I do not know how true this is, but it is true that children with neuro-developmental delays often lose teeth much later. Please take this statement with a pinch of salt, however, as I’m not sure how much peer-reviewed science there is behind it – but there is indeed plenty of anecdotal evidence.

A child who bum shuffles, or misses the crawling stage altogether has missed an important stage of development, and will almost certainly have an active STNR reflex. If you recognise this situation, you can always book in for an appointment.

Here are a few fun activities to try yourself, or to ask school to include in PE lessons:

  • play row, row, row your boat with another person, holding hands and touching feet
  • get children to cross crawl as much as possible, through tunnels etc
  • do push ups against a wall
  • do a snow angel movement on your back
  • use a balance ball to sit on while you work/watch tv

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