"Usually we look for crawling at eight to 10 months," says Nancy Le Ray, a developmental specialist with the Thom Pentucket Area Early Intervention program based in West Newbury, Massachusetts, who worked with my daughter from March to October of 2008. There's always a range," she adds. "But a year is a definite marker."
Le Ray began to work with Josie in our home once a week for an hour in March. When she came for our first session, I wasn't sure if we would focus on crawling or walking. Part of me hoped we were going to skip the crawling part and that, in a few visits, Le Ray would somehow teach Josie how to walk, catching her up with her peers. But there was no doubt in Le Ray's mind. We were going to do things right. This baby was going to crawl.
And so began my gross motor development education. Why was insisting on the crawling stage the right way to do things? "Walking is all the baby needs to be an adult," says Le Ray. "But babies who don't crawl have missed the whole piece of building upper body strength that comes from crawling." Crawling allows babies to develop central core stability that's important for activities later in life, from learning to write to playing sports—hockey, gymnastics—that require upper body strength. "Occupational therapists will say they can go into a roomful of kindergarteners and pick out which ones never crawled," says Le Ray. That stability, she told me, moves from the central core through the shoulders and upper arms and into the lower arms and hands—from the center of the body out. In the beginning non-crawlers might have a little more trouble forming those first letters, but it's also possible that later they'll fatigue more easily than their peers when the little blue books come out at exam time. "If you miss that development you will see bits and pieces of it over the years," says Le Ray.
In her work with Josie, Le Ray showed us how to help Josie feel comfortable and supported getting into a crawling position. She showed us how to encourage her to move toward an enticing object while we held her belly off the floor. We learned to turn her hips if she started to scoot forward on her bottom. Once she was ready to push herself into a standing position from a low stool or a lap, we worked on strengthening her leg muscles. We learned to toss her up in the air or "airplane" her through space so she'd feel comfortable when she wasn't supported by the ground. By June, Josie had started crawling. By September she was walking holding onto our hands or onto furniture, and by October she was an official walker.