Good balance helps keep us upright throughout the variety of movements we experience everyday. Balance starts as infants learn to balance on their arms during tummy time, and as they learn to control their trunk in sitting, while working their way to independent standing and walking. Toddlers and preschoolers continue to improve their balance through play. As with other motor skills, balance can improve with practice. Some ways to help your child develop their balance skills include:
– Have a child sit on a small exercise ball while doing seated activities. With an adult’s help, then can also kneel on a ball while playing catch. It’s important to have good core strength and stability for balance!
– Dance around to music and freeze like statures when the music stops (ala Musical Chairs). Challenge everyone to hold whatever position they end up in for a short period time. Make a game of it to see who can last the longest.
– Practice walking on balance beams. Start by using masking tape to create a line on the floor and as the child improves move to walking on curved lines, walking on curbs, or walking on a true balance beam.
– Create obstacle courses that involve stepping onto, over, and around obstacles. You can also have the child walk sideways or backwards or change directions quickly to challenge their balance.
Work towards the ability to stand on one foot. To start, have a child stand with one foot flat on the ground and one foot on a stool or other support surface. As the child’s balance improves, increase the height of the stool and eventually take it away. You can also work towards standing on one foot by standing in varying degrees of tandem stance – one foot placed directly in front of the other. The closer the two feet are together, the harder the challenge. Work towards standing with the heel of one foot touching the toes of the other foot, then to standing on one foot. Make a challenge to see who can stand on one foot the longest!
– Practice standing on uneven surfaces, such as folded up blankets and couch pillows, then progress to standing on a foam pad or BOSU ball.
All of these activities can be adjusted to your child’s skill level. For a younger child, start with the easier positions and provide assistance as needed. For an older child or a child who has great balance, incorporate other activities such as throwing a ball, adding additional movements such as reaching or squats. You can also challenge them cognitively, by having them tell a story while performing a balance skill.
If you know of a child who has difficulty maintaining and controlling his or her balance, it may be helpful to contact a pediatric physical or occupation therapist. Our therapists at Beyond the Clinic can help determine some of the reasons a child may be having difficulty with balance and provide education and treatment to improve their balance skills.
Contact us at (503) 496-0385 to find out more!
(Blog courtesy of Crystal Bridges, DPT)