26 Jan, 2014

Nursery Equipment: Cross – Laterality – Side to side

26 May 2012  written by Annette Rawstrone published by Nursery World

Alternating actions on either sides of the body, like drumming or riding a wheeled toy, need to be encouraged. Annette Rawstrone explains why.

Alternating actions on either side of the body, known as cross-lateral movements, encourage connections between the two hemispheres of the brain and help the limbs, eyes and ears to work together across the body.

Even in utero babies are starting to establish important core links between brain development, learning and movement through cross-lateral movements. Newborn babies change position in a cross-lateral way and these side to side movements continue throughout early childhood with such seemingly simple actions as babies reaching over their bodies, stretching and rolling, then eventually crawling and walking, establishing the foundations for later skills.

Movement play specialist Penny Greenland, director of Jabadao, explains, ‘Cross-lateral is simply one of many interlinked movement patterns. It’s underpinned by five other patterns and is about connecting the body. A baby’s task is to inhabit its body, connecting the core of the body to the edges, upper and lower. Cross-lateral is the diagonal connections in the body that give access to three-dimensional movement.’

Cross-lateral movements assist a child’s development through:

  • integration of the two halves of the brain’s motor cortex – the mind/body connection
  • the left hemisphere of the brain working with the right hemisphere
  • understanding we have two sides of our bodies and how to co-ordinate them
  • spatial awareness
  • eye/hand co-ordination
  • fluidity of movement.

Cross-lateral connections are also thought to be important for problem-solving, higher-level thinking and memory skills.


While this cross-lateral process is part of a naturally unfolding sequence, there are lots of factors that can get in the way, including children spending too much time strapped into prams or constrained in car seats – ‘bucket babies’. This is thought to lead to developmental delays.

Educator and trainer Dr Lala Manners says, ‘There is growing evidence that children are arriving at school and nursery without the skills needed to hold a pencil, and there is a huge rise in the numbers of children who have difficulty accessing linear alphabetic script and therefore the English language curriculum. Whether this is because of a lack of cross-laterality or not no-one actually knows. Literacy problems are linked to brain functioning, but we don’t know how it works. The good news is that, from a practical level, physical development will be one of the three priorities of the EYFS as of September.’

She recommends ‘tummy time’ for babies and then keeping children as close to the floor as possible for as long as possible. ‘This is not only easy but also safe,’ she says. ‘It is very good for upper body strength which children really need and actually it’s fun too. They can spend time on their tummies commando crawling or on their hands and knees.’

Sally Goddard Blythe, consultant in neuro-developmental education, also recommends equipment and activities that require the use of one hand or foot at a time. ‘However, there are also developmental stages at which balance on one leg, for example, can be expected, so children should not be forced into using one side of the body over the other until they have mastered other skills such as balance and postural control which support independent use of one side of the body,’ she cautions.

Crawling, reaching, twisting, kicking, climbing, hopping, cycling are all actions that involve using both sides of the body at once and should be incorporated into the nursery day. Rather than have areas stuffed with furniture and toys, think about what equipment is necessary and how floor space can be cleared for children of all ages to use in the ways they wish, both indoors and outside.



Think about creating interesting environments for children of all ages to explore on the floor – consider providing different textures to crawl on and roll over from soft carpet, to tickly grass, rough sand and smooth surfaces. Reflections on Learning has a 2m Outdoor Play Mat (£200) which comes in waterproof fabric in four bright colours.

Lie or sit babies on a comfortable surface and put enticing toys around them to let them reach for and move towards, instead of simply passing them. Allowing babies to physically problem-solve encourages cross-lateral movement. Get older children onto the ground by clearing away tables and putting large jigsaws and books on the floor to explore.

Provide loose materials, such as cardboard boxes and tubes to climb or crawl into – consider Cosy’s resources – and build make-shift assault courses with cushions to clamber over, tunnels to crawl through and table legs to manoeuvre around. Recommended tunnels include:

  • Pop up tunnel, TTS Group, £24.95
  • Zig Zag Tunnel, NES Arnold, £34.95
  • Nylon Tunnel, Reflections on Learning, £32.99.

Many children will enjoy being down on the floor if they have a variety of hand-held and push-along vehicles. Those that look like real-life vehicles are often popular, or consider generic vehicles that can be adapted according to the child’s interests and can transport objects around, for example Community Playthings’ wooden Small Flatbed Truck £43, Reflections on Learning’s chunky Stacking Construction Vehicles (£14.99 for a set of three), as well as the Car and Tow Truck (£19.20) from Mindstretchers.

Wheeled toys

Some settings are cautious of having wheeled toys because they can dominate the outdoor space, but not only are they fun and a great life skill but they also stimulate lots of areas. Early years consultant Jan White explains, ‘Bikes encourage balance (vestibular), body awareness (proprioceptive) and cross-lateral through the push and pull motion needed to push on the pedals and pull on the handles and steer.

‘They’re great for cross-lateral because they use two sides of the body. There’s a natural progression from toddler ride-upons to balance bikes and then pedal bikes.’

Balance bikes do not have stabilisers or pedals but can help children to develop the co-ordination for cycling and learn how to balance and steer.

It is best to have a carefully zoned area for wheeled toys and, if they are in demand, introduce a simple turn-taking system such as a sand timer. Toys to consider include:

Ride on toys

  • Push me-Pull me, suitable for two- to three-year-olds, Community Playthings, £110
  • Scuttlebug, suitable from one-years-old, priced from around £22.99, available from Amazon
  • Wheely Bugs, suitable from one years old, from around £36


  • Mini Micro Scooter, suitable from two years old, £49.95
  • Scooter, Reflections on Learning, £31.99

Balance bikes

  • Balance Bike, £105.50, Wesco
  • Kiddi Moto balance bikes, start at £59.99
  • My First Balance Bike, suitable from two-and-a-half-years-old, Reflections on Learning
  • The Stryder PREbike suitable for oneto five-year-olds, starts at £84.99

Music and movement

There are plenty of opportunities for cross-lateral movements during music and movement sessions, or in free play with musical instruments. Beating bongos, a drum with a pair of drum sticks or playing hand bells can involve this side to side action – tryMusical Bells (£24.99 from Reflections on Learning.)

Rhythm games, such as patting songs and drumming on the floor with hands and feet, can be adapted into a ‘follow the leader’ game. Use rhythm sticks to bash on the floor and show children how to use flexibility to pat around their sides, behind themselves and criss cross.

Children use cross-lateral movements as they dance and swirl around items such as brightly coloured scarves, ribbons and streamers – available from companies including Reflections on Learning, NES Arnold and TTS Group – and use them to move through space with both hands, in a circle, spiral or zig-zag pattern. These are all early pre-writing skills.


Enable children to paint on a large scale indoors and outside with big movements, circles and zig-zags. Also use toys such as cars dipped in paint to make tracks, or try kicking and dribbling wet or dirty balls and seeing what patterns they make.

Encourage children to reach and stretch and make wide gestures with their hands during sand play or in shaving foam.



  • Anna Daly, community dance artist, facilitator and trainer specialising in movement play and full bodied learning,
  • Sally Goddard Blythe, consultant in neuro-developmental education and author of The Well Balanced Child (Hawthorn Press), www.sallygoddardblythe.co.uk


Toddler room

‘There’s always a lot of rolling, crawling and slithering going on in our toddler room,’ says room leader Julie Austin. ‘We have got a very good soft play area where the children love to roll around in the ball pool and crawl under and through a pair of soft rollers that we call the “wringers”. They also enjoy crawling through a big cobweb.

‘We have fun dancing with scarves and streamers and parachutes, both indoors and outside. The children like to crawl and play racing games under the parachutes. We’ve recently enjoyed a topic on animals and the children were moving down the long corridor on all fours like elephants, giraffes and their other favourite animals.

‘We also put blankets and scarves over low tables to create dens. There’s paper taped on the underside of the tables for children to lie on their backs and draw on and they like to lie in the dens on their tummies and look at books with torches.’

Pre-school room

I attended a course recently on the revised EYFS and much was made of encouraging the children to roll, crawl, stretch up high and spend time on their stomachs. It made me more conscious of getting children down on the floor. It also made me realise how much cross-lateral movement is already involved in their everyday play,’ comments pre-school leader Lorraine Fulton.

‘Not all children like to sit during story time so we are happy for them to lie down and roll around or stretch. We find that messy play activities like shaving foam encourage big sweeping movements with both arms and they enjoy writing and making shapes. In our music sessions children put a lot of effort into drumming, tapping tambourines and banging rhythm sticks. They also like expressing themselves by dancing with scarves.

‘The children are especially active outside on the play track – pedalling on bikes, pushing wheeled toys and playing on two and three-wheeled scooters and balance bikes.

‘Climbing up ladders and climbing frames also encourages cross-lateral movement and they have fun crawling and walking backwards and forwards on balance beams. In the builder’s yard there’s lots of digging and brushing with big brooms and the children get into all sorts of positions as they manoeuvre and carry planks together.’

Published by Nursery World and available to subscribers in their extensive archive of past publications.