Why is Bilateral Integration so Important for Handwriting?

Why is bilateral integration so important?  Handwriting is a bilateral task.  We need to stabilise the page with one hand and write with the other.  We cannot expect our hand to be a mover and a stabiliser at the same time.  This is why we need a sound bilateral foundation on which to build the development of handwriting skills.  We also need bilateral coordination activities for kids that are going to develop these foundational skills our children need for handwriting.

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What is bilateral integration?

Bilateral integration is the ability to use the two sides of the body together in a co-ordinated manner.  We often think of it on a gross motor level with activities such as bike riding, star jumps, or monkey bars.  Motor development does start with bigger movements and progresses to finer movements, so these larger bilateral tasks are an important foundation for the development of the finger bilateral tasks.

Handwriting needs a working and helping hand

Mary Benbow, one of the great researchers into handwriting and on whose principles occupational therapists base so much of their work with handwriting intervention, said that the greatest indicator of bilateral integration is that a child displays an inherent ability to stabilise the page while writing.

Before your child can efficiently stabilise the page, they need to have developed a preferred and helping hand.  If we are looking at why bilateral co-ordination is so important, we need look no further than it is a foundation for the development of the preferred hand!

It may seem as if the stabilising hand is no big deal

Why are we putting all this emphasis on a hand that just seems to sit there and do nothing?  The problem with not having a stabilising hand is that there is nothing to hold the book still as your child is writing.  If this is the case, then the writing hand has to move to write, as well as to sit still to stabilise.  Doing that is going to interfere with the handwriting patterns.  Your child is going to be using part of their hand to hold the page steady and part to write and this is going to compromise the speed and fluidity of handwriting.

Bilateral integration is also a really important foundation that supports the development of midline crossing.  Midline crossing in turn, supports the development of a preferred and helping hand.  We know how it important it is to have a preferred or dominant specialised hand for handwriting.  So it makes sense that the bilateral integration foundation that underpins this is critical.  And this answers the question why bilateral integration is so important.

Integrated Learning Strategies has a whole lot of information about bilateral integration.

We are looking for fine motor bilateral integration activities which include the following

  1. We need activities that require repetition. It is not enough that our children perform the action once and then move on. For a motor pattern to be established we need our children to perform it over and over again.
  2. We want activities that cannot be accomplished if our children are only using one hand. It doesn’t help if they can “cheat the system” and only use one hand.
  3. We want activities that require the two hands to move in symmetrical patterns. This means the two hands are performing a similar movement at the same time.
  4. We then want to go onto using two hands with alternating or reciprocal movements. This means that one hand performs the movement while the next follows and so on.
  5. Activities that require the child to cross the body midline.
    From here we move onto using the working and supporting hands in cooperative way, with one stabilising hand, and a working hand.

For bilateral integration for kids, the bilateral movement needs to be inherent in the activity

We don’t want to be telling our children: “you must use this hand to do this and then the other hand to do that.”  If we want our children to develop and use the movement pattern, we want it to be inherent in the activity.  We need the movement we want to be a step in the activity that cannot be performed unless both hands are used.

What do I mean by this?  An example of this would be tracing around a template.  Unless the helping hand holds it still, the template is going to slide around.  And the activity is not going to work.  This means the process of using one hand to stabilise, and one hand to trace cannot be achieved unless the two hands work together.  It cannot be “pick this one up with this hand and then then that one up with the other hand.  No, not that hand, the other hand.”  We don’t want to be calling out instructions – that takes away the play element.  We know children learn faster when things are wrapped up in play.

The movement we want must be so much a part of the activity, that the game will fail if our children are only using one hand.

Why is bilateral integration so important and and fine motor bilateral activities that work!

Cup Stacking

This uses the alternating movements we spoke of above – one hand and then the other.  It can be confusing for the children at the start so adding in the different coloured cups can help to cue them.  It is also a great activity to do in a classroom situation because it doesn’t bring too much mess and chaos with it!  Thank you to Papo da Professora Denise who inspired this!

Animal Rescue

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This activity was inspired by Keeping up with Mrs Harris and ticks all the boxes for bilateral integration for kids.  There is no way these hippos can be freed unless both hands play the game!

Groovy Animals

Picking up these Groovy Animals with two sticks requires bilateral symmetrical movements.  Your children can then go on to join them together which again requires bilateral hand use.

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Cutting

Of course cutting!  When I see adverts where the advertiser claims that their product or service is the answer to this wide range of concerns, I get a little cynical.  There isn’t really one thing that will fix everything.  I get pamphlets in my mailbox where the provider claims to be able to cure smoking, treat anxiety, achieve success in business, and help me with relationship problems.  I straight away write it off as nonsense because one thing doesn’t fix everything.  Except cutting!  It really does seem to tick so many of the boxes when it comes to developing foundational handwriting skills.  Today we are talking bilateral skills and there is no doubt that cutting is highly complex bilateral skill.  It is the ultimate when it comes to bilateral integration for kids!  And we have a stunning new intermediate Cutting Safari eBook!

Road Races

This one is a higher level bilateral activity that is going to challenge your children!  I have purposefully left them blank so your children can choose who is going where, or to fetch what.  The unicorn can go to the rainbow while the rocket can go to the moon.  Add stickers to customise it for each child.  Your children are going to come up with so many amazing adventures while their two hands work together to tear along middle of the road to the centre.  You can grab your Road Races download at the bottom of the page.  Remember to be sure to use the correctly orientated one for right and left-handers.

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Wikki Stix

Sticking the wikkis to the cards certainly requires bilateral hand use and is a winner for bilateral integration for kids!  We are never too old for wikkis!

In closing about bilateral integration for kids

This is a lightning tour through why bilateral integration is important for handwriting.  Our children need to stabilise their book with one hand, and write with the other.  Without the bilateral foundation they are going to run into trouble and their handwriting is going to suffer.  This is such a fun one to develop through playful activity – so let’s get stuck in with bilateral integration for kids!

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

what is bilateral integration in children

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More about why bilateral integration is important for handwriting:

reversing letters and numbers when writing, b-d reversals, letter reversal interventions, is it normal for my child to write letters backwards 
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