The Importance of Bilateral Coordination on Physical and Cognitive Skills
The development of a child can be one of the most fascinating things to watch unfold. From infants mirroring movements to toddlers and children mastering high-level developmental skills, the growth they experience in a short time is astounding. And while all skills are important for children to master, bilateral coordination is an important prerequisite for the development of a variety of motor and cognitive skills.
Bilateral coordination is the ability to synchronize both sides of the body in a controlled manner. An important aspect of this is “crossing the midline.” This is a spontaneous movement and involves being able to cross an imaginary line that runs down the center of the body. It is key in doing simple things such as crossing your ankles and scratching your elbow and more complicated things such as writing and even driving.
Bilateral coordination is mostly developed through the corpus callosum, which is largely responsible for communicating messages from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. In the early months and years of life, babies and toddlers typically use both hands equally to pick up objects, depending on which is closer. Then around the age of 3 or 4, children have typically established a dominant hand and the skill of “crossing the midline” has been solidified.
A key component to the development of bilateral coordination is body awareness. This involves proprioception and refers to the ability to know where your body is in the environment without using your vision. The vestibular system also comes into play with the development of this since it is a factor of sensory integration. If these areas are underdeveloped, children may present with various difficulties.
When bilateral coordination is underdeveloped, children may have a processing issue in the brain. The two hemispheres of the brain may not be communicating effectively, resulting in clumsiness and struggles with daily living tasks involving both fine and gross motor skills. The ability to cross the midline is also necessary for visual tracking so reading and writing from one side of a paper to the other can be difficult as well as achieving other higher-level skills.
Activities involving jumping, obstacle courses, animal walks, and other drills that challenge using both sides of the body in opposing ways to develop bilateral coordination. As children get older, physical after-school programs, such as martial arts, dance and other sports, also solidify bilateral movement, helping to improve motor coordination and cognitive skills. The more parents learn and understand the science behind this, the more active they can be in nurturing their children to their full potential.