It's All About Balance
This is the final post in a series on the importance of school playgrounds. Learn more and request a copy of Play On! - the standards-based curriculum and design guide for school playgrounds that promotes physical activity.
Balance. It’s a fundamental need in our lives, both literally and figuratively. Balance, in the physical sense, is the ability to maintain control of your body’s position while performing an activity, such as riding a bicycle or standing on one leg. A mature sense of balance usually develops by age 12 in children, but in the years leading up to that milestone it is important to provide children with opportunities to develop an ability to balance. There are two forms of balance:
Static balance: this is associated with activities during which a child is stationary like holding a handstand or standing on one foot.
Dynamic balance: this is exactly what it sounds like - maintaining balance while moving: swinging, running, jumping or climbing.
On a playground, it’s important to incorporate play elements that help children develop a foundation in balance and coordination. It is a fundamental motor skill that acts as a building block for all other physical and cognitive abilities. Moreover, balance and coordination can assist in the development of social and emotional skills, provide self-confidence and reduce the risk of injuries related to falls.
Balancing is the foundation for a child’s athletic skills, as well as many other physical abilities. Standing, running, jumping are all activities that rely on good balance. With a well-developed sense of balance, children can perform physically-demanding tasks for longer periods of time without fatigue.
Children who are able to balance often have greater success with sensory processing. Sensory processing is the ability to process input received by your eyes, ears, nose, skin and mouth as you navigate the world around you. All of your senses work together to help you interact with your environment.
Gross motor skills are the skills required to control large muscle groups that move body parts like the trunk and the arms and legs. Playgrounds that incorporate balance activities enhance the muscle groups and gross motor skills that control posture. Fine motor skills are also enhanced as children learn to balance. These skills are linked to handwriting, clapping hands, completing puzzles and other activities.
Children who are able to balance are more likely to perform well in school. Good posture is related to balance, and is essential for children in a classroom. Handling objects, opening books and selecting objects are all part of the motor skills enhanced by balance.
Promote Balance on the Playground
When you’re selected equipment for the playground, don’t overthink it. Start with the obvious items like a balance beam (the word balance is right in the name!). These are low-cost products that provide a lot of benefits for children of all ages. Also, consider variations on the balance beam such as models that graduate in size from one end to the other, wobble as you walk across them or curve one way or another. These derivative products provide balancing skills along a continuum as children progress in their skills.
Climbers, the focus of our climbing play blog post, are also a great way to enhance balance and coordination. Choose climbers that provide varying degrees of difficulty (i.e. vertical climbers, angled climbers, climbers that include moving elements) to help children develop their skills over time and in different ways.
If you want to learn more about balancing play, along with all six essential elements of play, request a copy of PlayOn! for your school. Or contact a GameTime school play expert in your neighborhood.