Boost Your Students’ Brain Development – Cross-Lateral Exercises for Children

Cross-lateral exercises are an essential part of physical development for children. These exercises involve movements that coordinate the body’s left and right sides, improving connections between the brain’s hemispheres. It’s a fantastic way to improve coordination and balance while promoting cognitive development, spatial awareness, and even better handwriting skills. Cross-lateral exercises are great for kids of all ages, and they can be incorporated into daily routines. In this post, we’ll explore why cross-lateral exercises are essential for children and give you some fun ideas on how to incorporate them into your child’s routine.

Cross-lateral exercises involve crossing the midline of the body and engaging both the left and the right hemispheres of the brain. The left hemisphere is responsible for logical and analytical thinking, while the right hemisphere is responsible for creativity and imagination.

Boost Your Students’ Brain Development – Cross-Lateral Exercises For Children Montessori Nature

Research has shown that cross-lateral exercises can help improve cognitive function, concentration, coordination, and memory retention in children. These exercises help to stimulate the brain, improve neural connections, and increase overall brain function. This can be particularly helpful for children who struggle with learning and academic performance.

In addition, cross-lateral exercises can also help to improve physical coordination and balance, which can be beneficial for children in sports and other physical activities. Overall, incorporating cross-lateral exercises into a child’s daily routine can have numerous benefits for their cognitive and physical development.

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The connection between movement and learning is one of the central topics among brain researchers and educators. Maria Montessori discovered this connection many years ago. She stated in “The Secret Of Childhood”:

“Movement, or physical activity, is thus an essential factor in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside. Through movement, we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas.”

She pointed out the connection between kinesthetic learning and physical interaction with the environment when children learn using hands-on materials and tools. There is constant movement within a Montessori environment.

The Montessori method emphasizes movement as an essential part of learning. Maria Montessori believed that movement and learning were interconnected and that movement could enhance a child’s ability to learn and understand concepts.

In Montessori classrooms, children are provided with a variety of opportunities for movement, such as moving furniture and materials on their own, walking around the room to get supplies, and participating in physical activities like dance, and sports. This allows children to interact with their environment and explore different learning concepts through hands-on experiences.

Movement also enhances brain function, as it stimulates the development of neural pathways that support learning. When children engage in physical activity, they increase blood flow and oxygenation to the brain, which can improve cognitive function and memory.

The Montessori philosophy also recognizes that every child is different and has unique learning styles, so movement activities are customized to meet each child’s needs. For example, children who learn best through visual stimulation may be exposed to more visual movement activities like art, while those who learn best through auditory stimulation may engage in music or sound-related activities.

In a Montessori classroom, children are encouraged to use their bodies to engage with the materials and the environment. For example, they might use their hands to manipulate objects, walk around the room to explore different areas, or engage in physical activities like dance or walking on the line. By using their bodies in this way, children are able to make connections between what they are learning and their own experiences, which helps to deepen their understanding and retention of knowledge.

In other words, the connection between movement and learning in Montessori is an integral part of the method. Movement enhances brain function, stimulates neural pathways, and allows children to explore concepts through hands-on experiences tailored to their individual learning styles.

The connection between learning and movement can be explained from a historical perspective. Our ancestors’ survival completely depended on their ability to travel long distances – move from one area to another in search of food and living supplies. In order to survive, they had to move. This explains why walking, for example, is extremely beneficial for health and brain function.

Doing physical exercises before engaging in academic learning can have several benefits:

  • Boosts Brain Activity: Physical exercises before academic learning can help increase blood flow and promote the release of hormones such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which help to increase brain activity.
  • Improves Memory: Physical exercises have been linked with promoting the creation of new brain cells and strengthening neural connections, enhancing learning and memory.
  • Reduces Stress and Anxiety: Physical exercises can help to reduce stress and anxiety levels, particularly when done regularly. This can lead to increased mental clarity, better focus and greater productivity.
  • Increases Motivation: Physical exercises can boost energy levels, stamina and motivation, making it easier for individuals to focus on their academic work and perform better.

Doing physical exercises before academic learning can help to optimize the brain for learning by boosting brain activity, improving memory, reducing stress and anxiety levels, and increasing motivation.

Another study suggests that “..regular physical activity supports healthy child development by improving memory, concentration and positive outlook. For example, researchers found that children who had an opportunity to run 15-45 minutes before class were less distracted and more attentive to schoolwork. These positive effects lasted two to four hours after their workouts”. (source via

In my classroom, I used to run a short 10-15 minute session with kids right before emerging into Montessori work. Those exercises helped three and four year old children to work on building “cross midline” skills. It assisted in developing a bilateral skill: “the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organized manner. Being able to coordinate both sides of the body is an indication that both sides of the brain are communicating and sharing information with each other”. Source – via

Cross-lateral exercises help develop the connection between the left and right sides of the brain. The concept is to facilitate the child to develop the ability to move the left arm/hand or leg/foot to the space of the right side of the body and vice versa.

Cross-lateral movements in Montessori refer to activities that encourage the use of both sides of the body simultaneously and involve crossing the midline of the body. These activities promote brain development and coordination, enhance fine and gross motor skills, and improve cognitive processes such as reading, writing, and math. Examples of cross-lateral movements include activities like marching, clapping, playing hopscotch, and doing stretching poses. By incorporating these movements into daily Montessori activities, children can develop strong connections between the two hemispheres of the brain and ultimately enhance their overall learning and developmental outcomes.

The following are some examples of cross-lateral movements

The Spider Web Game: This is a fun activity that involves crossing the midline of the body. Children use jumbo tweezers to transfer small spiders from one part of a spider web to another. As they reach across their body to transfer the spiders, they engage in cross-lateral movements.

Handwriting: In Montessori, children are taught to write using both hands to maintain their balance and develop their handwriting skills. This also helps them to develop their cross-lateral movements.

Sensory Activities include finger painting, using sand trays, and playing with playdough also involve cross-lateral movements. Children use both hands to mold and shape the materials, which helps them to develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

The Walking Line: In this activity, children walk along a line while carrying a tray or balancing an object on their heads. As they move along the line, they must cross over their midline, which helps to develop their cross-lateral movements.

Examples of cross-lateral exercises

Cross Crawls: Have your child stand with their feet shoulder-width apart and raise their left knee while simultaneously touching their right elbow to it. Repeat with the right knee and left elbow.

Wall Push-Ups: Have your child stand facing a wall, with their arms straight out in front of them. They should place their hands against the wall at shoulder height and do push-ups while keeping their body straight.

Balancing: Have your child stand on one foot, lift the opposite knee to the height of their hip and touch it with the opposite hand.

Mirror Movements: Have your child stand in front of a mirror, and ask them to move their right arm straight up in the air. Then ask them to move their left leg out to the side. Then have them switch and repeat the movements on the other side.

Arm & Leg Crosses: Have your child lie on their back and lift their right arm and left leg, then cross them over to touch. Repeat with the left arm and right leg.

Skipping: Encourage your child to skip instead of walk – each time they take a step, they cross one foot over the other.

Simon Says: Play Simon Says and give instructions that require crossing the midline of the body, such as “Simon says touch your right elbow to your left knee.”

Bean Bag Toss: Have your child stand with their feet shoulder-width apart and toss a beanbag from one hand to the other across their body, aiming for a target.

Hula Hooping: Using a hula hoop, have your child hula hoop while standing, and encourage them to move their body in different ways, such as going side to side or forward and backward.

Cross-legged Sitting: Encourage your child to sit with their legs crossed, switching which leg is on top every few minutes. This helps to integrate both sides of the brain while sitting.

Ball Games: Play ball games with your child, such as throwing and catching a ball or playing basketball. Encourage them to use both hands to catch and throw, crossing the ball over their body.

Stretching: Many stretching poses involve crossing the midline of the body. Encourage your child to try different stretching poses, focusing on moving their body in different ways.

Dancing: Encourage your child to dance and move their body in different ways, such as crossing their arms and legs while twisting their torso.

Jumping Jacks: Have your child do jumping jacks, which require both sides of the body to move in unison.

Cross Crawls: Have the child stand up straight and lift their right arm to touch their left knee. Then, they will lower their arm and raise their left arm to touch their right knee. Repeat this action for a few minutes.

Brain Buttons: Ask the child to touch their two index fingers together with one palm facing up and the other facing down. Then, have the child switch their hands’ position and repeat the action.

Hook-Ups: Ask the child to cross their right ankle over their left ankle and then cross their right wrist over their left wrist. Then, ask them to clasp their hands together and take a deep breath.

Lazy 8’s: Have the child draw a sideways “figure 8” on a piece of paper or in the air with their arm.

Arm Activation: Have the child extend both arms out in front of them with their palms facing up. Then, ask them to turn their hands over so their palms are now facing down, and repeat the action.

Owl Eyes: Ask the child to make “owl eyes” by moving their eyes in circles around a fixed point, such as a pencil or a clock. Then, have them switch directions.

Brain Buttons Drink: Have the child hold a glass of water in one hand and rub the “Brain Buttons” with the other hand as they take sips of water.

Earthquake: Have the child stand up and pretend they are experiencing an earthquake. Ask them to shake their whole body, then stop suddenly and stand completely still.

Alphabet Writing: Have the child write letters of the alphabet in the air with their index finger or using their whole arm.

Exercises: Have the child perform a series of simple exercises such as touching their toes, jumping jacks, or running on the spot.

The children loved it.  Even though many Montessori activities greatly support the development of cross-midline skills, some extra work on it is going to benefit 3-5-year-old children a lot. At the moment we incorporate this into our homeschooling routine.  

Printables that inspire gross motor movement in the classroom

gross motor dice montessori nature

These preschool packs contain gross motor dice printables for kids that are a fun and interactive way to encourage physical activity and movement. These printable dice can be easily cut out and assembled, and feature various movements such as jumping jacks, crab walks, and animal walks. Parents and teachers can use these dice during playtime or as part of a structured exercise routine to help children develop their coordination, balance, and strength. Some printables also include visual cues and instructions to make it easy for kids to follow along. Overall, gross motor dice printables are a great tool for promoting active play and healthy habits in children.

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About Anastasia - Anastasia is an early childhood teacher and the founder of Montessori Nature - a blog about Montessori living and learning and nature-based explorations. With many years of experience working in a Montessori environment and homeschooling her children, she directed her passion for all things Montessori and nature into creating educational resources. You can learn more here and browse her printables on Teachers Pay Teachers.