As part of my job, I run an Occupational Therapy type program (and I use the term loosely) that allows students to develop their fine and gross motor skills and we also do lots of ‘crossing the midline’ (an imaginary line down the body) activities which encourage cognitive development in children. These days children spend a lot of their time indoors, usually attached to a device, research shows that if children aren’t given opportunities to run, skip, walk, hop, jump, roll, spin, swing and generally run around, they are at a higher risk of developing cognitively slower than their peers that are given ample opportunities to participate in these gross motor activities.
I remember as a child my brothers and I would do the ‘rub your belly pat your head’ – turns out that trick actually increases brain development! By working our limbs oppositely our brains cross our midline and increase brain function. Can your child touch their knee with their opposite hand? My brothers and I also used to play ‘wheelbarrows’ – turns out this activity is also a great one to encourage cross midline stimulations, as well as building upper body strength – two for the price of one! What about simple skipping? I have an aunty who is well into her 80’s, 5 foot nothing and about the same width, for the last forty years (probably longer) she has skipped 100 turns of the skipping rope every day; she says it keeps her brain active – turns out she was right! The simple act of skipping involves co-ordination of all our limbs, our brain has to get our arms to turn whilst also getting our bodies to jump – quite a feat when you think about it.
We all need cross the midline to be successful at tasks like writing and reading, but we also need to engage successfully in everyday activities that involve crossing the midline, think of the simple act of getting dressed and brushing hair. Babies who don’t learn to crawl often experience midline difficulties as they come into their toddler years and beyond. Difficulty crossing the midline may result in no particular dominant hand therefore causing issues when beginning writing, as the child will have two less skilled hands, as opposed to one dominant hand. When reading children who have difficulty crossing the midline may also experience difficulties when tracking text as they tend to stop in the middle of the text and refocus across to the other half of the page, which may result in delayed reading.
Brain research is constantly new and updated and always exciting. When I was younger you were considered to be clever if you were ambidextrous, current research shows this not to be the case – I wonder if ongoing research will change this thought again? We don’t know what we don’t know.
As well as all this positive brain research to encourage kids to play outside, let’s just get them outside, playing, running, chasing, hitting (balls, not each other) breathing in the fresh air – let them play, let them get muddy, let them fall over and scratch their knee. By bubble wrapping our kids we are doing more harm than good.