If you spend any time at all reading about physical development, it won’t be long before you bump into the phrase ‘cross-lateral’ movement. There are plenty of technical words within physical development literature, just as there are in any other sphere of life. This is just one of them. And to make it more confusing cross-lateral, cross-sided, and contra-lateral are all different ways of saying the same thing.
It’s one of the ways we organise our limbs
Think of your body as having a line down the middle - your spine - and limbs on either side of that centre line.
Every time you reach one of your limbs across the centre to the other side, that's cross- lateral movement.
A completed walking or running pattern will use cross-lateral organisation; so will a completed crawl or bear walk. Limbs on opposite sides of the body work together - the left arm swings forward with the right leg and visa versa.
And in every day life, as a child reaches across their body to pick up a toy, sitting or standing, that is cross-lateral organisation as well.
The capacity for cross-lateral organisation is a fundamental part of a flowing, easy range of movement. Often when we use descriptions like ‘well coordinated’, ‘flowing movement’, ‘graceful’ this one of the things we are noticing, even though we don’t realise it. And when we set targets like ‘good co-ordination’ it’s one of the things that children will need in order to achieve that target.
If we stop short of developing cross-lateral movement in our body (and many of us do) we are likely to feel a bit stiff and stuck in our movement, we might call ourselves clumsy. We may even say that we have ‘two left feet’ as the saying goes.
An unfolding process
We are not born with the capacity for cross-lateral movement, but given lots of opportunity babies and children will create movement play that will help them to gradually build it - from day one. Being on a firm, flat surface like an inviting floor, rather than in seats, is tremendously helpful to this process.
It affects brain and body
Now think of your brain as having two halves with a connecting highway in between. As bodies move in different ways they build neural pathways - or connections - within the brain and nervous system.
Cross-lateral movement creates connections from one side of the brain to the other, across that connecting highway, building the bridge between the two halves of the brain and creating the capacity for ever more complex sensory processing, complex movement and complex thinking to happen.
So cross-lateral movement play not only helps our flowing movement, but also supports the way our eyes work together, our ability to write across a page and our ability to use all of our brain together - noticing, thinking and feeling all at the same time.
But cross-lateral movement it is not something we can teach.
It is a capacity not a learnt skill.
It has to be found - built - in the body through lots of opportunity and play.
(If you can’t pat your head and rub your tummy, no amount of someone showing you how to do it will make it happen. You need to play it into action in other ways …)
So go back to your children and see if you can see cross-lateral organisation in action. Notice children who are not using cross-lateral movement (look out for little robots who seem a bit rigid, or un-coordinated in their body and see if this might be part of the reason for that).
And notice children who crave lots of floor play, as well as other kinds of movement, and see if they might be putting in great developmental work towards building this cross-lateral capacity.