Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Crawling to Victory

The stronger and more coordinated your child's body, the easier it will be for him in school and in life.  The ability to sit and attend is made so much easier when the child has a stable base of support.

Crawling, which typically occurs when the child is about six or seven months old, is a critical stage in a child's development.  The action of crawling, among other things, sets up the pelvis for walking, strengthens the spine, shoulders, neck, and arms, integrates the two halves of the brain and the body to coordinate together, fine tunes vision and perception, and separates the thumb out of the palm, so that it can work strongly and independently for fine motor control.  Children who don't crawl, but go directly to upright, or who have unusual patterns of mobility such as habitually scooting on their backs or bottoms, are at risk for problems later on.

Many of the children I treat for sensory processing issues have not crawled at all, but have gone directly to standing and walking.  Thus they skip developmental stages that are crucial to the integration of the central nervous system.  They don't acquire age appropriate strength, coordination, and balance as a result, and it affects their ability to function at school and in life.

It is possible to replicate these activities which are so necessary to the child's neurological development, even after the child has long since outgrown them.  By incorporating games into his day that require him to crawl, play on all fours, or use his arms and legs against resistance, you can give your child a better foundation for learning.

You can try playing some of these games to supplement your child's occupational therapy program.  Here are some things I do with children when I don't have suspended equipment to work with:

Set up a couple of collapsible tunnels  into a little obstacle course.  You can drape them over piled up couch cushions or rolled up blankets to make it more challenging. {If you have room at home, you can buy a big bag of foam scraps for cheap at a futon store, which you can place in an inexpensive comforter cover, and use that.}  Put puzzle pieces inside for the child to retrieve and put together, or have the child play Superman and rescue toys or animals that are trapped inside.

 Have the child push objects, like a medicine ball or a large stuffed animal, through the tunnel.

Hold up one end of a length of tube fabric and have the child crawl through while pushing a large ball in front of him.  You can tie a knot in one end of the fabric and fill the resulting bag with colorful balls for the child to crawl through.  Hide things among them for the child to find.  This is a great sensory activity.

Set up a race track on the floor in a figure eight pattern and have the child race a car along the track on his hands and knees.

Give the child piggy back rides and don't hold on to  him.  Force him to grip you with his arms and legs.  Put some music on and dance. Lean to one side and the other, forward and back, and spin around.  Keep track of how long he can hang on and always try to beat the last record.  I stop counting the moment I feel his legs start to let go.

If you're strong enough, and the child is young enough,  have the child  lie on the floor on his back, wrap his arms and legs around a very sturdy stick {a French pin is ideal for this} and see if you can lift him up as he hangs on.  I call this "Marsupial."  "Extreme Marsupial" is having the child hang on while you swing the broomstick.  {Do this over a couch or some cushions.}

Play leapfrog.

Take turns pretending you're a series of four legged animals, and mimic their actions  in the forest or in the jungle while going about their day: hunting other animals, hiding, eating, playing/fighting, walking about.

Have family plank contests, sit up contests and push up contests.

Make up games that involve getting down on the floor on hands and knees, like rescuing animals from under furniture. Set up obstacle courses that require the child to crawl under and around chairs and tables.  Have the child balance an object on his back while crawling through the obstacle course, and see how long he can keep it there.

Play memory match game on the floor.  Spread the cards out wide so that you have to crawl to get them.

Have the child grip a large ball between his arms and legs and try to pull it away from him.  See if he can get strong enough so that you can actually lift him up along with the ball. {Don't do this if you think you can't do it safely.  It requires excellent body mechanics.}

Get down on the floor and wrestle.  Keep it low to the ground.  Let him pin you, but make him work hard for it.

Wheelbarrow walk:  Pick up your child's legs, and have him walk across the floor on his hands.

Pretend you are soldiers in the jungle and have to crawl on your bellies through the brush.  Have the child rescue stuffed animals and bring them back to base camp.  Or have belly crawling races.

The old fashioned game of marbles, which is played on all fours, is superb for developing hand eye coordination and sportsmanship.  The video in the link shows the children flicking marbles into a hole in the floor, but if you don't have a hole in your floor, you can make a circle out of string instead.  Tiddly winks is also a good game to be played on the floor.

Added bonus:  crawling is very good for bad backs.  I have had several parents tell me that their sore backs felt great after crawling with their children!

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