What does it mean to cross the midline?
Think of an imaginary line extending from the top of your head down the centre of your body. This is the midline – which theoretically separates the left and right side of the body.
To be able to cross the midline is a developmental milestone and means that a child can move their eyes, arms and legs from one side of the midline (L or R) to the other side of the body.
These skills begin in infancy as the child reaches and grasps with a dominant hand to an object of desire which may be placed on the opposite side of the body and is usually consolidated as a skill by the age of 4 and fully matured around the age of 8.
Why is crossing the midline important?
Crossing the midline involves the coordination and communication of both the right and left sides of the brain. This ability is important not only for aspects of every day life such as putting on shoes and socks, brushing and putting up hair, pulling on pants and washing the body but also for the participation in physical activity.
How does crossing the midline assist with school work?
Being able to spontaneously cross the midline also helps children to develop hand dominance which is an important pre-requisite for success once the child begins formal schooling.
Continual practice with one hand in the early years helps children to refine their fine motor skills, hand and finger strength and manual dexterity. Conversely, children who are reluctant to cross the midline and change hands mid task are developing mixed dominance which means that both hands are functioning, but weaker than having one strong hand preference. It also means that when it comes to fine motor tasks such as cutting and pasting – that extra time is used in deciding which hand to use – trying to cut while changing hands mid task is also likely to result in poor execution as right handed scissors do not cut efficiently when transferred to the left hand.
Using the eyes to track from left to right across the page for reading and writing skills is also important for flow and fluency – difficulty with eye tracking across the midline may be evident by a child using excessive head movements rather than following the words with just their eyes. Similarly, with handwriting skills, some children will take up excessive desk space by needing to have their page extended right over to the side of their writing hand rather than being placed in the middle of the desk and crossing the page with the hand.
Signs of children having difficulty crossing the midline.
* If children stop mid action and swaps hands rather than using the dominant hand to cross the midline.
* Uses the left hand for tasks on the left side of the body and right hand for tasks on right side of the body.
* Has difficulty tracking text from one side of the page to the other.
* Has poor pencil skills and avoids these types of activities.
6 Activity ideas to promote crossing the midline
- Household Chores – Sweeping the floors, wiping down benches or tables, washing windows, washing dishes and dusting all involve big movements which cross the midline. Small children can practice with the dust pan and brush, a small dusting cloth and the responsibility to dust low lying furniture, perhaps helping with washing up some plastic items then transferring them from the soapy water onto the drying rack. This is a win win situation – you get help around the house while at the same time helping your children to develop this important skill.
2. Animal Fun Activity #77 Miss Mary Mack Hand Clapping Game – remember these? Not only great for encouraging crossing the midline but also a fantastic social interaction where the child learns patience, cooperation, repeated practice makes perfect, has lots of laughs, develops sequencing skills and activates working memory. Check out YouTube for the actions if you have forgotten how. A great idea to send home for parents: Learn a hand-clapping game with their child and put it up on YouTube to share with family and friends.
3. Animal Fun Activity #80 Bed Bugs
This is a motor control activity which also involves crossing the midline – carefully move the bugs into and out of the beds. Extend the activity by perhaps making your own little beds out of match boxes which you can cover with coloured paper, pull apart some cotton wool (also finger strengthening exercise) to act as the soft bedding that the bugs will hide in. Use tweezers to remove the bugs from the bed and put them into another small container on the opposite side of the dominant hand.
4. Shaving Cream Finger Painting – spread some shaving cream on a table and encourage the child to draw big circles and lines from one side of the table to the other, or you can draw an infinity symbol (figure 8 laying on its side) and children could trace the pattern with their dominant hand – all of which involves crossing the midline and is a fun sensory experience to boot! (Just be careful they don’t put messy fingers near their eyes as the shaving cream may sting).
5. Washing Toys – as we are all being encouraged to practice extra hygiene – why not get the children helping out? Toys can be washed in baby baths or large plastic containers, squirting in some detergent from a bottle with two hands, giving the toys a good scrub then transferring the clean toys to another container ready for drying.
6. Get your dancing shoes on and punch out some moves – check out Tik Tok for inspiration. Children can be encouraged to choreograph a dance sequence to their favourite tune and perform a little concert for the family.