Focus on balance
The Reviews Editor of SEN Magazine (name unfortunately unknown) wrote about the importance of balance for people of all ages. In this abridged version of her article, I’ll focus on the significance of children finding their sense of balance.
Balance gives us more than the ability to maintain our posture in various positions. It also contributes to a sense of mental and emotional well-being that adults refer to as feeling ‘balanced’ and ‘stable’. Conversely, we all have times when we sense that we are ‘off balance’ mentally or emotionally, or when we experience a sudden loss of physical balance that causes us to fall.
Balance is linked to good overall mental and physical development. Movement activities aimed at developing static and dynamic balance, such as learning to ride a bike, playing on a balance board or walking over stepping stones, help to improve confidence and control.
It can be relatively easy to integrate balance activities into daily routines in the home, school, and playground, and acquiring stability and balance involves multiple sensorimotor control systems that need regular practice in various conditions, but not necessarily any special equipment.
Typically, by the age of seven, children will have acquired a wide range of movement skills. However, when some children enter school, they may have deficits in these skills that can place them at a disadvantage in terms of beginning with firm foundations to support the cognitive-motor-affect domains of learning. Thus, the early years curriculum needs a richly diverse range of daily activities that can address these deficits, beginning with floor-based games and movements before moving on to crawling games that include moments of stillness, balance, body awareness and control.
Many physical activity programmes in primary schools have tended to focus on aerobic activities, although I now see an increasing number of yoga approaches being integrated into daily practice. An important, and often overlooked indicator of a well-developed sense of balance is the ability to move slowly, and perhaps we would all benefit from resisting the modern habit of rushing through life.
How Balance Facilitates Learning
Physical inactivity is currently a cause for concern in relation to obesity, as well as being linked to poor development of motor skills and weaknesses in balance. Research indicates that balance maturation is not fully achieved until around the age of twelve and a daily diet of co-ordination and balance skills can improve classroom focus and attention, as well as the capacity to remain seated without excess effort. To function effectively, children need practice in maintaining controlled positions and the appropriate posture for tabletop tasks.
Indicators of Problems with Balance and Coordination
- Tires quickly or avoids physical activity
- Slow to learn to ride a bike
- Fearful of heights or new physical games
- Difficulty getting dressed standing up
- Falls easily or trips up often
Daily Balance Tips:
- How many opportunities in school or at home are there for children to practice heel/ toe walking slowly, with one foot in front of the other like a tightrope? How about backwards?
- Activities standing on one leg are countless, from cleaning teeth to making circles with the other foot in the air.
- How many in your setting have difficulties standing on one leg? Are they more confident on one leg than the other? Make sure you practise balances on both sides.
- Find ways of balancing barefoot, to experience your connection with the ground more fully. There are many yoga activities that can assist in developing balance skills, with the added advantage of also focusing on breath control. This can also support emotional balance.