7 Elements of Play: Balancing

July 06, 2016

This is the fourth in our 7 Elements of Play series, focused on balancing.

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In general, balancing helps kids build:

  • Cognitive development and introduces mechanical principles
  • Encourages pretend play and learning to take turns
  • Muscle strength and endurance
  • Proprioceptive awareness

Why is balance and stability important? How does it help children in the classroom?

What is balance? It is the ability to maintain a controlled body position during task performance, whether it is sitting at a table, walking the balance beam or stepping up onto a curb. We need the ability to maintain controlled positions during both still and moving activities. Static balance is the ability to hold a stationary position with control, such as when children play Freeze games. Dynamic balance is the ability to remain balanced while moving, such as riding a bike.

Children who learn good balance and stability at a young age have a better understanding of body awareness and coordination, which results in better concentration.

Balance is the pillar beneath every skill we have. … And because kids are bending over laptop computers and video games, shouldering heavy backpacks and becoming overweight, experts believe their balance is more challenged than ever. Continuously hunching over or carrying extra weight can affect posture and balance, which could then lead to less success in sports or even problems with gait.” Source: The Art of Balance; Parents.com

Cognitive development.

Balancing activities help children understand concepts such as gravity, equilibrium and counterbalances, skills essential for many sports. It promotes questions about where things are and why they are happening.

There is a landscaping edge on our campus. It’s interesting to watch how the children choose to get from point A to point B. They figure out how to move forward without falling off, holding their arms out, moving one foot in front of the other or just scooting along. It helps them develop problem-solving skills: do I need to go slow or fast?

Pretend play and social interaction

Balancing activities promote social interaction and pretend play. Listen and you might hear the children encouraging their friends to ‘walk the plank’ then cheering or whooping when they do it successfully.

Children have to learn to take turns. They have to learn to work together. For instance, some children when walking a balance beam want to turn around so that they are walking towards the other children. When they meet in the middle, they have to decide if someone is going to get off or who needs to turn around so they are all going the same direction. They use their developing social skills to say “hey, let’s do this.”

The kids in my class like to jump up on the landscaping ledge on our campus. They walk. They balance. Some buzz right across it one foot in front of the other, while others, who are less developed, just scoot. The kids jump down to get back in line to do it all over again. Sometimes they pretend they are walking the plank. ‘Don’t step off the side,’ they say, ‘or the alligators and crocodiles will get you.’

Muscle strength and endurance.

Balancing on the Playground

Balancing on the Playground

Balancing activities increase a child’s endurance and core strength. Since there aren’t a lot of activities young children can do to develop their core strength; balancing activities are essential.

Balancing helps:

  • Hand-eye coordination. This enables children to process visual information to control the hands, helping them to write or catch a ball, which is essential for fine motor skills.
  • Postural control. It can be hard for a child to sit at a desk who has a weak core. Children with poor postural control get tired, essentially becoming noodles laying on their desks. Balancing helps develop those core muscles, enabling them to sit up straight and focus on the task at hand.

Proprioceptive development.

This refers to how aware children are of their body position and movement. Kids who struggle with this are not good balancers.

This might show up in a child who:

  • Falls easily, trips often or can’t recover as quickly when off-balance
  • Moves stiffly, runs more like a robot
  • Avoids physical activity on the playground or doesn’t want to participate in sports
  • Is slower than their peers in mastering physical skills such as riding a bike
  • Pushes harder or invades the personal space of others more than they intend to

All of these types of play contribute to a feeling of achievement, leading to more self confidence in the classroom.

And, be sure to read the entire 7 Elements of Play series and related content.

Play Learn Grow TogetherWant to learn more? I give an educational presentation about the importance of playground activities, how these different elements of play contribute to a child’s success in the classroom.

Play, Learn and Grow with Us!
Jami Murdock Jami Murdock

Jami has been an early childhood educator for 25 years. She operated an “in home” daycare center for 13 years and has been teaching preschool for the past 12 years. She has experience working with children on the autism spectrum and sensory processing dysfunction. Jami presents on “How Important are Playground Activities to a Child’s Success in the Classroom.” Her passion is her family and her work with children.

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Hummel Park Custom-Designed Slide with TriiBalancing on the Playground

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