The term ‘muscle tone’ can be quite unfamiliar for many. Maybe this is the first time you have heard it, or maybe you feel you have heard it oh too many times! For those who are new to the term and wondering if your child might have low muscle tone, ask yourself these questions:
Does your child seem to have less strength than children his/her age?
Are you finding yourself reminding your child to “sit up straight” over and over again?
When seated at the table, does your child prop his head in his hand to hold himself up?
What is muscle tone, you ask? Muscle tone is the amount of tension in the muscles at rest that allows us to resist the force of gravity. Children with more muscle tone find it easier to move and perform strength and endurance activities. Children with less muscle tone find it exhausting just to remain upright against gravity.
Ok, so what does that look like? With low muscle tone, you may see a child leaning on mom, the wall, or furniture more often than not. This child struggles to stay upright when waiting in line, and is really, really tired at the end of the day.
What to do about it? Here is a great place to start. If your child knows how to pump a swing, wonderful! Spend some time here. Enjoy the ride. For a child who does not yet pump, push him or her at the feet. Pushing at the child’s feet provides a lot of information from muscles and joints about where they are and how to coordinate movement. As the legs and feet feel this input, the child begins to tense muscles as much as necessary to provide a solid foundation for pushing. (Keep this in mind when working on coordination activities with your child in the future!)
Make sure to press ‘play’ as you get to each video below to see our suggested activities in action!
Why start with swinging? We have a method to the fun, we promise! The key is to provide head acceleration. This trick actually increases the child’s muscle tone! The effects can last up to 15 minutes and can prepare the child for activities requiring strength and endurance.
Here are two quick games you can add to swinging to continue promoting muscle tone.
Grab your child’s feet on occasion to stop the swing. This requires the child to recruit his muscles to remain upright. Then slowly bring the child’s feet toward you and let go to continue swinging.
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WARNING: Not every child will be ready for this surprise! If the child is seated in a typical U-shape park swing (not a bucket swing pictured in this video), make sure to cue them to hold on tightly with their hands and get ready for a STOP sign! Without this preparation, they may just slide right out of the swing and onto the ground!
Provide a target for the child to meet with his or her feet. This can be a ball, your hands, or even a fallen leaf.
We’ve arranged our videos in order of level of difficulty to match your child’s abilities. If you’re not sure where your child’s skill level is, start with level 1 to ensure success and confidence.
Most local parks incorporate slides so give yours a try! This is another great way to provide head acceleration.
Level 1: Acceleration and balance challenge
Level 1: Little ones can do this too!
Spice up your slide routine by trying one of these variations.
Level 2: Changing positions = more input
Sliding down a slide on your stomach is a great way to provide acceleration in a different head position. Please choose positions safely and supervise your child closely. If safety is an issue, have your child roll onto his or her stomach while remaining feet first, rather than head first. Some slides end higher above the ground than others and can be hazardous when landing.
Level 3: Balance and motor planning required
Have your child hold or balance something in his/her hand. This brings awareness to the arms and hands and encourages the child to use more muscles to keep the item from falling or spilling.
We realize that sometimes it just isn’t possible to pack up and bring the family to the park. Weather, time constraints and energy levels may be the one’s calling the shots, and the park is just out of the question. You’re in luck! We’ve thought about that! Here are a few quick home and school ideas that can do the trick as well.
Remember, the key here is HEAD ACCELERATION.
- Swing set
- Fun run on the field
- Jumping jacks
- Jump in place
Adequate muscle tone can be the foundation for successfully improving participation in sports, academics, social skills and even how a child feels about him/herself. While these activities may sound simple, they are worth taking a few playful minutes at the park with your child.
The post Sensory Integration at the Playground over at SugarAunts has shared some great explanations about the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, two key sensory systems that influence so many developmental areas! We invite you to jump on over to check out their activities that access these systems at a playground near you!