Crossing the Midline and Knitting

One of the things I often heard when becoming a knitting teacher was the importance of knitting in developing cognitive skills. This rested on knitting's reinforcement of "crossing the midline." What is this "crossing the midline" business and why is it so important?
First of all, the midline is an imaginary vertical line drawn straight through the middle of the body, separating right from left sides of the body. The ability to cross the midline in our bodies is important for physical things like going up stairs, riding a bike, crawling, going up a ladder, etc. It is also important for intellectual things like reading, writing, executive functions such as decision making and organizational skills, and our sense of language. Basically, crossing the midline is about integration. It is the ability to use both "sides" of your brain at once.
There are lots of everyday activities that require you to cross the midline, such as tying shoes and reading. The goal of crossing the midline is "lateralization" which, simplified, means both hemispheres of the brain are communicating and hand dominance is established.

North Shore Pediatric Therapy describes it as such:
"Furthermore, when a child has difficulty crossing midline, it can affect his/her ability to read. While the child is moving his/her eyes from left to right across the page, the eyes will stop at midline to blink and refocus; however, when this happens, the child will very frequently lose his/her place on the line and become confused as to where they left off. It also affects handwriting, as diagonal lines cross the midline, and the child may need to stop in the middle of the page to switch hands when writing from left to right. Many self care and daily living skills require crossing midline. For example, perfecting the skill of putting socks or shoes on requires one hand to cross over to the other side of the body.
Children who have difficulty crossing midline may appear ambidextrous because they are often observed using both hands, but they actually have a hidden neuroprocessing issue. Both sides of their brains are not communicating, resulting in decreased coordination, decreased motor control of movements and difficulties achieving higher level skills. Often, these children end up with two unskilled hands."

Knitting completely reinforces this ability. Both hands are used, and one hand comes to dominance. After knitting, hand dominance can be strengthened through crochet, which more heavily emphasizes a dominant hand than knitting. There are different ways to learn how to knit, but I start out teaching my students to "throw" the yarn around the knitting needle. Think about stirring a pot. If you stir a pot of soup using your right hand, you will cross the midline as you stir it around towards your left hand and back. Your left hand might have to steady the pot. For this reason, knitting is absolutely an activity that crosses the midline and helps establish lateralization. "Throwing" the yarn around the knitting needle, switching the work from hand to hand in a rhythmic, repetitive gesture requires crossing the midline in an activity that also develops fine motor skills. And it's fun, and it's artistic.

So the next time you think knitting is just a hobby, think again. It's a way to develop capacities needed for reading, writing, thinking, organizing, catching a ball, riding a bike, etc. etc. It's just plain healthy!


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