Top 5 Ways to Improve Balance in Preschoolers
Instead of parking in front of a grocery store, park on the side whenever possible. Many large grocery and big box stores have parking around the side. Start from there and have your preschooler walk along the curb (often painted yellow) as if it were a balance beam. This can be turned into a game where everyone in the car looks for great curbs to challenge them. You can also use the parking lane dividers in an empty parking lot to practice. Make it an adventure!
Find a playground ball, a basketball, or any ball that you have and use this as a chair. A ball provides a dynamic surface for a child to sit on while you are playing a game, reading a book, or doing a craft that requires fine motor manipulation. The softer the ball, the harder it is to balance (basketballs are easiest if they are fully inflated). The rules of the activity are simple: No propping hands on legs, kissing knees, or wedging feet under the ball to keep it stable. Try this yourself on an exercise ball, it's not easy! If you make the activity fun and engaging, the child won’t even know they are working on balance and strengthening. If balancing is too challenging at first, back the ball into a corner to improve stability.
3. Have your child balance with one foot on a ball.
Work on single leg stance balance and strengthening by standing with one foot placed on a ball and hold it there while counting to ten. You might have to hold the ball initially until they get the hang of it. Again, the harder the ball, the easier it is to balance. Vary the size and density of the ball to improve proprioceptive joint input. For a real challenge, use a soft squeaky dog toy and challenge them to NOT let it squeak. Let them lean against the wall at first until they build enough strength and stability to do it on their own.
4. Practice removing shoes and socks while standing.
This is a perfect daily activity to work on balance, crossing midline, core strengthening, focus, spinal extension, and overall strengthening. It is something that doesn’t have to be added to a daily routine, because we all have to get those shoes off at some point during the day. Have your child stand and take their left shoe off with their right hand, without falling over, and then do the other. This is done in front of the body and it is easier than it sounds. If it is just too challenging at first, start by leaning against a wall, then move to an outside corner, and finally stand out in the open.
5. Make Play-Doh pancakes!
Use some Play-Doh to make several “mountains” or spiky mounds in a line on the floor about twelve inches apart. Have your child walk along and smash the spikes into pancakes with their heels (this is important and an especially good activity if they are a toe walker) flattening it over and over until you are satisfied with the pancake they make. You can advance this activity by placing the mountains on a balance beam, two by four, or even duct tape line on the floor that they must remain on during the activity. This is also good for sensory integration for kiddos that don’t really like the feel of “squishy” anywhere on their body.
If you have concerns about your child’s balance and need additional information or have any questions, call 708-478-1820 to request a free screening with a therapist at BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy in Orland Park or Naperville, IL. We are happy to help!
Sheri L. Ireland-Berk, PT
Director and Physical Therapist
BDI Playhouse Children's Therapy