Balance & Coordination

Balance is the ability to maintain a controlled body position while doing a task. This could be sitting at a table or school desk, walking on a balance beam or stepping up onto a kerb. To function effectively, we need the ability to maintain controlled positions during both static (still) and dynamic (moving) activities.

Static balance is the ability to hold a stationary position with control (e.g. “Freeze” or “statue” games). Dynamic balance is the ability to remain balanced while engaged in movement (e.g. running or bike riding, hopping or marching on the spot).

Why are balance and coordination important for learning?

Age appropriate balance and coordination allows a child to participate confidently in sports with a reasonable degree of success as it aids fluid body movement (e.g. walking along a balance beam or playing football).

Being involved in sport is helpful in maintaining self regulation for daily tasks as well as developing a social network and achieving a sense of belonging in a community or social setting. It also helps children develop and maintain appropriate controlled body movement during the task which, when effective, limits the energy required thus minimising fatigue.

If you have a clumsy or uncoordinated child you or if you have child who gets tired from doing most all forms of exercise, one of their issues may be that their balance system is inefficient.

With good balance and coordination there is less likelihood of injury as the child is likely to have appropriate postural responses when needed (e.g. putting hands out to protect themselves when they  fall of their bike or blocking a ball).

The physical attributes of balance and coordination also allow appropriate posture for tasks in the classroom like sitting on the matt or at a desk table and subsequent success at fine motor tasks.

What are the building blocks necessary to develop balance and coordination?

  • Core Strength : Poor core strength can cause poor posture which can also affect gross motor and fine motor skills. Building strong core strength is like building a strong foundation for your child.
  • Body Awareness: Knowing body parts and understanding the body’s movement in space in relation to other limbs and objects is essential for negotiating the environment or ball and bike skills.
  • Bilateral integration: Using two hands together with one hand leading: e.g. holding a tennis racquet with the non-dominant hand with the ‘helping’ non-dominant hand holding and stabilising only between hits.
  • Crossing Mid-line: The ability to cross the imaginary line running from the child’s nose to pelvis that divides the body into left and right sides.
  • Hand eye coordination: The ability to process information received from the eyes to control, guide and direct the hands is crucial for handwriting or catching a ball.
  • Muscular strength: A muscles ability to exert force against resistance (e.g when climbing a tree to push or pull up).
  • Muscular endurance: The ability of a singular muscle or group of muscles to exert force repeatedly against resistance to allow sustained physical task engagement.
  • Postural Control: The ability to stabilize the trunk and neck to enable coordination of the limbs for controlled task.
  • Body Awareness (Proprioception): The information that the brain receives from the muscles and joints to make us aware of its position. Its this awareness of body position and body movement that enables skills to become ‘automatic’.
  • Sensory processing: The accurate processing of sensory stimulation (such as touch, sound and taste) both in the environment and our own body for quick and physically appropriate responses to movement.
  • Isolated movement: The ability to move an arm or leg while keeping the remainder of the body still needed for refined movement (e.g. throwing a ball on handed or swimming freestyle).

How can I tell if my child has problems with balance and coordination?

If a child has difficulties with balance and coordination they might:

  • Fall easily, trip often or can’t ‘recover’ quickly from being off balance.
  • Move stiffly and lack fluid body movement (e.g. run like a ‘robot’).
  • Avoid physical activity (e.g. playground use, sports participation).
  • Be late to reach developmental milestones (e.g. crawling and walking).
  • Be slower than their peers to master physical skills (e.g. bike riding, swimming or tree climbing).
  • Push harder, move faster or invade the personal space of others more than they intend to.
  • Be fearful of new physical games (e.g. swings) or scared of heights that do not faze their peers.
  • Have difficulty getting dressed standing up (e.g. they need to sit down to get put pants as as they lose their balance standing on one leg).
  • Have trouble navigating some environments (e.g. steps, kerbs, uneven ground).
  • Tire more quickly then their peers or need to take regular short rest periods during physical activity.

What other problems can occur when a child has balance and coordination difficulties?

When a child has balance and coordination difficulties, you may also see difficulties with:

Writing

  • Pencil grasp: The efficiency of, and the manner in which, the pencil is held in drawing and writing is often compromised (too loose or extremely tight and heavy in pressure).
  • Pre-writing skill development: sloppy or excessively heavy pencil strokes that comprise most letters, numbers and early drawing.
  • Pencil grasp: The efficiency of, and the manner in which, the pencil is held in drawing and writing is often compromised (too loose or extremely tight and heavy in pressure).
  • Hand dominance: The consistent use of one (usually the same) hand for task performance which is necessary to allow refined skills to develop.

Physically

  • Motor (muscle) planning of how to perform a physical task (e.g. they may start at step three not one).
  • ‘Floppy’ or ‘rigid’ muscle tone: Floppy muscles make the limbs looks limp or alternatively overly ‘tight’ muscles make the limbs look rigid.
  • Spatial awareness of how they are using or placing their body (e.g. so that they unintentionally invade other peoples personal space without knowing it).
  • Low Endurance for physical (fine and gross motor) tasks.
  • Left right discrimination: Conceptualising directional difference so the child ‘knows’ the difference between left and right side of the body
  • Self care: Dressing independently,  holding and using cutlery, tooth brush as but some examples.
  • Sensory processing: difficulty with accurate registration, interpretation and response to sensory stimulation in the environment and their own body.

Speech

  • Articulation: Clarify of speech sounds and spoken language.

What activities can I do at home or in the classroom to help improve balance and coordination?

  • Brain Gym:
  • Walking over unstable surfaces (e.g. pillows, bean bags or blankets on the floor) that make the trunk work hard to maintain an upright position.
  • Balance board: Using a balance board to practice balance will help your child overcome fears and develop the necessary skills for normal childhood activities which require good balance and coordination. (see my online shop)
  • Unstable swings and moving games: including suspended climbing ladders and jungle gyms. When swings move in unexpected ways it forces the trunk muscles to work harder.
  • Wheelbarrow walking (the child ‘walking’ on their hands while an adult holds their legs off the floor).
  • Flip board: It’s a perfect tool for children to work independently on hand-eye and hand-foot coordination, visual tracking, motor planning, as well as persistence. (see online shop)
  • Swimming: Involves the body having to work against resistance of the water, thus providing better awareness of where the body is in space.
  • Kneeling (with no hands touching the floor) to tap a balloon back to another person.
  • Hopscotch: Requires the child to switch movement patterns frequently and rapidly.
  • Stepping stone games with big jumps (i.e. no steps between the ‘stones’) challenge a child’s balance.
  • Bike and scooter: Both activities require the child to continually make postural adjustments to maintain balance. 

Want to do more?

Subscribe to one of the options on this website to do Brain Gym activities at home or in the classroom. Memberships from just $65. Follow along to videos, find out about beneficial subject based activities that are known to benefit the learning process.

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