"Crossing the midline" is an important developmental milestone that most children master by the age of 3 to 4 years old—and refers to the ability to move one hand, foot, or eye into the space of the other hand, foot or eye. We cross the midline when we cross our arms or legs, scratch our arm, and as we read from left to right.
Crossing the midline of your body is not something you think about as an adult, but as a toddler it helps build powerful pathways in the brain that support various motor and cognitive skills, as well as concentration.
Children who have difficultly crossing the body's midline often experience trouble with skills such as reading, writing, completing self-care tasks, and participating in sports or physical activities. For example, in a child with underdeveloped bilateral skills will read from left to right but their eyes will stop at the midline to refocus, causing them to lose their place or train of thought. Likewise, they may stop when writing and switch hand to complete the page (often appearing ambidextrous).
Developing bilateral skills and gaining the necessary coordination that comes from experience with "cross-lateral motion," can be fun and engaging for toddlers and preschoolers. Below are several fun exercises to help them "cross the midline."
- Catching a Ball. Have the thrower stand to one side so the catcher must turn their upper body to catch and throw the ball. Do this activity on both sides.
- Pop bubbles with only one hand, requiring them to reach across their body to pop the bubbles.
- Reach for bean bags on one side of the midline and throw into a basket on the other.
- Object relays. Line kids up sitting cross legged or on knees. Pass an object such as a ball down the line so that children have to turn across their midline to take and pass the ball.
- Figure Eights. Draw large figure eights in a sandbox, chalkboard, or using shaving cream in the bath. Drive a toy car around a large figure eight pattern.
- Scooping activities that take a material/object from one side of the body to the other (using only one hand).
- Play flashlight tag. In a dimmed room, lie on your backs and have the child follow your flashlight beam projected on the wall with his/her own flashlight.
- Seated Ball Pass. Sit back-to-back and pass a ball to each other— passing the ball on one side, turning, and then passing it on the other side.
- Exercise touching the opposite elbow and knee.
- Do "grapevine" walks, crossing one foot over the other while walking sideways.
- Knee-Slap exercises. Walk or skip raising each knee while touching/slapping it with the opposite hand (or elbow).
- Shoulder-to-Shoulder. Have your child stand shoulder width a part and then have them cross their right arm to their left shoulder and back again, alternating arms.
- Throwing at a target. In this game, the child is seated, and throws across their midline to a target with the dominant hand, being careful not to rise their lower half off the ground.
- Windmills. The child should stand with feet spread apart and arms extended out to the sides. Bend over at waist and tap right hand to left foot. Stand back up and then bend and tap left hand to right foot.
- Leg Kicks. A better for older children with better balance... ask them to stand shoulder width apart in that small area. Have them put their hands on their hips and then extend their left leg over the right side of their body, crossing the midline. Then have them try the other leg over the other side of the body.
- Wash the car, making sure to use arm movements that cross the midline while scrubbing.
What it teaches:
Gross motor skills
Pre-reading and -writing skills
Benefits to listening and concentration abilities