Balance is one of the most important basic skills children can develop, but as most things in life, getting better takes time and practice. Having balance makes motor skills easier for your child and also reduces the likelihood of injury, increasing the probability that she will not only be involved with peers in games and sport activities, but also participate in regular physical activities throughout her life.
Being “on balance” means having an even distribution of weight on each side of a vertical axis, but for young children, being on balance simply means not falling over! There are two types of balance:
Static balance is the ability to maintain control of a position while not moving. This looks like balancing on one leg or freezing in a shape like a statue.
Dynamic balance is the ability to maintain balance and control of the body while moving, like hopping, jumping, throwing or riding a bike.
While balance skills take time to develop, there are ways to improve them with practice. Following are a few simple and fun balance activities that can be made into games and practiced daily with your preschooler. Doing these activities together will teach your child how to use his muscles to adjust to changes in movement.
- Supplies: Make a straight line on the floor or sidewalk with a piece of wide (3 inches) duct tape or masking tape.
- Activity: Treat the tape as a balance beam. Ask your child to pick up one foot and place it in front of the other as he walks across, instead of sliding his feet along tape. Watch his feet to make sure they stay on the beam. Have him walk forward and backward with his arms out to the side to maintain balance.
- Advanced Challenge: For an advanced challenge, place a bean bag on your child’s head or shoulder and have him try not to drop it. If your child’s skills and confidence are more developed, use a beam no more than 6-8 inches off the ground for this activity, such as a street curb. This is a height from which a child can easily jump or step down from if he loses balance. Stand beside your child as he walks while holding one hand, as standing in front or behind your child may throw him off balance.
Jump the Stream
- Supplies: Place two strips of tape on the floor about a foot apart. The space between the two sections of tape is the stream to jump over!
- Activity: Ask your child to jump over the stream without getting her feet wet. It is difficult for most preschool children to jump and land without falling forward. The challenge here is to land on balance without falling. Have her start with a two-foot take off, swinging her arms backwards then forwards, with the goal of a two-foot landing with both feet landing at the same time.
- Advanced Challenge: Have your child try to land with the feet slightly apart, which is a good base of support, and to use her arms to help balance. You will know that your child is improving her balance when she can land on two feet and stop her movement.
Become a Flamingo
- Supplies: A step stool or a ball (for a more advanced activity) for your child to rest his foot on.
- Activity: Standing on one foot is a challenge for most young children. Start practicing by having your child stand with one foot on the ground while the other is resting on a step stool. If this is too easy, replace the step stool with a large ball, then move to standing on one leg using arms to the side for balance.
- Advanced Challenge: Have your child try this activity with his eyes closed. Balancing with your eyes closed is significantly harder than having your eyes open. To really challenge an older, more skilled child, toss a balloon and ask him to strike it back to you with his hands while he stands on one foot.
Do all of these activities in an open space to ensure your child’s safety, and anticipate minor falls as a normal part of the process. Also, remember to provide simple and encouraging feedback as your child plays and practices balancing. Doing these activities together is a great way to bond with your child while setting them up for future success!