Thursday, October 4, 2012

Balance Exercises for Your Child

If your child is affectionately known as "the fall guy" from multiple trips and falls, balance exercises might help. Do exercises that challenge the child's balance in ways they are unaccustomed to improve their ankle, hip and trunk balance strategies. Improved balance helps sports performance, independent and safe mobility, and exercise participation. The two types of balance are static and dynamic. You need static balance to maintain your position while stationary such as when standing in line at school or sitting at a picnic table. Dynamic balance helps you maintain your position and overcome positional changes when moving as when going down a slide or roller skating. Start improving balance with static balance exercises first.
Static Balance Exercises

Impose external challenges in a variety of positions to improve children's static balance. Have the children shift their weight forward and backward while sitting in a chair. Progress to side-to-side weight shifting and from two- to single-hand support. Present objects of varying directions and distances to the children while seated. Children improve their static balance when they can hold their position while reaching beyond their base of support. This helps them overcome falls. Play volleyball or toss with a balloon while sitting on a stable surface without back support. Try to hit or toss the balloon far enough outside of their reach where they can reach it but it's still challenging. Perform the same exercises standing for more difficulty. Toss a ball or small medicine ball as they stand on one leg. The goal is to maintain their position, catch the ball and keep the opposite leg off of the ground.

Dynamic Balance Exercises

Obstacle courses are fun ways to improve dynamic balance with kids. Set up an obstacle course that involves running on unlevel surfaces, climbing up inclines and hopping. Increase the difficulty gradually and then return to less-complex activities. Start with a forward-moving simplistic activity like walking forward through a sand box barefoot. Next, have the kids climb over a barrel, followed by crawling up an incline. At the top of the incline, incorporate a hula hoop. Perform five circles of the hula hoop on each arm, leg and their whole body. Slowly add lateral movements like sidestepping on a straight line, balance beam or curb to get to the next activity. If you have access to a foam pit, have the children swing on tire swings five times and then jump off into a foam pit. Have the kids walk through the pit to get to the end of the obstacle course. For the final stations, have kids play hopscotch to the finish line. At the finish line, play statue and have the kids hold their position with their eyes closed for five seconds. You can repeat the obstacle course to increase the intensity or have kids work in teams.

Sport Specific Balance Exercises

If your child enjoys sports, then good dynamic balance is very helpful. Have your child walk a straight line or balance beam heel to toe with his eyes closed. This exercise improves dynamic balance and positional sense in the most challenging way. When your child can maintain his balance without visual feedback, they inherently know where they are in space and adjust as needed when performing stunts. Skateboarders benefit from balancing on rocker boards and wobble boards in a tandem stance simulating their foot position on a skateboard. Increase the time they stand on the board without the edges touching the floor. Progress to randomly tapping the board with your foot to challenge their ability to maintain their balance. Have kids balance with their eyes closed to advance the level of difficulty. Have pitchers stand on the dome side of a BOSU with one leg and throw a pitch with a small rubber ball or very light medicine ball into a rebounder. This exercise teaches balance on an unstable surface that is intensified by throwing into a rebounder. Catching the rebounded ball adds a challenge as the force attempts to disturb the child's position.
Special Needs Balance Exercises

Do you remember how much fun it was to ride your dad's leg like a horse when you were little? That fun activity develops and improves balance even for kids with special physical needs. Hold the child's hands or trunk to provide whatever level of support she needs without providing too much help and bounce her around. The child works hard to keep her balance to keep riding. This is appropriate for babies who can sit up independently to young school-age children. Have your child walk or crawl over couch cushions to improve dynamic balance. The cushioning responds to the movement of your child, requiring her to react to keep their balance. This improves ankle, hip and trunk strategies. The strategies are important for maintaining balance in precarious situations or with dynamic activities. Have your child sit on a stability ball at a chalk board,drawing easel, window or mirror and finger paint or color with window markers. Have her make as big of a stroke or picture as she can, which will encourage her to move outside of her base of support and regain her balance against the movement of the stability to stay on top. The child practices crossing the midline of the body in a fun way. The ability to cross midline without falling is paramount to developing and improving balance and performing functional tasks. Make or purchase a scooter board for your child to enhance balance skills. Set up cans or boxes with tops and bottoms cut out to form tubes. Play scooter board pool by scattering golf or tennis balls around the room. Have your child ride the scooter board around on her tummy to each ball to knock it into the tube. Good balance translates into good function and safe mobility for everyone.

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