You may have heard the expression “crossing the midline” but most people are unaware of the importance of this imaginary line. Liz Hodgman investigates.

What is the midline?

We all have an imaginary line that runs down the middle of our body. If we are to be able to co-ordinate the two sides of our body effectively then we need to learn to cross this midline.

Why is it important?

Being unable to cross one’s midline can have serious implications for a one’s development. It can impact on reading and writing, speech development, rhythm and gross physical movements, eg climbing the stairs. Some researchers believe that it can impact on decision-making in later life and organisational skills.

Each side of our brain works the opposite side of our body, so our left hand side of our body is governed by the right hand side of our brain, and the right hand side of the body is governed by the left hand side of our brain.

In order to be able to do activities that involve using both sides of our body together (bilateral activities), we need to be able to use both sides of our brain, and they need to work together. This means that learning to “cross the midline” of our body is vitally important in the development of our bilateral co-ordination. As children become more able to cross their midline, they become more skilled and there is bilateral integration. There is integration of the two sides of their bodies and they have developed an ability to co-ordinate their hands.

If children are experiencing difficulties with bilateral integration, then they may experience confusion when given instructions or directions, especially if they have little time to think through their actions, eg in a classroom environment.

If left unsupported, children will learn to compensate, and this can have a further impact. A child will not learn to specialise with his or her actions and people may think he or she is ambidextrous, as the child uses both hands to undertake skills on each side of his or her body. This lack of specialisation can lead to problems with developing speech and writing, as neither side of the child’s body becomes strong.

Crossing the midline also supports the development of a child’s trunk rotation. Children can have poor core stability and move stiffly if they are unable to cross that midline.

Supporting this development within a provision

As with all good practice, start by observing the children within your care. Watch them to see if they are crossing their midline. For example, is a baby sitting on the floor able to reach across its body with its right hand to pick up a toy on its left side? Or does the baby pick it up with its left hand, bring the item to its midline and then take it with its right hand?

Does a child move his or her body so that the child’s right hand can pick up an item rather than moving across his or her body to pick it up? This is a bit like a child who has yet to master the backhand learning to play tennis, so the child runs around the ball to hit a forehand.

Observe an older child climbing the ladder on a slide: is the child able to move his or her left hand up as he or she moves the right leg up or is that child moving those limbs one at a time?

Observe a child when mark making. Does he or she mark with one hand and hold the paper with the other? Are children able to write/draw/mark across the page crossing their midline or do they move the paper so it is all in front of their mark making hand?

Occupational therapists and music therapists use crossing the midline activities to support children with special needs and for those that have experienced trauma, but they are great for improving all children’s development.

Here are just a few activities that are commonly used with therapists and can easily be done with children in a provision or at home.

Lazy 8s

These can be done using a whiteboard or chalkboard, or even a wall outside. Position the child in the centre and encourage the child to put one hand on the wall or board, and use the other hand to mark out the lazy eight (this is a figure 8 laying on its side). Support the child to draw the lazy eight by crossing over his or her midline rather than moving his or her body. Once the child has done the lazy eight, give the child a brush or sponge to rub it out. Ask the child to hold it with both hands and to move it in all directions. This will help with crossing the midline and getting children to co-ordinate their arms together.

Back-to-back passing

Sit children back to back and give them a ball. They need to pass the ball to each other around their bodies using alternate arms. So the child reaches the left arm across his or her body to take the ball from the right, transfer it to the right hand and then pass across the child’s body to pass the ball back to the other child on his or her left side.

Picking imaginary fruit

Ask the children to put their imaginary fruit basket on their right arm and then ask them to reach for fruit in the trees, pick it and place in their basket. Encourage them to pick fruit from high on their left and right side of the body. This will encourage active crossing of their midline. The activity can be repeated moving the basket to their other arm.

Using shaving foam

Similar to the Lazy 8s, use shaving foam either on a wall or on a flat surface. Encourage the child to make shapes in the foam using both hands, one on top of the other, moving across that midline.

Passing

Use circle times to pass items of interest around the children and encourage them to pass the item across their bodies rather than swapping hands at the midline.

Other things to do

Plan a session on crossing the midline with your staff team. Explain the importance of the midline and discuss ideas on how you could include activities within the provision. You could watch some clips (for example, “the Right, Left Song” on Youtube ) or google “Bilateral Integration — Occupational therapy”. There are lots of clips with ideas for activities for children of all ages, one to one or in groups.

You could start each of your staff meetings off with a couple of new midline activities to get everyone active and learning a new activity to do with the children.

Observe the children and plan activities for all children within the group, but add in additional support for the children where there are concerns regarding their development.

Share your observations on the children with parents and give them ideas on how they can do simple activities at home to support their child’s development. There are some useful fact sheets you can download from the web to share with parents.

Crossing the midline links to the following areas of learning from the EYFS.

  • Physical Development — Moving and Handling, Health and Self-care.

  • Communication and Language — Listening and Attention Understanding Speaking.

  • Literacy — Reading and Writing.

  • Expressive Arts and Design — Exploring and Using Media and Materials, and Being Imaginative.

Last reviewed 2 September 2015