Crawling is typically the first means of locomotion that babies learn and master. By the time a child begins preschool, however, walking is probably his main mode of getting from point A to point B. Still, crawling plays an important role in a preschooler’s development.
Crawling helps with trunk strength. Preschool is likely a child’s first opportunity to learn to sit still for any length of time. Though those periods are typically much shorter than will be asked of a child in kindergarten or elementary school, sitting in preschool is vital to prepare them for longer periods of sitting during their approaching school years. It is common for preschoolers to wiggle a lot during these times of sitting, and we usually chalk it up to limited attention span. That is partially true, but another reason it is difficult for them to sit still is because their trunk strength is still developing. It may be simply uncomfortable for a child to sit up straight for more than brief periods. Crawling helps strengthen a child’s core muscles, those muscles that stabilize the shoulders, girdle, spine, and pelvis. If these core muscles are not developed well, a child may have difficulty sitting upright at a desk because the muscles will fatigue easily.
Crawling is a gross motor skill that helps develop fine motor skills. When a child has a stable trunk and is able to sit, his hands are then free to practice desktop skills, such as writing and cutting. When the foundation is strong, more can be built upon it. This trunk stability makes the shoulders and arms stronger, which is necessary to strengthen the wrists and fingers. The development of all of these components is vital to master fine motor skills that require finger strength.
Crawling gives the brain a workout. It requires that the child use alternating sides of the body at the same time (right arm/left leg and left arm/right leg), which is important to brain development. The movement of crawling helps to increase communication between the two sides of the brain. In order to have the physical coordination that crawling requires, the two sides of the brain are forced to communicate, strengthening pathways that link the brain. Building and strengthening these pathways is important for young children because as they learn to read and write, crossing between the two sides of the brain is required to move smoothly from one side of the paper to the other.
There are a variety of activities that encourage crawling in preschool. At Square Roots Preschool, we play in the following ways:
• Floor activities: We set out a variety of activities on mats on the floor. Children crawl around the mats to access different aspects of the activity, and since the activities are placed close together, the students often crawl between activities.
• Tunnels: Crawl-through tunnels are inviting and fun. They require that children crawl to get from one end to another. A cardboard box “obstacle course” or “fort” works well, too.
• Make-believe: Preschool-aged children love to pretend to be animals. This activity often demands crawling on all fours.
It’s amazing that one activity can do so much for physical and cognitive development. Crawl on, preschoolers!