Why Do Babies Learn to Crawl Before They Walk?
Babies walk or dance before they crawl actually, well sort of, you’ll see.
Babies are amazing little creatures. They are very different from adults and should be treated as such. They aren’t born as blank slates, though; a lot of things are innate, and a lot of things are learned. And boy can they learn—not just by watching others do things, but also by experimenting. There’s a reason why early developmental psychologists called them "little scientists." They will form strategies on their own, test them out, and choose the best one.
We’ll focus on walking for now.
Newborns come fully equipped with a stepping reflex. If you happen to have a newborn at your disposal you can try it out (but support the head). By dragging them a bit over a surface, the feeling of their feet/soles touching will initiate a stepping reflex, it looks like they’re walking. (Don’t let go though, they are definitely not ready to stand on their own yet and will fall down.)
The reflex tends to be present for the first two months, sometimes returning right before they start to walk. It’s thought that the reflex helps to train the muscles and motor nerves. The reason why it disappears is thought to be because the legs become too heavy, the muscles grow faster than their strength. Basically, they become too chubby and the reflex doesn’t work anymore.
In a way, they are born with the ability to walk or dance (it differs a bit from baby to baby), but then lose it again because they grow so fast.
There are a lot more interesting and fun baby reflexes, like swimming and grasping, but that’s for another answer.
That brings us to toddlers and locomotion: Many parents will attest they looked forward to their baby being able to move on their own, and as soon as they did they missed the times the little bugger would stay put.
Infants can be very motivated, which is where the little scientist pops up. Having toys or anything interesting looking sitting around is very tempting. Kids love touching things, they explore, and they really want to go there… But how…
Should they wait for the big person to either bring them there or bring the shiny to them? No, of course not. They can move now—so off they go!
They will experiment and explore a lot of different ways of getting around. A very popular one is scooting. They are laying there (they’re good at that), but they want to be elsewhere. Almost all children will solve this conundrum by pulling or pushing themselves using their hands [and] scooting or shuffling across the floor. A popular and funny variation is scooting on their bums. If they can sit, they’ll prefer to sit and just use their arms and legs to push themselves around.
It’s not uncommon for children to be in this stage until they learn how to walk. It really is a matter of what works best for them.
Crawling is merely a more advanced version of scooting. Their legs become stronger and they are able to control them better. They will happen upon crawling by trial and error, and find that it can bring them from Point A to Point B faster than scooting.
The logic is simple to follow: I want to go over there, crawling works best, so crawling it is.
Strategy use is very common in children, you see it in many aspects. They will try out new things, compare it to old things, and decide on whatever works best. In the case of crawling it’s mostly about speed. But as I said before, not all kids crawl. For some scooting works best, and they’ll use it until they learn how to walk.
It’s also not strange to see them use different strategies, sometimes crawling, sometimes scooting. Usually this occurs when they are learning and experimenting with new strategies.
Children don’t need examples to learn, they are very capable on their own. They will try and discover things like the small scientists they are.
Crawling is one of those things. They don’t need to see it, they discover it, realize it works better than what they had before, and start using it more and more until something better (like walking) comes along.
This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.