In part two in this series, I made some observations about movement being the foundation for attention and focus; about movement being the foundation of learning and about movement leading to being comfortable in the body and therefore giving the child the ability to be comfortable in the world. Every movement is one that involves not only the motor system, but all of the sensory systems (mainstream sources consider five senses, Waldorf Education considers twelve senses and neurologic research considers hundreds). Rolling, for example, is a motor experience that can involve a high degree of pelvic movement and weight shifting on a motor level, but also a sensory one where the visual, vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile systems are highly engaged. Obviously cognition and motivation play a part as well.
We always wonder about children who skip developmental stages that are considered normal or “neurotypical”. I did mention before, and it deserves mention again, that each child has a unique footprint to his or her own movement patterns, and asked readers to consider just the simple act of getting from laying on your stomach to sitting on the edge of your bed; it can be done in many different ways!
However, what if whole stages are skipped? One of my readers brought up her child who never really rolled well from being on the back to another position, and other readers have brought up children who skipped crawling.
These are questions with answers that must be observed carefully from within the child with the background question in one’s mind of “what does this developmental stage or action offer to the child?” and by observing what the child is doing in a holistic way and with love and interest.
Part of a way to look at this means asking ourselves, “What does the child gain by rolling (or by crawling on all fours or whatever the activity is)? What is the child gaining by the way the child is doing this now?” Again, I have mentioned in previous posts that some children come with special gifts and will not progress through these typical stages and whatever they experience out of a developmental sequence can be beneficial for them where they are functioning upon this earth.
I would like to address a few points particularly about rolling and crawling. Rolling is one of the motor skills that is actually one of the most variable – some children roll a lot, some roll a little, and whilst we take it for granted here in the United States that children will roll back to stomach first, there have been some studies pointing out that children in other cultures roll stomach to back first (for example, see the 2004 Developmental Medical Child Neurology study of children in Hong Kong). There are also many studies looking at the correlation between birth weight, and higher versus lower weight at certain ages and later or earlier rolling. Again, I think we have to look at what occurs in rolling, what systems are engaged when we roll, as I mentioned briefly above in the first paragraph, and what happens for the child as the result of rolling. A physical therapist would look at the quality of rolling, and especially with interest at the mid-point of rolling - the dynamic sidelying position as the transition point with an elongated weight- bearing side and the non-weight bearing contracted side.
For crawling, many things have to be in place, including such things as lower extremities that can separate, adequate strength, thoracic spine mobility, and the development of a diagonal pattern of muscle activation trunk which then becomes a precursor to more subtle postural control. When babies crawl, they also are frequently carrying toys, which is very important for the development of hand control, forearm supination and shoulder external rotation.
There is so much debate about crawling; some say babies in certain cultures never crawl and are not delayed in any substantial way. On the flip side, there was a study out of the United Kingdom that looked at a large population of 15,000 school aged children that found the children who did not crawl by nine months suffered decreased school performance at the age of five. Many specialists who believe that retained primitive reflexes badly affect development for school performance talk about how crawling is the most important developmental milestone to develop hand arches, visual tracking, and yes, later attention and focus and academic success in sequencing, handwriting and math. I have often thought from my own experience in working with babies that a weaker trunk and retained primitive reflexes were often the cause of an infant not crawling to begin with, and not a result of not crawling. (Sort of a chicken and egg argument going on amongst early childhood professionals).
I have searched Pub Med, which categorizes studies from medical journals, with many different terms (crawling academic performance, crawling ADHD, not crawling effects, etc and many more ways!) and could find no studies from peer-reviewed journals correlating crawling and academic performance. ( The one I mentioned above from the UK I was unable to find on Pub Med either).
Crawling in the traditional alternating pattern has benefits. The benefits include laying the foundation for subtle postural reactions, part of strengthening muscles within a developmental progression, helps develop visual-perceptual skills, helps develop hand-eye coordination, helps develop bilateral integration and integration of the left and right sides of the brain, stimulates the vestibular system for balance reactions, provides sensory stimulation through the hands and knees and other tactile sensations, helps develop the arches of the hand. Many of these benefits are listed in articles around the Internet and easily accessed. I have seen children who did not crawl or who crawled with an unusual pattern who did have academic problems. Either way, a child who has a weaker trunk could support a need for the adult to be a loving observer and see if a child has less physical support through the trunk for attention in sitting, for handwriting and other academic vision, and for speech. Again, this is certainly not an across the board thing that automatically happens if a child doesn’t crawl, but rather just an observation regarding some children who had these challenges in school and who also didn’t crawl.