Before children get moving on their own two legs, it’s important that they have spent enough time crawling. Here’s why.
Walking, that coordinated movement of the legs that most of us perform regularly but don’t think twice about, is what sets us apart from other mammalians. We are the only species that engage in and with our world as bipeds . Our two feet, with our bodies upright and facing forward.
It appears to be a natural skill but that’s because the learning process took place during the first year or so of our lives. We have taken to it so well that we forget what a monumental task it was when we started and how long it took, with small daily progression.
As parents, we delight in those little improvements our child makes from day to day. We celebrate our infant’s earliest steps as his/her first life milestone. We can’t wait to announce it to our family and friends or post it on our Facebook pages. But as impatient as you may be for the day to arrive, you should not want your child to walk before he/she has crawled enough.
Natural learning curve
As babies, we didn’t just spend our time lying around and then suddenly popped up to stand and walk. Each day, we explored our bodies and discovered our limbs. We engaged with our environment, and learned how we relate to the outside world. One day, we discovered our right hand; we stared and examined it for days. Then we began reaching for things around us, we saw new perspectives when we rolled over. We closed distances to our favorite toys or our parents by squirming on our belly, and then we began crawling.
Each stage of discovery may be small but they are all profoundly significant. Every incremental step lays the foundation for the next. For example, before we grabbed our toys, we had to first discover our hands and their movement potential.
The same applies to walking. The good news is that the ability of the human body to achieve upright walking is genetically embedded in our body’s intelligence. We don’t need to be given lessons on walking, we learn to do it on our own. The progression happens in a predetermined order. When followed correctly, it enables us to grow and develop that important ability to walk.
The bad news is, this order can get disrupted by certain congenital development difficulties or in our modern world, by new gadgets and expectations. Sometimes, babies are not given the space and time to explore and move. Instead they are exposed to the appeal of television, gadgets and electronic toys. Increasingly, children are becoming more adroit with their fingers – to swipe, touch, tap or press buttons – than they are with their other limbs!
How often do you hear one say, “She’s so clever, she started walking at a very early age, without crawling!”? Baby supplies stores are stocked with varieties of walkers, assisted belts and handles that are aimed at hastening children’s ability to walk. Parents, innocently and with good intentions, are propping up their babies to sit or walk before they begin crawling. What’s the price to pay for such supposed advancements?
Opening up neurological pathways
If we follow the natural developmental order, every new discovery and movement – such as learning about their toes and then moving them – turns on a switch our baby’s neurological wiring pathways. What this means is that the act of moving is also a brain development exercise, and a highly crucial one at that.
Visualize the body, its nerves, blood vessels, muscles and organs as a network of complex highways. When a baby is learning to move, he is opening up roads to enable traffic flow – roads that would otherwise have been built, but not utilised.
As parents, we need to nurture, support and create an environment that is conducive for our children to embark on their journey towards a healthy movement development.
Here are four ways you can help and encourage your infant to move, without skipping crucial steps:
Allocate a spacious area for them to move around freely. Ensure that the space is free of things that could be harmful to them (such as sharp corners and fragile items).
Get down to it
When playing with your baby, lower yourself to the floor so that you are on the same eye level. Interact with them in different positions – on their backs, lying on their sides and on their stomachs.
Keep toys at a safe distance
Do not place their toys within arm’s reach or bring the toys to them. Let them work through their body to move towards the toys while you observe.
Give it time
Allow your baby plenty of floor time, away from gadgets, seating aids, swings, walkers and bouncers.
By Amy Tan
Amy is a movement therapist and educator passionate about living with nature. Since becoming a mother, she left the city for a free-range farm life in the jungle where she raises her two children. Her jungle family life was featured on the documentary series, Living Free with Kimi Werner on National Geographic.