Bringing Your Child's Two Brains Together

One directed activity that I encourage in our music classes is crossing the mid-line, where a limb on one side of our body crosses to the other side of our body to tap or touch something. (That’s our “crisscross!” tapping in a nutshell.) It is not just a music-specific activity—it encourages all sorts of developments in your growing child—but using this activity with music enhances its value and effectiveness. (And can be silly and fun.)

Background: At birth, one of your child’s Big Projects is wiring together the left and right hemispheres of her brain (the Two Brains!). We are in oversimplification mode here, but basically a young brain’s internal “parts” build all those connecting neurons and neuroffs and whatevers that make adult brains so miraculous (and perplexing). Typically, one side of the brain becomes the dominant side (which is good), and there is mirrored in this asymmetry the development of one hand becoming the dominant hand (also good). Once this dominance is secured (roughly speaking, about ready-for-school age) then the brain—and hands—are ready to take on sophisticated tasks—like figuring out and entering Daddy’s passcode into his smartphone and deleting all the boring texts that aren’t sprinkled with emojis. In the meantime, your child’s brain(s) and hands are, shall we say, clumsy at doing and thinking. After all, we’re talking infants and toddlers here.

Doing “cross-midline” movements is tough for a toddler, it’s awkward. It’s easier, say, for a toddler to draw with a crayon on the left side of a paper (or wall!) with his left hand and then pass the crayon to the right hand to draw on the right side. Or just not draw on the right side at all! (As opposed to just reaching over to the opposite side of the paper with the same hand, as one would expect a grade-schooler would do.) Eventually, your child will get all this dominance hierarchy squared away and master basic bilateral coordination and then be able to do things like button a shirt, catch a ball, use tableware (um, the way a grown-up would expect it to be used), ride a bicycle, type Daddy’s passcode, in short, to do all those basic activities we adults take for granted. Then on to more sophisticated skills such as reading, swinging a baseball bat (and connecting with the ball), playing a musical instrument, typing while composing what to type inside one’s mind, getting to a new computer game high score, in short, all those advanced activities we adults do that make life worthwhile.

Any clapping or tapping during a song can be modified to encourage back-and-forth movement, which brings the hands and feet across that midline, and thusly encourages that important development—which is going on internally (connecting brain hemispheres) and externally (improving body/limb coordination) in tandem. We sometimes crisscross in class, but make sure you try it at home as well! One-on-one with your child, you’ll find all sorts of lateral music games to play. With some of our more sophisticated (for an infant, for a toddler) class instruments, such as the triangle/striker combo and the tone bell/mallet pairs, we suggest the concept of midline crossing to our young music-makers. At a more basic level, using the blue rhythm sticks in class (which could be two old wooden spoons as home, just sayin’) is very effective because they extend a child’s reach so that he or she can cross-over (sticks striking each other) without actually crossing over (hands)—the sticks point toward the future possibility of where the hands can go as coordination advances and the midline is breached.

Haha, while composing this letter, I reminisced that one midline crossing encouragement that we adults had as children, has been taken away from our children—shoes with shoelaces! It takes two (hands) to tango with lace-up shoes—and one hand must cross the midline to get to the opposite foot—which is why toddlers (of yesteryear) found them so discouraging but also so rewarding when finally mastered. Oh well, thank goodness we still have the triangles and strikers!