Category Archives: BELLY CRAWLING

tips for baby motor skill development: belly crawling


Madison Masters MULTIPLE Milestones!

baby tummy-time

A few months ago we watched Madison learn to lift her head.  Her mother practiced with her for about 10 minutes a day. Gradually her strength increased to where she could hold her head up for long periods of time.  Madison first learned tummy time and then she gradually strengthened her neck and back muscles through daily practice of short intervals, no more than 10 minutes twice a day, of lifting her head.  Eventually she could spend many more minutes in tummy time.  After a few weeks of skill development with “lifting the head,” she began to learn the next motor milestone of rolling. During one of her Stellar Caterpillar lessons, she learned to turn from her back to her belly and from her belly to her back.  After practicing that at home for several days, she began rolling through the house!


What follows the developmental milestones of lifting the head and rolling?  Belly crawling!  Madison demonstrates the preparation for belly crawling by bending her left knee and leg so she can push off of the floor and scoot forward. This is the skill we focused on during today’s Stellar Caterpillar lesson.  How does Madison need to move her body to prepare for belly crawling?  She needs to lift up one side of the pelvis so the leg on that side becomes lighter in weight and the hip joint is free to bend. This drags up the leg and bends the knee.  In the photo above, Madison lifted the left side of her pelvis to bend the left hip joint and drag up the left leg.


Most of the skills Madison has learned were built from the tummy time position.  This is where she learned lifting the head.  She developed strong neck and back muscles as well as upper body strength.  When reaching for and grasping toys in this position, she strengthens her upper body because she supports her weight with only one arm while the other one is busy playing with the toy.  She learned to move her legs and pelvis in order to roll.  When a baby masters tummy time, she prepares to conquer more milestones and become a true stellar caterpillar!



When I arrived at Rochel’s home today to give her a lesson, her mother proudly showed a mess of toys on the floor.  “Look,” she said.  “I left this out to show you.  Rochel did this all on her own, just now.  She has been playing here for the last forty-five minutes.  I am so proud of her!”  I looked down and saw Rochel looking up at me mid-pull of another toy off the lower bookshelf.  She was smiling!  Toys surrounded her while she examined how to open and close the top of her latest acquisition.  There should be a motor milestone called “pulling all the toys off the shelf.”  This “milestone” represents movement that is the preparation for crawling and is motivated by both curiosity and determination.

It is important to remember that Rochel learned the Z-sit position two weeks ago.  From one position, baby uses the Z-sit to transition to another position, allowing for more movement.  Prior to the Z-sit, Rochel was static in one position.  Now she is very comfortable with the Z-sit and uses it to explore the world a bit more.  She has figured out how to get something beyond her immediate reach, and she feels quite victorious!  At the end of Rochel’s lesson today, I reminded her mother to put the toys very close to her yet out of her reach so she will move to get to them.  The location is critical.  The toys should not be so far away that she thinks it is impossible for her to get them, because she will not crawl. If they are close enough to her, or she is close enough to them, her curiosity drives her to the place of determined movement and she will crawl that small distance.  She knows she can do it.  She knows the toys are attainable.  She tries and succeeds!



See Zizu zoom!

Enjoy this photo essay of a baby tummy crawling for the first time!


Zizu begins with a few moments of proprioception.


Oops! Scoot! Maybe I can reach my favorite toy!


WOW! I can move toward something I want!


Hands off! I am going for the rattle!


She moved it! I can get it!


Congratulations Zizu! You are a stellar caterpillar!

Zizu learned how to crawl through first experiencing proprioception of her hip joints and legs, and then connecting to the “push-off” of the floor with her ankle and foot to propel her forward.  After practicing these skills for a while she learned the alternating coordination of right-left-right-left, contralateral coordination, also used in hand-and-knees crawling and walking.  Then all she needed to achieve this motor milestone was practice and a little bit of rhythm and speed, then Zizu began to zoom across the floor!



Zizu learns to scoot!

baby-crawling-motor-milestonesbaby-crawling-motor-milestonesbaby-crawling-motor-milestonesThe two most familiar motor milestones for infants are crawling and walking.  Every parent seems eager to see their baby crawl, and they ask, “When do babies crawl?.”  What I explain to the parents is that a “stellar caterpillar” goes through every stage of motor development, spending enough time in each phase to strengthen and lengthen muscles and develop the neuron pathways in the brain.  Babies learn to crawl when they have developed the skills that precede crawling.  Ideally, a baby will learn kicking, rolling, and lifting the head before crawling.  These motor skills strengthen the muscles of the legs, back, and arms, which are essential to crawling.  The earliest version of crawling is called “combat crawling,” or “belly crawling,” or “creeping.”  This refers to the motor skill of the infant lying on the ground with her tummy touching the floor while moving forward in space.  This is an important motor milestone teaching baby to move forward by pushing against the ground with her feet, one at a time.  It also teaches the same coordination that is used in hands-and-knees crawling as well as in walking.  We will examine this coordination more in-depth in a later post.  For now, let’s examine how Zizu learned to push off of the floor and scoot forward.  This scoot is the preparation for belly crawling.

While Zizu was laying on her stomach entranced with the bell inside a rattle, I put my hands on her pelvis at the hip joint (where the thigh meets the hip socket).  Very slowly and gently I lifted the right hip joint away from the floor (in the direction of the ceiling) and then the left hip joint away from the floor.  I continued this for a couple of minutes, alternating right hip-left hip-right hip-left hip, etc.  My hands help develop her proprioception, her ability to feel this part of her body moving.  Developing proprioception is the first step toward learning to move a part of the body on her own.  Lifting the hip joint also shifts the weight.  As you lift her right hip up, her weight shifts to the left a little bit and vice versa.

As I lift her right hip joint up, and her weight shifts to the left, her right leg becomes less heavy against the floor. Then I can bend it up toward her right shoulder.  Take a look at the middle photo above.  After bending the knee, I gently press her right foot and ankle into the floor and hold it there so she can feel the increased contact with the floor. After a few moments a reflex is triggered  causing her to push her foot even more into the floor.  Oops!  What happened?  She scooted forward!  What a surprise!  This is repeated on the left side, and then we continue to alternate right, left, right, left.  After many days of working with this skill, the scoot begins to happen more quickly, which leads to the development of belly crawling.  Think of belly crawling as a faster, rhythmic version of the scoot.  So, the answer to “When do babies learn to crawl?” is “After they learn to scoot!”