Crossing the Midline

What is crossing the midline?

Crossing the midline is an action in which a child spontaneously moves their hand or foot across the middle of their body to work on the opposite side. The midline is an imaginary vertical line that travels down the centre of the body, separating the right and left side. It represents the two sides of the brain. Before this skill develops, children will generally use one side of their body at a time. For example, picking up an item positioned on their right side by using their right hand.

Development occurs when each side of the brain is encouraged to communicate with the other. In turn, this allows children to reach across and complete a task on the opposite side of their body. This may involve a child picking up their spoon with their right hand despite it being positioned on the left side of their body or being able to draw across a page without having to switch their hands as the pencil is moved towards the opposite side of their body.

Why is crossing the midline important?

Crossing the midline is an important skill necessary for everyday tasks, particularly for:

  • The development of a dominant hand
  • Developing gross motor and fine motor skills
  • Increasing motor coordination
  • Discrimination of the right and left sides of the body
  • Bilateral coordination, which involves integrating movements from both sides of the body.

By swapping across two hands to complete fine motor or daily activities, a child is more likely to have difficulty refining their skills to establish a dominant hand. Without the use of a stronger, more skilled hand, a child may experience challenges at school. This relates to their handwriting skills, cutting skills and their ability to complete self-care tasks such as dressing and tying shoelaces.

Difficulty crossing the midline

Signs that may indicate if a child has trouble crossing the midline include:

  • Swapping utensils, pencils, and scissors between their hands during activities
  • Using only their right hand to pick up items on the right side of their body, or their left hand for items on the left side.
  • Rotating their upper body towards an object on their side, rather than reaching across their body.
  • Switching feet when kicking balls on the ground.
  • Have difficulty completing gross motor movements and controlling both sides of the body to create coordinated actions, such as star-jumps or skipping.

Skills involved to cross the midline:

  • Bilateral integration skills: the ability to incorporate and coordinate movements originating from either side of the body at the same time.
  • Motor planning: This skill involves understanding what action to do, planning how to carry this out, and then completing this movement.
  • Sequencing: understanding the order of steps needed to do an activity, and the ability to achieve this correctly.
  • Core strength and trunk stability: The muscles in the core and trunk help to stabilise the body to allow for controlled arm and leg movements.
  • Proprioception and body awareness: The information sent from muscles and joints to the brain help determine where the body is positioned within space.
  • Hand dominance: Establishing the dominance of only one hand/foot used encourages the development of refined motor control.

Activities to encourage crossing the midline:

  • Twister
  • Threading beads
  • Simon says
  • Popping bubbles
  • Throwing, catching, or kicking balls.
  • Yoga poses
  • Placing stickers on a page using the opposite hand to reach across
  • Completing a puzzle with the pieces placed on the opposite side
  • Craft activities which involve various steps such as threading, drawing, folding, cutting, or gluing
  • Practicing tying shoelaces
  • Hand clapping games
  • Drawing on vertical surfaces (whiteboards, easels or butcher’s paper stuck to the wall)
  • Drawing large pictures with chalk

Most of these activities involve full body movements of the arms and legs to reach across the body.

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