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Why is Bilateral Coordination so Important for Accessing Learning and Academics?

If you have had experience working with an Occupational Therapist you will know that we emphasize and support bilateral coordination in every therapy session!

In this weeks blog we discuss how bilateral coordination movements support brain growth and the importance this milestone is to accessing cognitive/academic learning skills.

What Is Bilateral Coordination?

Bilateral means "both sides."

Bilateral coordination, also known as bilateral integration, is using both sides of the body, upper/lower and/or left/right body hemispheres, together in an activity. This type of movement includes most daily self-care skills ( dressing, showering, eating with utensils for example) and play activities ( running, jumping, riding a bike, scooter, throw and catching or kicking a ball).

How Does Bilateral Coordination support my Child’s brain development?

Brain development is like climbing a ladder. From utero our bodies are moving, and when we move we activate, create and grow neurological brain pathways. As we practice movement and start to refine body awareness, muscle control and coordination we climb higher and higher up our brain ladder, eventually reaching the top where our executive functioning; memory, problem solving, initiation, sequencing, organization and emotional regulation resides, skills important for positive and sustained learning.

One of the most important movements we need to master in order to reach the top of our brain ladder is Bilateral Coordination.

We have a right and left brain and Bilateral Coordination movements is what builds the bridge between the two brain hemispheres so they can communicate. In order for us to activate executive functioning and emotional regulation it is imperative we have a solid bridge that allows our left and right brains to work cohesively together.

Bilateral Coordination broken down:

Bilateral coordination can be broken down to symmetrical, reciprocal, and asymmetrical movements.

Symmetrical movements are when both hands and/or feet are performing the same motion. Examples include clapping, pull apart toys, and jumping. Both sides of the body are working together to perform the SAME motion.

Reciprocal movements include when the body differentiates both sides of the body using a rhythmical motion. This includes crawling, walking, riding a bike, and swimming.

Asymmetrical movements are very similar to reciprocal movements meaning both sides of the body are working together but both sides are performing separate tasks with one side leading and the other side supporting/assisting. This can be seen more so when performing activities using both your hands. For example, cutting paper, sewing, playing a musical instrument, and tying shoes are all great examples which demonstrate the importance of both hands working together -but each performing specialized sequences to complete the activity.

How can I support my child to strengthen Bilateral Coordination?

Here are some suggested games and exercises that you can engage in with your child to support Bilateral Coordination growth.

  • Bopping a balloon back and forth or popping bubbles with both hands

  • Tearing/crumpling tissue paper, cotton balls (create a craft, etc.)

  • Connecting/separating construction toys; magnetic blocks, Mega blocks, pop-beads, Legos

  • Playing catch/ throw games to encourage coordinating both hands

  • Playing with toy instruments; banging drums, triangle, symbols

  • Pinching, pulling, squeezing, play-doh (finding hidden objects, etc.); as well as using the play-doh “tools”

  • Stringing uncooked pasta on yarn or beads on pipe cleaners/ string

  • Snipping/ cutting with scissors- yarn, string licorice, play-doh, construction paper (thicker), coupons, etc.

  • Lacing activities/ games- i.e. use hole punchers with craft projects and have the child lace string/ yarn through the holes

  • Cooking and baking; mixing ingredients, measuring ingredients and pouring them into the bowl, frosting cookies

  • Climbing on the playground: up the slide (both the ladder and the incline), up/ down stairs, on/ off equipment

  • Obstacle courses

  • Playing on dynamic (moving) equipment- small trampoline, balance board, swings

  • Pushing/ pulling weighted objects; medicine balls, weighted carts, carrying grocery bags, laundry basket, taking out the trash, etc.

  • Sports/athletics: gymnastics, karate, yoga, wrestling, soccer, basketball, baseball, etc

  • Swimming

  • Wheelbarrow walking, animal walking (bear walk, crab walk, snake crawling)

Crossing Midline and its relation to Bilateral Coordination:

Crossing the midline is an integral skill related to bilateral coordination.

Crossing the midline refers to the ability to spontaneously cross over the midline of the body during motor completion/ functional tasks- moving one hand, foot, or eye into the space of the other hand, foot, or eye (i.e. sitting with legs crossed, scratching the opposite elbow, successfully intersecting lines to draw a cross- without switching hands, reading left to right, etc.). Babies and toddlers may use both hands equally and initiate picking up or interacting with an object with whichever hand is closer (i.e. if the item is on the left side of the table he will likely use the left hand, if it the object is on the right side, he will likely use the right hand). However, by 3-4 yrs. of age a child should typically have mastered the skill of “crossing midline.” Establishing hand dominance (a “worker hand” vs. a “helper hand”) is an indicator that the brain is maturing and lateralization is occurring- this is strongly correlated with the ability to smoothly complete Bilateral Coordination movements.

Children will develop these skills at different ages and rates so the most important reminder to remember is to have fun and move-move-move your bodies.

If you do observe your child does not engage both sides or seems to favor one side exclusively then it is important to contact your pediatrician or Shine for an assessment and guidance on how to support your child's growth.

We are the Team Around the Child and are happy to help !

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