What is Balance?
Balance is a skill that adults and children use to adjust and maintain a controlled body position during everyday activities. It is involved in movements like sitting, walking, jumping, dressing, and riding a bike.
Static vs Dynamic
Static balance is involved in maintaining an upright position. When you stand on one leg, sit upright on chair, or try to hold a squat, you are activating static balance. Dynamic balance is involved in movement activities such as jumping, hopping, skipping or going up and down the stairs.
How Does Balance Work?
In order to maintain balance, three sensory systems in our bodies perform certain roles and rely on each other. These are Somatosensory/Proprioceptive system, Vestibular system and the Visual System. They all provide feedback about body orientation.
We use our eyes to sense and judge the world around us. The eyes provide important information to the brain that identifies how we are positioned relative to other objects.
The vestibular system measures head rotation and head acceleration through semicircular canals and otolith organs (utricle and saccule) found in the ears. This system tells the brain whether the head is tilting upwards or downwards, to the right or to the left, or turning sideways.
This system provides information from the skin, muscles and joints which are sensitive to stretch or pressure in the surrounding tissues. It tells the brain about the body’s direction of movement.
The Central Nervous System receives feedback about the body orientation from these three main sensory systems and integrates this sensory feedback and subsequently generates a corrective, stabilizing torque by selectively activating muscles.*
Why Does Balance Matter?
Promotes Confidence in Movement Activities
Balance allows us to have better control over our bodies. Children who have good balance are confident in activities that involve moving the feet on and off the ground. They will show good control over starting and stopping movements in jumping, climbing, and swinging. Such children can adapt to any sudden movement and would know how to protect themselves from injury.
Provides Opportunities for Social Participation
A good balance also provides more opportunities to participate in social events. Children develop their social skills when they play with their peers in different activities and events such as birthday parties, games and sports. And a child who is fearful of engaging in movement activities because of balance issues will avoid these events. This will limit opportunities to build social skills and could lead to isolation.
Helps in Focus & Attention
Children who are too focused on maintaining balance will have difficulty learning skills requiring significant attention. A child who is exerting a lot of effort in maintaining a sitting posture will have difficulty in completing a writing activity that requires sustained attention and focus.
Looking for an open-ended toy to improve focus, encourage balance and promote movement? Checkout our Wobble Board.
Foundation of Balance
Development of balance relies on physical development (bone & muscle growth), gross motor skills, and sensory processing (visual, vestibular and proprioceptive).
The foundation of balance starts to develop at a very young age. A baby who tries to lift his head and move against gravity is already laying the foundation for balance. When a baby tries to move and explore during tummy time, he is already developing muscle tone and core strength necessary for rolling and other gross motor skills.
Gross motor skills are the skills required to control large muscle groups that move body parts like the trunk and the arms and legs. These skills are crucial to learning how to balance since the muscles involved in these skills are also actively engaged when maintaining balance.
Let’s look at some Gross Motor Skills Milestones from 1-6 Years Old!
More about Gross Motor Skills here.
Difficulty in Balancing
In children, difficulty in balancing may manifest in different situations.
- Frequent trips or falls
- Difficulty getting dressed up in standing position
- Difficulty walking on different terrains
- Slow in reaching gross motor milestones
- Frequently slouches during tabletop activities (not related to boredom)
- Avoidance of movement activities
Fun Activities to Improve Balance
Is balancing difficult for your child? Don’t worry. Just like any other skill, balancing is something that you can improve with practice. Here are some fun movement activities that can improve your child's balance.
Please refer to the Gross Motor Milestones to determine the age-appropriateness of the movement.
1. Obstacle Courses
Obstacle courses that involve movements such as pushing, carrying, and crawling stimulate large muscles of the body that helps in static and dynamic balance.
2. Wobble Board Play
The wobble board is a mobile wooden toy that highly encourages static and dynamic balance. It provides a rich source of vestibular stimulation and it can either have a calming or stimulating effect depending on how it is used.
Curious about this board? Click here to know more about it.
3. Imaginary bridge
Put a long masking tape on the floor and pretend it's a long thin bridge. You have to reach the other side of the bridge without tripping or falling. Walk straight on it without changing directions.
4. Ball Rolling
Take turns in rolling the ball then stop its movement using one foot only.
5. Playing Twister
6. Riding a scooter
7. Riding a bike
* Peterka RJ. Sensorimotor integration in human postural control. J Neurophysiol 88: 1097–1118, 2002.