Sunday, April 18, 2010

Improving Balance Through Simple Play

I used to work in a therapy clinic and before that a hospital. One of the positives to those facilities, was LOTS of equipment including swings, rocker boards, balance beams, balls of various sizes, rock walls, air mattresses, trampolines, and more! It is so much easier to help children work on their balance with all of this equipment. The downside is that the child doesn't have this equipment at home, and at the most the child is getting 1-3 hours of weekly therapy in the clinic. So, what about all of those waking hours spent in play at home with no equipment? How can the family help the child improve on his balance skills? Well, going to the park, restaurant playgrounds, and mall play areas are great ideas, but those locations are limited can't live there after all. You also can't live at the facilities that have gymnastics, dance, and karate lessons.

I like to teach parents simple ways to help a child improve his balance skills that doesn't require any equipment at all; just their bodies and items they already have around the home. Some simple ideas for babies and young toddlers include:

-Lap play: have the child sit on your lap while facing you, and as you sing and talk to him, bounce him gently up/down and side-to-side to help elicit equilibrium reactions in which the arms come out to the side and the head comes back to the middle. I sing songs such as "The Noble Duke of York", "Rock, Rock, Rock Your Boat", "Getty Up Horsie", and make up songs that don't even exist. Initially, place your hands on the child's trunk (belly/back), then as he improves, lower your hands toward his hips. Be sure to watch the facial reactions in order to know if you can make it harder or should slow down.

-Animal walks: toddlers love to play pretend such as getting on all fours on the floor and pretending to be a cow or puppy. They also like to slither on their bellies as if they were a snake. My two favorite animal imitations are donkey kicks (get on all fours and kick the legs behing you) and bear crawl (similar to a dog, but straighten the legs so that the bottom is pointed in the air, if you are into Yoga it is the "Downward. Dog" pose). Try these or make up some animal imitations.

-Dance: Hold the older baby or toddler in your arms while you sway side-to-side, spin both ways, or jump up and down. Even lean over to see if the child can handle his head being upside down.

-Jumping on the bed: hold the child if he can't jump yet and help him jump. Then after awhile, place him on the floor and see if he can stand longer on his own. Often, the proprioceptive input from jumping helps with "body in space" awareness". If the child can independently stand and jump, then make the game harder such as squatting to jump like a frog or bunny, or add singing or music, especially a song about jumping. For an older toddler, have them jump down from a stool or over the stool as if they are Jack Be Nimble jumping of the candlestick!

I have many more ideas...the sky is the limit! I just listed a few to let you know that you don't need lots of expensive equipment to work on balance skills in between therapy visits. Well, time to go join my husband and daughter playing "Five Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed".

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