One of the best things about being a physical education teacher at the elementary school level is getting to work with kindergartners, even though at times I've been known to equate it with herding cats.
Kindergartners are a special breed all their own, and in the gym, they really are a treat. At this age level we emphasize listening and following directions, managing the fun equipment, listening and following directions, moving safely in space, listening and following directions — get my drift?
We also spend a great deal of time practicing locomotor skills, with my favorite one being the skip. Most people probably don't realize it, but skipping is a difficult skill to master because it is a cross-lateral movement. It involves using both sides of our brain or "crossing the midline," something we physical education teachers strive to teach to students.
Most of us know that the right side of our brain controls the left side of our body and vice versa, but kids have no concept of this. We tell them that messages need to be sent from one side of the brain to the other for them to be able to move properly. The more times those messages are sent, the stronger the pathways between the two sides become and the better they will be at moving and controlling their bodies.
With this information, some kids will consciously think about how they practice a skill; eventually, it gets easier and easier until that moment when everything comes together and, voila, the skip happens.
So how can those pathways be strengthened in kids? By doing activities and exercises that require them to cross the midline. Imagine a straight line going down the center of your body.
Anything that requires moving one part of your body across that line and back is considered a cross-lateral movement. Touching your right elbow to your left knee is one example. Doing "crossies" when jumping rope — swinging the rope over your head and crossing your arms in front of you before jumping through it — is another.
When children practice these skills or exercises, they not only become more efficient movers, but they can also become better learners.
Think about how we read. We start at the left side of a page, and as we track the words in a sentence, we have to cross the midline with our eyes. This is difficult for some kids.
But by having them do simple activities where they must cross the midline, they are stimulating those pathways in the brain, too. That can only help kids become more successful in both the classroom and the gym.
So when I'm helping a child learn to skip, juggle or do the crossover walk called a grapevine, I know that I'm also influencing how well they're able to learn in the classroom. I keep that goal in mind every time I find myself in a gym full of kindergartners.