August 13, 2015 Mary & Suzanne

Developing Balance at the Park

Striving for Balance!

To navigate the world comfortably, we seek balance.  As occupational therapists, we think about the idea of balance in a variety of ways. It can be thought of globally, referring to how much time we spend working, resting, and playing. We also think about balance in terms of how we keep ourselves upright, rather than taking a tumble and ending up on one of those bloopers shows! Maintaining a stable, upright position will be the focus here but we do hope that you tune in to your own balance in life as well!

As you think about the children in your life, ask yourself these questions:

Is your child fearful of going down the stairs without assistance?

Does your child prefer sedentary activities?

Is falling a regular occurrence in your child’s day?

Balance requires information from both the vestibular (movement) and the proprioceptive (body awareness) senses. The vestibular sense tells the child how fast his or her head is moving and what position it is in. Being upright, upside down, or sideways can be an important thing to know! The proprioceptive sense provides feedback from the muscles and joints during active play. Information from both of these senses work together as muscles are adjusted to keep the child well balanced while sitting, standing and moving.

Ok, so how can we influence balance at the park, you ask?

The park is a perfect backdrop for working on balance! First, you need to decide where to start. We will walk you through some activities, from a level 1 (easier) activity to a level 4 (most difficult).  When in doubt, pick a level that may be slightly easier for your child. This will build confidence and enthusiasm for moving towards more difficult challenges.

Sitting

Why start here? Balancing in a seated position can be a little easier than balancing while standing. This activity requires the child to adjust her posture as the spring horse changes position. She also learns how to move her torso to keep the equipment moving, with the security of holding onto a handle for extra stability.

Sitting on other types of moving equipment provide variations of balance challenges. This spinner is moving more quickly and there are no handles to hold on to. She has to rely on shifting her trunk to stay on.  An important note: If you are not sure how your child will respond and maintain balance with unsupported movement, begin slowly and be cautious of the type of ground covering below! An unstable child + concrete floor = a potentially sad day at the park, and nobody wants that!

Using a “steering wheel” with the scooter board requires active balance without any help from the hands. We added to this challenge by asking her to pick up a “plate of noodles” as she drove by. It’s always fun to add a layer of playful imagination to these activities! Aren’t we all more motivated to try something difficult when fun is sprinkled in?

Holding a rope or handles while being pulled on a scooter board really increases the balance challenge. This little cutie makes postural adjustments to balance her trunk as she uses her arms to keep the rope taut. This requires precise motor planning supported by communication between her vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (body awareness) senses.

Standing

A Level 1 balance challenge for a younger child is not shown but could be a child standing with two-handed support from an adult. In this video, we can see that even one year olds can work on their balance skills at the park; an unstable rope or surface is all you need! Notice as she shows off a little by standing on one leg!

Walking on a curb is a balance activity that can be found everywhere. This path is flat and allows for missteps. An elevated curb, piece of wood, stepping stones or rocks increase the need for accurate foot placement and balance.

Note the narrow beam and change of surface grade. This little one needs to narrow her steps and adjust to down grades and slight inclines as she makes her way around the circle.

Hopscotch requires coordination, balance and visual motor skills. As a bonus, it also helps develop focus and social skills! We had the girls draw the board with sidewalk chalk for a little fine motor fun too!

As always, here are some alternative ideas if making it to the park just isn’t in the cards today.

Home: 

  • Walking on unstable surfaces such as grass or sand, stepping stones or rock piles
  • Sitting on a yoga ball with feet on the ground
  • Hopscotch
  • Yoga poses (warrior, tree) – We absolutely love this Yoga Bingo game from Spiraling Hearts!
  • Scooters/bikes/skateboard
  • Freeze tag

School:

  • Walking on a painted line on the playground
  • Balance on one leg
  • Curbs

Good balance is essential as your child negotiates the world. Being “off balance” physically can lead to a child retreating from challenges instead of meeting them head on. While building physical and mental confidence, let’s have some fun!  Remember, pirates need balance to walk the plank, and surfers need balance to stay on that surfboard!! Let your imaginations run wild today as you head to the park!    

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