25 Jan, 2014

Positive Relationships: Home Learning – Roll On!

08 February 2013 written by Dr Lala Manners published by Nursery World

Rolling and crawling develop strength, stamina and co-ordination for physical activity. Lala Manners provides guidese for practitioners and parents.


Pre-walking travelling skills, such as crawling and rolling, underpin all physical disciplines. Communicating this important message to parents and providing suggestions on how to develop these skills will help young children develop the strength, speed, stamina and co-ordination needed to engage successfully in physical activity.


As well as building the essentials for engaging in physical activity, pre-walking skills also benefit a child’s social, emotional and overall physical development. More specifically:

Rolling activities stimulate the vestibular system (situated in the ear) that influences directly children’s balance. Rolling also affects development of the proprioceptive sense – essential to children’s relationship to their physical selves in space and ultimately the social skills necessary to operate effectively in a group.

Commando crawling is highly effective in building overall strength, particularly upper body strength. Practising this skill also helps stabilise the hip sockets, stimulates the pelvic area (necessary for on-time toilet training) and assists with the acquisition of essential eye skills linked to reading. Proprioceptive capabilities are also stimulated as heel to coccyx alignment is encouraged and children’s sense of their length and shape increases.

Crawling is probably the most important pre-walking travelling skill to be practised by children even when they have mastered more mature techniques. Some children never crawl and prefer to bottom-shuffle.

Crawling impacts on the development of a wide range of essential skills. Taking the weight of the upper body on their hands develops neck strength (important to hold the head in the correct position for reading/writing), eye-tracking and close focus is highlighted (also important for reading/writing), hemispheric functioning of the brain is stimulated (through the cross-lateral action of crawling) and the open posture of the hand demanded by this action has a direct relationship to writing skills.

Walking on knees is a very effective activity for promoting strength, balance and stamina. It may be performed individually or as a group and made more challenging by adding music or apparatus. But be careful with very young children as they are quite top-heavy and this technique demands a considerable level of balance to perform without toppling over.

Walking like a crab is a good technique to practise as it demands all over strength to perform competently.


Dispositions, temperaments, opportunities and levels of interest may vary widely among parents, and space and time may be at a premium for some families. Discuss as a team your own attitudes to physical activity and how best to motivate parents.


  • Pre-walking travelling skills are hugely important, bringing life-long benefits that extend far beyond the purely physical.
  • Ideally, children should be active as much as possible and ‘containerisation’ (in buggies, car seats, walking aids) and ‘screen-time’ (TV, computer, mobile phone) kept to a minimum.
  • Practising pre-walking skills does not require a large space or specialist equipment and may be organised easily without disruption.
  • Parents should join in with activities whenever possible – even if it is only providing ideas and equipment at the time.
  • Practising pre-walking skills once children can walk is important as these activities remain highly effective ways of promoting overall strength, balance and co-ordination.


Use the activities outlined opposite in your setting. And if you wish to extend them:

  • Encourage the children to vary their speed or direction
  • Provide a variety of surfaces (cushions, carpet, lino, grass)
  • Set ‘tasks’ – for example, crawling around a chair then back to you as fast as possible; lying on their tummies, then rolling on their backs when you signal to move
  • Set challenges – for example, rolling as fast as they can to a designated area with their legs together
  • Organise relay races – for example, one child (commando) crawls around an obstacle (table/chair) and back to the group, then the next child starts
  • Create obstacle courses for rolling – with bubblewrap and cushions
  • Add music – children move until music stops
  • Add balloons, for the children to bat as they crawl around the floor.


  • EYFS Best practice: Prime time … Physical Development.
  • A four-part guide to physical development.
  • The British Heart Foundation has just launched a set of seven Early Movers booklets, including Getting parents and carers involved. Visit www.bhfactive.org.uk.


As the parent of a young child, you’ll know what it feels like to be bombarded with guidelines about your child’s fitness.

But what is often forgotten in the midst of all this well-meaning advice is the importance of ‘pre-walking skills’, like rolling and crawling.


Most children, once they are able, will want to run, jump and climb. However, what the children will gain through practising the ‘pre-walking skills’ of rolling, crawling and creeping is:

  • overall body strength
  • better co-ordination
  • enhanced stamina, and
  • faster performance.

Pre-walking activities also boost a child’s brain development, confidence and willingness to persevere, while crawling, in particular, strengthens eye skills and hand-eye co-ordination – vital for reading and writing well.


Before you begin, make sure that you have enough space; that there are no sharp objects lurking on the floor; and that your child is dressed appropriately (trousers pulled up, dresses tucked in and shoes off is best).


Babies begin by waving their arms and legs quite randomly, then progress to catching their toes and putting them in their mouths. They then rock on their bottoms side to side, and finally roll from back to front. Try to give your baby every opportunity to practise these movements, preferably with legs free on a flat surface. Once your babies can roll on to their tummies without your help, they will begin to lift their heads and push up on their hands and arms.

If your child is older, then clear a space so they can practise rolling over and over – as they mature, they will be able to roll with straight arms and legs:

  • Place cushions on each side of the area so they have to change direction when they touch the obstacles
  • Place bubblewrap on the floor for your child to roll around on until they have popped all the bubbles
  • Encourage your child to roll fast and slowly. Which is harder?

Commando crawl

A commando crawl is lying on your tummy and using your arms to pull your body along. Babies begin their journey towards mastering this skill by lying on their tummies, lifting their heads and wiggling their limbs. So, place objects just beyond your baby’s range to encourage them to lift their heads, reach and grasp.

If your child is older, challenge them to lie on their tummies and commando crawl from A to B, around a table or over cushions. Or make a tunnel using chairs or a big cardboard box.


Challenge your child to:

  • go upstairs on their hands and knees, then slide down on their tummies. Make sure you stand at the bottom! Repeat as often as they can as this is great for building stamina
  • commando crawl as fast as they can around a table or under a chair. Join in by making a bridge with your body and asking them to crawl underneath
  • change direction and creep backwards or round and round
  • crawl over different surfaces.

Walking on knees

Walking on knees is fun and challenging for children from about two years onwards. Ask your child to try:

  • walking on their knees and touching different objects or surfaces
  • changing direction and moving backwards on their knees
  • turning around one way then the other
  • walking on their knees over a cushion – it’s very hard to balance
  • carrying a teddy or a ball.

Walking like a crab

Only encourage your child to walk on their hands and feet if you have enough space. If so, then ask them to:

  • get into position – with their weight on their hands and feet and their bottom in the air
  • move forwards and backwards
  • turn slowly
  • lift one foot then the other slowly -then one hand then the other
  • repeat all three tasks but start with tummies pointing upwards!


The message from experts is encourage your child to creep and crawl even after they’ve mastered more mature skills like skipping and hopping. The extra practice will mean they will learn other physical skills, faster and better. And always join in when you can.

Dr Lala Manners is a director of Activematters Ltd, which offers specialist training in Physical Development for all those working with young children in whatever capacity and in all settings


Published by Nursery World and available to subscribers in their extensive archive of past publications.