As adults, we do many daily activities with little thought. For example, writing or reaching over to put on a seatbelt becomes second nature over time. However, the practice, development, coordination, and brain communication necessary to execute these tasks begin as young as just a few months old. The skill required to carry out these activities is called crossing the midline and is integral to a child's growth and development.
In this article, we'll discuss what crossing the midline is, why it's important, and what activities help toward development of this important skill.
What is crossing the midline?
Crossing the midline is a motor skill that involves moving the arms or legs across the body's midline, or the imaginary vertical line that divides the body in half, to perform gross and fine motor activities. The skill requires bilateral integration, where the right and left sides of the brain work together to tell the body to use both sides in a coordinated manner. For example, a child crosses the midline when they use their right hand to reach over and pick up a book on their left side or when they turn the page of a book.
Before children develop this ability, they usually engage in tasks using just one side of their body. They may have a hand they favor and prefer to use to carry out most of their activities. However, as they grow, they often naturally develop the ability to cross the midline as they become more aware of their bodies through everyday movements. For example, a baby may cross the midline as early as four months when playing with their rattle.
They'll continue regularly crossing the midline as they reach new milestones, such as crawling, scooting, rolling over, reaching for and playing with toys, and eventually self-feeding. These physical developmental milestones are vital to tracking a child's growth and development.
Why is crossing the midline important?
Crossing the midline is the beginning of children establishing independence and interacting with their environment. It's integral to pre-writing, pre-reading, social-emotional, gross, and fine motor skills, as well as cognitive development and dominant-hand establishment. In addition, bilateral integration, or the ability to use both sides of the body simultaneously, is instrumental in children's daily movements and actions, such as walking, playing catch, getting dressed, and more.
When a child can't cross the midline physically or visually, it may indicate more advanced issues and may slow progress toward reaching various milestones. For example, it's possible that the two sides of the child’s brain aren't communicating, leading to future learning and quality movement issues. This can impact their visual tracking, which leads to trouble reading, writing, and performing independent tasks, as well as problems with playing sports and executing motor coordination. If they can't master this skill, children may experience struggles in other areas, such as:
- Delayed crawling (or skipping this stage entirely)
- Difficulty with or constantly switching objects between hands
- Trouble using both hands to play
- Poor handwriting and coloring skills
- Problems with skipping and doing jumping jacks
Crossing the midline activities
When children reach formal-schooling age, they've likely established which hand is dominant and preferred for tasks, such as writing, coloring, and cutting. Additionally, they have developed the ability to use tools such as pencils, crayons, and scissors. Incorporating crossing the midline activities in your lesson plans can help further strengthen their coordination and movement. Here are some fun and easy activities to consider:
- Playing catch and kickball allows children to practice using both hands and feet equally.
- Playing instruments such as shaking maracas or hitting a tambourine helps children cross the midline.
- Playing with blocks helps children develop midline awareness at a young age and develop core strength and shoulder stability.
- Sorting activities are great for working on math and crossing the midline by sorting objects into separate piles on their left and right sides.
- Clapping games such as "Miss Mary Mack" are more than just a fun way to help children cross the midline; they also help them establish rhythm and hand/eye coordination.
- Playing “Simon says” is an excellent game for helping children develop various skills. For example, it encourages children to improve their coordination and active listening skills.
- Using these fitness exercise cards will urge children to get active and perform movements that cross the midline regularly.
- Completing craft activities such as painting, drawing, and threading beads.
- Erasing the chalk or dry-erase board encourages a range of movements across the midline.
With a tool like brightwheel's lesson plan feature, you can create custom childcare lesson plans that meet the needs of your children and program. Additionally, you can log your observations to track how children are performing against the milestones related to their age group.
Help your children cross the midline
Children are constantly learning, growing, and progressing; crossing the midline is just one of the first steps to fully interacting with their peers and environment. By helping children develop this skill and observing and tracking their progress, you get a good overview of where they are and can notice if they need additional help. There are several ways to make developing midline crossing skills engaging and easy for your preschoolers. Feel free to get creative and have fun as you work with the children to become stronger in performing crossing the midline activities.