The vestibular system is what helps us maintain our balance whether we are stationary or moving. It provides the brain with information about spatial orientation, motion and head position. Children with good balance are likely to also have good posture. Children who have had exposure to a variety of balance activities are also more likely able to sit upright in a chair and have better focus and concentration.
Children learn balance by trying to balance, wobbling, falling and finding their balance again. Children then naturally learn how to use their muscles to maintain balance and to stop themselves from falling.
Parents can be overprotective and may not let their children have the opportunity to learn by falling. I know, because I am also a mom and hated to see my children hurt themselves. Back then I was not aware of the benefits of falling down and then getting up to try again. We have to encourage our children to get up and try again, and to then give them praise when they achieve the skill of keeping their balance.
Teaching a Child to Balance
In my 30+ years of teaching, I have found that the following verbal instructions very helpful when teaching a child to do a static balance:
“Stand nice and straight with your arms at the sides.”
“Reach your head up to the sky and make your self as tall you can.”
“Lift your arms out to the side and reach for the walls with your fingertips.”
“Lift one leg off the floor and hold very still.”
“Let’s count: 1, 2, 3. Lower your leg and stand nice and straight.”
For ages two to three years, just lifting a foot off the floor, even for a few seconds, will be challenging. Allow them to hold onto your finger until they have the confidence to balance on their own.
Four- to five-year-olds can be encouraged to lift the knee to hip height for three to five seconds.
Six years and over should be able to hold the balance for several seconds and do it standing first on the left leg and then the right leg.
There are two basic balances I like the children to learn. I always have the children do the balance on their best leg first and then on the other leg. It is important that both sides of the body experience all movement activities.
Stork balance—knee held up to hip height.
Side balance—tilt sideways until balance point is found and hold still
Here are some ways that you can help your child or children learn to balance in a fun way.
· Encourage walking along low walls. Add a pretend play aspect. The kids are great at thinking of what they could be crossing.
· Encourage the use of balance beams in a playground. Have the children stop midway and balance on one leg or turn around without falling off.
· Do partner balances holding one or both hands.
· Pretend to be an aeroplane with arms out to the side and one leg off the floor. Don’t forget the sound effects of flying in the sky.
· Do body balances such as balance on one hand and two feet, on the bottom only, or on one knee and one hand. Hold each balance for five seconds. Have the children count out loud.
· When outdoors encourage your children to walk on tree logs and to step on stones.
· Ask the children to show off their own balance ideas, too!
Testing and practicing balance is the only way for little bodies to learn how to learn balance. Balance is needed for every sport or physical challenge that lies ahead for children. If this fundamental skill is not learned in the early years when little bodies are absorbing every experience, it can lead to coordination problems that are harder to correct at a later time.
Encourage your children to find creative ways to balance at every opportunity and know that you are supporting a very important part of their physical development.
Founder and creator of the MoovKids physical education curriculum for early learners