Crossing the centre line

Neil Farmer | October 2017

In order for children to become physically balanced individuals they need to cross the “centre line”, the line that runs down the middle of their bodies. Observations of children painting will tell you if this is happening, happened, or yet to happen. You might well note that children in your setting, when painting, will hold the brush in the left hand and paint to the middle of the paper; they then move the brush to the right hand and continue. The reason for this is very simple, they cannot yet make a line that carries them from one side of the paper to the other, and they have not crossed that middle line. The synapses in the brain have not yet connected.

A very useful exercise to assist children in crossing this middle line is the “lazy 8”. A lazy 8 I hear you cry, what on earth is a lazy 8? Well it is exactly what it says it is, an 8 on its side.

a lazy 8 is a numeral 8 lying on its side

This is a great little activity to  assist children in getting across the middle line and can be carried out anywhere in your setting – on the finger-painting table, on the floor or on the wall. I used to have lazy 8 shapes all over my classrooms when I was teaching. On the wall I would have a large piece of paper, two foot prints at the centre of the 8 and some thick markers so the children could trace the shape. They would start in the middle and go up to the right, always keeping the pen on the paper or the finger in the paint so it was a single continuous movement. It is an incredibly therapeutic and relaxing activity and children would spend ages going over the 8 – constantly crossing that middle line.

You can also do this with children by standing in front of them and saying “Follow my finger with your eyes and don’t move your head”. You would then start at the nose and draw a lazy 8 in the air to gauge whether children can follow the finger across both sides of the body. Some will be able to do this, others will have to refocus when you come back to the middle and will invariably start to follow your finger with their head, not their eyes. Children will not be able to read or write until they have crossed this middle line.

a boy mark making with chalk on an easel

So if they cannot – get them outside and climbing and balancing. Through your observations and knowledge of the children in your school/setting you may have picked up on what I term the “bumbly” children. These children are almost always boys. You can spot them a mile away. They:

  • Cannot walk across the setting without touching surfaces on the way – they do this in order to anchor themselves in the space. To put it bluntly they do not know where they are, they do not know the extremities of their bodies or where they are in space.
  • Sit on children at group times or knock them out of the way at the sand and water trays – they literally cannot see them and calculate how their own body mass will fit into the space provided.

a boy balancing on a playframe with  a teachers help

These boys require our help and urgently. Children are not dismissive by nature but you will find that these bumbly boys will become socially ostracised by their peers who do not want to be sat on or squashed so they move away. The affect this has on emotional well-being and self-image is devastating. They become the outsiders of the group, the solitary children, later to be found in the primary playground sitting on the “friendship bench”. And to think that for many boys this is a daily occurrence in their formative pre-school and school years.

So when you are looking at provision and interactions, put yourself in the shoes of those young boys in your setting and ask:

  • Do I have a positive self-image? No
  • Do I have a close group of friends? No
  • Do I enjoy myself and join in? No
  • Do I feel lonely and awkward? Yes
  • Do I like coming here? No

Bearing in mind that boys physically develop later than girls, it is imperative that we get them moving so that any developmental gap may be bridged, so that we have boys with a positive self-image, and a can-do feeling about themselves as capable, creative and confident learners.

3 children playing with outlast outdoor blocks

From Getting it right for boys by Neil Farmer, pages 40–42, published with permission of the author.

Physical Development
All ages
Professional development