Growing up, the story of me learning to walk was one I loved hearing my mum retell. I felt strangely proud when she would recount how
my parents could leave me on top of a table and comfortably know that I wouldn’t move an inch.
The story goes that one week after my first birthday, she saw movement from the corner of her eye and realised to her surprise that I had just walked past her from one room into the next. As a child, when hearing that story, I figured that I was just so smart that I didn’t bother with crawling and learnt how to walk by watching adults. Now, I look back on the story a little differently!
Criss-cross crawling is actually an extremely important developmental stage for not only our muscles, but also our brain.
In essence, rolling, sitting up, rocking on all fours, crawling and eventually walking are all automatic movements that our body is essentially hardwired to do. If we don’t follow the pattern, because there is something inhibiting us, then as we grow, our brain will end up finding ways to compensate for the development we missed out on.
Criss-cross crawling is when the child crawls on all fours, moving the opposite arm and knee in conjunction.
Why is criss-cross crawling so important?
- Develops and strengthens the cross connections across the brain (corpus callosum). The corpus callosum are the band of nerve fibres that join your left and right hemispheres. Crawling facilities the balanced development of these fibres so that your two hemispheres can communicate.
Learning and communication challenges, focus difficulties and speech and language delays, are just some of the challenges that can be the result of disconnection between the left and right hemispheres.
- Binocular vision: (when crawling, your little one is constantly looking down (so the objects are close to him – near vision) and then up again (objects are further in the distance – far vision). By doing so – they are strengthening their space and depth perception. If this hasn’t fully developed, then the child may struggle in the classroom – It will take their eyes longer to adjust when looking at the board and then down again at their paper. I am married to an optometrist, who sees lots of children and even adults with poor binocular vision, who have to rely on eye exercises, prismatic spectacles and sometimes even surgery to help correct their poor binocular vision.
- Physical strengthening – crawling strengthens the lower back in preparation for walking in the upright position. It also strengthens the muscles in their legs, arms and hands.
It was only until I came across RMT that I my childhood made so much more sense to me.
As much as I practised racket sports, my hand-eye co-ordination was always slightly off and the tennis ball would always zoom ever so slightly past my racket. I could never swing across the monkey bars (whereas everyone else made it look so easy!), and although in school I spent a ridiculous number of lunch times having to practise my cursive handwriting, it just never improved! I was academically bright, but struggled with concentration and procrastination… I was always the kid ‘who had the potential but wasn’t utilizing it’!
Looking back, these challenges are all things we tend to accept as part of the persons’ personality. Even though I wasn’t an awful student, I found schooling and growing up difficult, but it wasn’t something I could express. My parents just put it down to me not working hard enough (totally true – but I just couldn’t seem to sit still for long enough – cramming last minute was more my style) and I just put it down to ‘that’s who I am’. I honestly tried to sit and work for hours at a time, and felt like a failure because I just couldn’t digest the information.
Turns out that I justed need my left and right brain to work well enough together to help me process information.
This doesn’t have to be the case for every child and it doesn’t have to be the case for adults who are still struggling. RMT movements tap into the brain and help to strengthen the neural connections that are still weak due to the lack of crawling.
A few games that you/ your child can get started on right away:
- Row, row, row your boat (sit with your legs out in front of you and have your child sit opposite, with their legs out and their feet touching yours. Reach out and hold hands in front of your bodies and begin to alternately push and pull so that your upper bodies rock forward and backward with each motion, like they’re rowing a boat.
- Cycling in pairs (lay down on your backs and have the soles of your feet touching your child’s. Perform a cycling movement back and forth.)
- Bottom walking (on the floor sit on your bottom, with your legs out in front of you and your arms out on either side. Try to ‘walk’ on your bottom to the other side of the room and back again.
The most important thing you can do to help your baby’s development is to start tummy time from the time they’re born. First on mum or dad’s chest and then plenty of floor time (flat on the floor – no need for a pillow). They’re never too young for tummy time! Start with a minute or two a day and gradually build it up. There’s so much going on in the brain when we’re doing tummy time…but I’ll save that for another blog post!