These tips are provided for the Melissa & Doug blog by Cindy Utzinger, pediatric Occupational Therapist.
It probably comes as no surprise that you have two sides of your body; a right side and a left side. What may come as a surprise, though, is how important it is for the right side to be able to work in the left side of the body’s space and vice versa. Well, that may not be surprise but something you probably haven’t thought much about.
Picture an imaginary line drawn vertically, directly down the middle of your body, from the top of your head down to your toes. When one hand, foot, or eye crosses this line and moves in to the space owned by the other hand, foot, or eye, we call this crossing midline.
By the age of 3 or 4 we want to see that a child has mastered this ability to cross midline. Being able to do so develops as a child develops bilateral coordination skills. What I mean by bilateral coordination skills is that a child learns to use their “worker hand” (or stronger hand) and their “helper hand” (or assistant hand) together in a coordinated way. Think about cutting with scissors, tying shoes, stringing beads, and the hand doing the writing while the other hand holds the paper. These are all examples of the “worker hand” and “helper hand” working together in a coordinated way.
Bilateral coordination isn’t just important for the arms and hands either; climbing stairs, riding a bike, crawling, and reading from left to right all require the right and left sides of our body to work together in a coordinated way. As children develop this ability to use the two sides of their bodies together, they spontaneously develop the ability to cross midline.
Crossing midline is important not only for scratching an itch on your right elbow with your left hand, but also because it helps to get the right and left sides of the brain talking to each other. This communication between the two sides of the brain is necessary for the development of various motor and cognitive skills, as well as, visual skills. When children struggle with this it can lead to problems in areas such as reading, writing, motor coordination, establishing a dominant hand, and completing self-care activities.
Let me give you some fun ways to help your child develop the ability to cross midline:
- Scoop sand or water- Let your child play with sand or water scooping it from a bucket that is on one side of them and placing it in a bucket on the other side of them without switching hands.
- Pop bubbles- Encourage your child to do this using only one hand which will require them to reach across their body.
- Windmills- Have your child stand with feet spread apart. Have them reach down and touch their right foot with their left hand. Come back to full stand and then have them reach down to touch left foot with their right hand. This can be modified to be done in sitting, as well.
- Floor or table top activities- Place things such as puzzle pieces or blocks on one side of your child either on the floor or table and have them complete the activity on the opposite side.
- Draw large figure 8’s - Children can do this on the shower wall with a paint brush, a chalkboard, dry erase board, on an art easel, on the floor with a paper roll, or in the air with their finger. Have your child draw or trace a figure 8 (an 8 or infinity sign that is lying on its side) over and over. They can even use a match box car to go around the “8” track.
- Play flashlight tag- While you and your child lay on your backs in a dark or dim room, shine your flashlight around on the ceiling or walls having them “chase” your light with theirs.
- Right brain /left brain activities- These can be as simple as having your child touch their left knee with their right hand and then right knee with their left hand 20 times (or touch their toes with their opposite hand or knee with their opposite elbow).
Thank you for taking the time to read my post. If you like what you read and would be interested in more tips and tricks to help you during the adventure of raising kids, I would love for you to sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter. When you do, you will receive 50 free tips to help your children learn to spell (and have fun while doing so). Then, just in time for summer, the next newsletter issue will give you tips to help you stay sane this summer with children home from school and some long hot days.
Cindy Utzinger is a pediatric Occupational Therapist, handwriting tutor, and founder of Building Write Foundations LLC. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and two young children (a son and a daughter). In her free time she can be found running through the streets of her neighborhood to get some exercise or enjoying time on the lake with family and friends. Through her website (www.cindyutzinger.com) she provides parents, teachers, and caregivers with information regarding the importance of building each and every child’s sensory foundation and provides ways to help build their sensory foundation and their foundation for learning. Through her website she also blogs and tackles issues dealing with handwriting problems, ADD/ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and diagnoses on the autism spectrum.