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Balance

To move safely, a child must be able to sit or stand in a balanced position, and then move from this to another balanced position.

Good balance skills enable us to correct ourselves and stay upright in unstable conditions, for example on uneven ground, walking in crowds or standing on one leg.

If a child is having difficulty with their balance, you’ll notice that they:

  • Often trip while walking or running
  • Are unable to ride a bike
  • Find it hard to stay sat upright on a chair
  • Have difficulties going up and down steps and stairs
  • Have poor performance or difficulties joining in at PE and games
  • Have difficulties negotiating new, unfamiliar or uneven surfaces
  • Have poor concentration and attention
  • Struggle with activities that involve having their feet off the ground, such as accessing playground equipment
  • Are unable to balance on one leg for two to three seconds at four years of age

There are lots of ways to improve a child’s balance and build up their confidence. Try encouraging them to try different types of movement, including:

  • Playing regularly in the garden, playgrounds and parks trying out balance beams, swings and climbing frames and so on
  • Walking on a variety of surfaces such as gravel, sand, pebbles or wood chip
  • Playing in soft play areas that allow children to experience a wide variety of challenging activities in a safe environment
  • Learning to ride a bike or scooter. Start with stabilisers until their skills progress
  • Using space hoppers or gym balls
  • Jumping on trampolines, which helps with strength and flexibility as well as balance
  • Swimming
  • Ballet, gymnastics and martial arts classes
  • Stepping stones – try making your own out of card or paper. Vary the distance apart that you place them
  • Playing hopscotch, first using both feet, then hopping on one foot
  • Standing with feet as close together as possible to play throw and catch.
  • Walking along a line on the floor, for example a chalk line on the playground or a piece of string at home
  • Standing on one leg while you hold their hands. When they’re confident, let go of their hands and ask them to put their hands on their hips. You can make it more difficult by getting them to swing their free leg or slowly make shapes in the air with their foot

Postural control is the ability to control the muscles of the tummy, back, shoulders and pelvis, which is important to be able to balance. Gymnasts and ballet dancers are examples of people with excellent postural control. Activities that improve postural control include:

  • Aeroplanes – the child lies on the floor on their tummy and lifts their head and arms to fly like an aeroplane for 10 seconds
  • Tummy skateboarding – the child lies on a skateboard and propels themselves around with their hands
  • Human footballs – the child starts by lying on their back. They bring their knees up to their chest and cross their arms over their chest without holding their knees. Their chin should be on their chest. They hold for as long as they can, up to 30 seconds
  • Crab walking – the child sits on the floor with their hands on the floor behind them and their knees bent so their feet are on the floor in front. They lift their bottom and try to walk in different directions
  • Bridging – the child starts by lying on their back with their legs bent and feet on the floor. Ask them to make a bridge by lifting their bottom up off the floor. Roll a ball or a toy car under their bridge
  • Two point balance – the child starts on hands and knees. They lift one leg straight out behind and lift the opposite arm straight out in front. They hold for 10 seconds. They throw bean bags into a target in this position
  • Half kneeling – the child starts in a kneeling up position and then lifts one leg to place their foot in front of them (as if to stand up from the floor). In this position they play throw and catch or target games. As their balance gets better, you can challenge them further by not throwing the item directly to their hands. Remember to swap which knee is down and which foot is forward
  • Standing on one leg – if this is too hard they can rest one foot on a low box

If you have been following this advice and they have difficulty with balance and movement skills compared to friends of the same age – they might fall often, or be unable to jump with two feet together, by three and a half years of age, please speak to your health visitor or GP.

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