Balancing is a skill that calls on many body systems to work together. Body position, muscle and skeletal control, tactile feedback, motor coordination and visual processing all combine to create the multi-sensory ability to balance our bodies.
This is a skill that requires practice.
Kids also need to learn to balance things outside of themselves. Being able to balance objects affects how children understand and interact with their world.
It's worth spending a day of play teaching your child to balance both themselves and the things around them.
A balanced diet helps create a body that is fit and easier to balance. Most experts recommend a balance of protein, fruits, vegetables, grain and dairy. Have your child draw on a paper plate the letters P, F, V, G and D for the food types and have them put their breakfast items in the right section of the plates to help learn which foods comprise these different food groups. Then open your pantry or cabinet and have the kids guess which food groups the items would go into.
Once the kids are fueled up, it's an ideal time to get them into body balancing movements.
This can be as simple as putting some masking tape on the floor and creating a pretend story about how they need to walk a tightrope across a raging river to escape. Throw some blankets on either side to mimic waves and have the kids be playful in their attempts to walk the line.
Or dig out some games and toys that build balance, such as Hullabaloo, a game by Cranium that asks kids to jump, run, skip or fly to different mats all the while exploring balance and movement. Weplay makes a playset called Step Challenge where kids need to navigate over wavy foam blocks to work on body shifting, balancing and fun.Parents can create their own obstacle course (with pillows, chairs and boxes on the floor) for kids to move through, step on, and balance their bodies while creating some imaginative play scenarios.
Next offer kids a lesson on balancing objects. You can be creative and use Kleenex boxes, tennis balls and books to initiate a building project or start small with a building set that has various shapes like the Elemenosqueeze by B. toys. Have the kids choose a structure they want to design, such as their dream home or a castle, and let the little architects explore both the balancing and the toppling effect.
Building block lunch
Lunch can continue the balance lesson by making food into building blocks. Take various shaped crackers and cut up some cheese blocks or triangles. Let your little ones build a structure out of them. Use grapes to make wheels and put a cracker on them to make a trailer and balance other lunch items on top.
Introduce imaginative play by having kids create a story around their creations and then, like hungry giants, eat the structures they built.
Getting out and getting active
Encourage kids to explore their balance points.
Strider Bikes took the pedals off traditional two-wheeler bikes and found that kids can better concentrate on the singular task of learning to balance before mastering pedals.
Spooner Boards are another way for kids to 'surf' a variety of surfaces, including carpets, gravel, grass or snow. These surfboard-like play discs offer hours of exploratory body balancing both inside and outdoors. You can add in other balance-builders like jump ropes and hula hoops.
Balance can be built-just like strong bodies-so give your child a steady diet of balance-building play opportunities whenever you can.
Ellen Metrick is director of Industry Relations and Partnerships for the National Lekotek Center and a member of Chicago Special Parent’s advisory board. Lekotek is a leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities.
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