The Importance of Children Crossing the Midline

What is the midline?  

The midline is an imaginary line that runs down the body, separating it in half vertically from head to toe therefore dividing the body into right and left halves.   By the age of 3 or 4 years old, a child should have mastered the bilateral skill (using both sides of the body together) called “crossing the midline”. This is the ability to move one hand, foot, or eye into the space of the other hand, foot or eye.

Why is the midline important?  

Crossing the midline of your body helps build pathways in the brain and is an important prerequisite skill required for the development of various motor and cognitive skills. Children who have difficultly crossing the body’s midline often have trouble with skills such as reading, writing, completing self care skills and participating in physical activities. These skills require a type of coordination that comes from experience with “cross-lateral motion,” which is movement involving the left arm and right leg, or the right arm and left leg at the same time.
What do I do to develop this skill?  To help develop efficient crossing of the midline, provide children with a variety of two-handed (bilateral) activities. Try some of the below activities to help build more pathways in the brain and to develop the ability to cross the midline, improve coordination, and improve overall functional performance on a daily basis.  

  • Pop bubbles or batting balloons with only one hand (they will have to reach across their body to pop the bubbles floating on the opposite side).
  • Reach for bean bags, balls, stuffed animals, or other objects across midline, then throwing at a target.
  • Use sand, sawdust or rice play and encourage scooping from one side of the body and putting it into a bucket on the opposite side of the body without switching hands.
  • Give your child items on different sides of their body from a young age to encourage them to use both hands. For example; their spoon at meal times, pen/pencils when drawing etc.
  • Touch the opposite elbow and knee. Play “Copy Cats” or “Simon Says” to model different actions.
  • Self care skills such as putting socks and shoes on.

Coordinating both sides of the body can be difficult for the child who avoids crossing midline. Often, these children have not yet established a hand preference, sometimes using their left and sometimes using their right to draw, colour, write, eat, and throw. 
There are many daily activities that can become immersed into the child’s routine. “Grapevine” walk from outside to the bathroom, skip from washing hands to the table for lunch. Encourage toddlers to do action songs with music and use scarves and instruments to promote movements on both sides of the body.