A music therapist and award-winning children's musician explains how dancing to music and playing musical instruments may help improve a child's reading skills through the use of cross-lateral movement.
Did you know that movement to music and playing musical instruments can help improve a child's ability to read?
Cross-lateral movement—movement that crosses the vertical center of the body—has been shown to help improve reading skills. These movements train your brain to cross the body's mid-section. When reading, one has to be able to cross from one side of the page to the other and from one side of the sentence to the other, which requires the left and right side of the brain to work together cooperatively.
The yellow and black line on the girl at left is the vertical center of her body. Any movements that she does to cross this line help train the 2 halves of her brain to work together. This can help improve reading skills.
Studies have shown that cross-lateral movements—such as crawling, skipping, touching the opposite knee while marching, tapping rhythm sticks together, and playing piano with different patterns in each hand—help train the two sides of the brain to work cooperatively together, and this can help improve reading skills.
Children love to move to music, sing, and play instruments along with music. By pairing cross-lateral movements with their favorite songs, you may help them strengthen their reading skills.
Babies can crawl to music using alternate knee and arm (i.e. left knee and right arm move together, and then right knee and left arm move together). Children can tap rhythm sticks together (or spoons) to keep beat with a song—or make up their own songs. Older children can try more sophisticated movements such as alternating tapping the opposite knee while marching. Think about the cross-lateral movements used in games such as Pat-a-Cake and Miss Mary Mack. It's no coincidence that many traditional activities turn out to also be healthy and educational.
This is a growing area of study about the brain-body connection. Using music to help children "train their brains" and improve skills has many exciting possibilities and applications to many developmental challenges. So, sing, dance, and play musical instruments with your kids and you may be improving their reading skills, all while giving their brains a workout with cross-lateral movements.
Suggested Activity: ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It…’
Everyone loves the classic children's song “If You're Happy and You Know It.” Kids are already giving their brains a workout by listening and following directions, singing while moving to the song, and by clapping, stomping feet, and shouting “hooray.” But you can help increase the benefit—and you may be improving your child’s reading skills—by adding more sophisticated cross-lateral movements to the song.
For example, after singing traditional verses, add the following verses:
With rhythm sticks or spoons: "If you're happy and you know it, tap your sticks...tap tap"
Movement: "If you're happy and you know it, stand on one foot..."
Movement: "If you're happy and you know it, march and tap" (alternating right hand on left knee and then vice versa)
With a scarf: "If you're happy and you know it, make an 8" (outline the figure 8 shape with a scarf in a big movement in front of your body)
Jeffrey Friedberg, MA, MT-BC, is a certified music therapist and award-winning children’s musician who performs with the Rockland County-based Bossy Frog Band. Friedberg received his MA in music therapy from NYU and has 15 years experience as a music therapist. He has more than 30 years experience performing as a professional musician. As part of the Bossy Frog Band, Friedberg sings and plays banjo, guitar, saxophone, flute, harmonica, and piano.
Why Live Music Is Good for Child Development
How to Make the Most of Your Child's Live Music Experience