Balance is like a muscle. If we don’t use it we lose it. And we need to have good balance at all ages. This blog focuses on balance for kids (another post will be all about adults) from why having good balance is so important, why some kids don’t have good balance, how to get kids balancing better (including ASD kids) + more.
It’ll be a nice balanced approach… 😉 (with hopefully a couple more puns thrown in cos puns are great! haha)
Having good balance not only helps kids physically but also emotionally. Having good balance in an indoor environment is totally different to outdoor environments, and different outdoor environments have pros and cons with balance, so there’s a few things we can dig into this week that should provide new perspectives and ideas to you guys – especially if you’re a parent or childhood worker/educator.
Why kids need good balance + what that even looks like
Technical jargon time…
Balance is the ability to maintain a controlled body position during task performance, whether sitting at a table, walking the balance beam or stepping up onto something. To function effectively across environments and tasks, we need the ability to maintain controlled positions during both static (still) and dynamic (moving) activities.
Static balance + the ability to hold a stationary position with control. Dynamic balance is the ability to remain balanced while engaged in movement.
Technical talk outta the way…
When we talk about kids needing good balance we ultimately mean that they can walk across a branch confidently, comfortably and with control. Many of the kids we work with would say they have “good balance” and can get across a balance beam easily, but what they actually have is momentum and speed! Most kids these days can’t walk along a balance beam on the ground with control let alone up on a higher object or from object to object.
Good balance and coordination allows a child to be involved in the sports and other physical activities with a reasonable level of success as it aids fluid body movement for physical skill performance. This is helpful in maintaining self regulation for daily tasks and developing a social network and achieving a sense of belonging in a community or social setting.
𝙎𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙛𝙞𝙩𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙜𝙤𝙤𝙙 𝙗𝙖𝙡𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚 𝙞𝙣𝙘𝙡𝙪𝙙𝙚:
– reduced risk of injury
– stronger joints, muscles and bones
– confidence and self-esteem
– the ability to get more out of natural environments
Why some kids have bad balance + what to look out for in your child
Some of the many contributors of poor balance ability include:
– ASD which can contribute to poor motor skills
– Too much indoor time
– Lack of environmental variety exposure (e.g. child uses one particular playground and doesn’t play in other types of environments including nature spaces)
– Too much tech-time (this can lead to simply not enough physical movement time, and also the looking down and forward at a screen effects neck mobility and structure which can effect balance ability)
– Over-protective parents/caregivers who disapprove of nature play and balancing on various objects at various heights
– General low confidence and self-esteem which can prevent kids from playing and exploring what their body’s are capable of
– Eyesight and ear problems
– General lack of physical strength and capability (poor core strength etc)
– Diagnosed balance disorders
Kid Sense 𝙝𝙖𝙨 𝙨𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙖𝙙𝙫𝙞𝙘𝙚 𝙤𝙣 𝙝𝙤𝙬 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙚𝙡𝙡 𝙞𝙛 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙡𝙙 𝙝𝙖𝙨 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙗𝙡𝙚𝙢𝙨 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙗𝙖𝙡𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙘𝙤𝙤𝙧𝙙𝙞𝙣𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣…
If a child has difficulties with balance and coordination they might:
– Fall easily, trip often or can’t ‘recover’ quickly from being off balance
– Move stiffly (e.g. run like a ‘robot’)
– Avoid physical activity (e.g. playground use, sports)
– Be late to reach developmental milestones (e.g. crawling and walking)
– Be slower than peers to master physical skills (e.g. bike riding, swimming or tree climbing)
– Be less skilful than their peers in refined sports participation
– Push harder, move faster or invade the personal space of others more than they intend
– Be fearful of new physical games or scared of heights that don’t faze their peers
– Have difficulty getting dressed standing up
– Have trouble navigating some environments (e.g. steps, kerbs, uneven ground).
– Tire more quickly then their peers or need to take regular short rest periods during physical activity.
These are very common with the kids we work with and we LOVE helping kids overcome these challenges and balance better!
Balancing indoors vs on playgrounds vs in nature
You guys probably think we’re going to say we believe ultimately kids should be capable balancers in nature… and you’d be right about that! But why do we feel that way? And do we think any other environments are beneficial? 🤔
Have a lot of benefits to kids needing help improving balance. Heck, half of our clients come from local OT’s who work indoors and for good reason! Practicing physical skills indoors removes a lot of issues associated with kids who have a variety of sensitivities with weather, light, noise, textures, animals/bugs etc, common for kids on the spectrum. Also, it’s safer. For kids who need to begin in a controlled and minimal environment, indoor balance practice is perfect. Starting here with the intention of getting them outdoors eventually is ideal (why many OTs send kids our way, we can help them when they’re ready for that next step).
But.. let’s compare this kind of scenario to say a gymnastics child who’s a competent balancer indoors on high beams… it doesn’t mean they’ll be awesome at balancing outdoors, maybe ever, because the environment inside is so controlled and limiting. Outside balancing is totally different!
What about playgrounds?
Well they’re outdoors so that’s positive and those build more ‘natural’ and with different levels, surfaces, thickness of objects etc is great but if a child is usually playing at the one playground, or never really plays and balances in other environments, they’ll be missing out. Playground equipment has a place, for sure, but can definitely be very limiting. Playground play doesn’t fully equip a human with how to move in their most natural way and in the most natural surroundings (i.e. nature).
Balancing in nature
Is ultimately the best environment. Being capable at moving in different weather elements, on varying surfaces, at varying heights, in various ways is what all kids should be. But it’s not possible for all kids to be good at balancing in nature at all times.
So we believe kids should be ‘Jacks of all environments’ and play indoors, outdoors, everywhere!
A simple better-balance exercise to do with kids
One of my favourite ways to get kids to slow down and control their walking across a beam (so it’s not just their momentum getting them across) is to incorporate stepping over a pool noodle. It’s soft and safe, if I’m holding it I can adjust the height for the individual child (making it easier or harder for them), it’s fun and the addition of stepping over an object requires more focus and stability.
Simply place a timber beam (2×4 timber from the hardware store) on the carpet or grass, position yourself halfway along crouching down and ask the child to walk across the beam and step over the noodle you’re holding out over it.
Encourage them to take it slow, think about their steps, steady themselves to step over the noodle without touching the floor/ground, then as they get better at this you can speed things up, make it harder by increasing the height of the noodle, getting them to step over it a couple times in a row, walk backwards and step over backwards, sideways etc. This simple exercise has so many variations and opportunities for increasing the difficulty therefore improving the development and ability of the child 👍
Turn it into a game, have a go yourself, find ways to make it fun for everyone.
Why barefoot is best + tips for achieving this
Wearing regular shoes regularly changes the shape of our foot which limits mobility, strength and flexibility, impairing all movement not just balancing. We know balancing is a really important foundation human skill, so by wearing shoes we hugely restrict our ability to master this skill.
When barefoot toes can spread, arches can contract, and nerve endings can switch on to what’s beneath and send proper messages to the brain, all making getting better at balancing easier.
Most kids I work with wear shoes to sessions for various reasons, I encourage them to kick ’em off and play without, and balancing is one of the main activities this is so important. When a child’s foot is connecting to the beam or log underneath they can feel it properly, they can grip better with their toes and they can get used to the different textures and temps.
The toes of a human foot are meant to measure WIDER than the rest of the foot for the purposes of gripping! When we spend more time moving naturally without any shoes on our toes can learn to spread.
𝙏𝙞𝙥𝙨 𝙤𝙣 𝙜𝙚𝙩𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙠𝙞𝙙𝙨 𝙗𝙖𝙡𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙨𝙝𝙤𝙚𝙨 𝙤𝙣:
– be the example and balance barefoot yourself- start off on ‘easy’ surfaces re texture. Instead of starting on a rough log, start on a smooth piece of timber or similar
– create goals + rewards for kids balancing barefoot (some of our kids have started going barefoot more often cos they want the ‘Barefoot’ Primal Kids Badge!)
– encourage barefoot time throughout the day, as often as possible, everyday. The more time we spend barefoot the stronger our feet become barefoot and the more used to it we get.
– buy toe socks and barefoot shoes if texture is still a big issue (see previous Barefoot posts)
I hope this information and our perspectives and experiences help you and your family on your journey to better health! Please comment if you have any questions.
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