Balance is critical to development. From the time a baby lifts its head, the ability to coordinate and balance movement becomes a key life skill. As children grow, that ability becomes more crucial. Yet, the proper training of balance has been a neglected part of physical education for decades. Fortunately, the advent of kids balance boards is changing that.
Balance board exercises and games are being used by physiotherapists, school physical education teachers, sports coaches, and parents across the globe to help children to develop rhythm, sequencing, coordination and spatial awareness skills. But they are also proving beneficial in the acquisition of visual and auditory processing skills and even in cognitive development.
According to Marjorie Wollacott, Ph.D., professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon at Eugene, “Balance is the pillar beneath every skill we have. Continually hunching over or carrying extra weight (school bag) can affect posture and balance, which could lead them to less success in sport or even problems with gait.”
If you haven’t yet got your child into balance training, consider the reasons why balance board exercise is a smart choice for kids.
The Benefit of Rocker Boards
1. Cognitive Development
The use of the Balance Board by children has been identified through research and observation to help kids to learn more effectively. Specifically, it has the ability to increase a child’s ability to sustain self-directed attention.
Children’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. This has been observed as a consequence of the computer technology-driven entertainment that they are constantly bombarded with. The result is that many children find it hard to sustain their attention on a subject in class.
Balance board training forces the child to stay in the moment for the entire session. They have to keep their mind and body in tune in order to stay upright. This has been observed to have a flow-on effect in the classroom.
Teachers have also observed that children who regularly engage in balance board training have an increased capacity to learn new material. Dennis Estrada, an English teacher at San Francisco University High School in San Francisco, California, noted, “When children come to me directly after a P.E. session on the balance boards, they are more ready to learn. But, not only that, they are also able to sequence their learning more effectively.”
Balance board training has also been observed to help young children to improve their ability to produce speech sounds. This is especially so when the child is actually standing on the balance board. Researchers believe that this is because standing on the board, we are bringing into play both hemispheres of the brain. As a result, any information taken in when on the board is learned faster and remembered for longer. With both sides of the brain working together, the brain is far better organized. This improves a child’s ability to make sense of challenging tasks such as making speech sounds, or even learning a new language.
2. Behavioral Development
Balance Board training has been observed to be an excellent means of improving the behavior of children. There is an increased motivation, not just to exercise on the board, but in general. Children are often drawn to the balance board because it looks like a skateboard, which is generally considered a ‘cool’ piece of equipment.
The challenge aspect of using the balance board provides motivation for children as they compete against each other and themselves to try to stay on the board and perfect the various balance moves.
Teachers have noted an increased enthusiasm for learning that results when children regularly engage in balance board training. Brian Diver, the principal of the largest middle school in the Southern Hemisphere, located in Tauranga, New Zealand, noted, “We’ve been using balance board training as part of our core P.E. curriculum for 12 months. As well as improving coordination and balance, an unexpected flow-over benefit is that children are more motivated, organized and enthusiastic about school in general.”
3. Emotional Benefits
Balance Board Training has been used by child psychologists for some time now as a tool to help children who have suffered trauma or are undergoing an emotionally challenging time. It has been shown to help children overcome the effects of emotional stress. In the process when children gain ability on the balance board their self-esteem improves, along with their level of personal self-control.
4. Visual Benefits
Training on the balance board relies on the senses working together. A key sense that the balancer relies upon is that of sight. An observed benefit of the keen development of the eyes during training is improved eye tracking when a young child is reading. There is also a better use of both eyes together.
5. Motor Skill Benefits
Many children today lack the basic coordination running and jumping skills of previous generations. This is another result of the computer-based entertainment that many children spend so much time on. Not only does spending all day hunched over a tablet prevent a child from running and jumping, it also puts them in a constantly hunched over position, which is wrecking their posture and causing potential damage to their spine.
Balance board training will help to correct postural problems in children. It will lengthen out the spine and help the person to naturally attain to a neutral spine position, with the core tight, the back straight and the shoulders pulled back.
Balance board training will also help a child to improve her sense of rhythm. Not only will this make her a better dancer, but she will be able to develop her proprioception system so that she will be better able to react when she encounters a potential fall situation.
Children have a much higher incidence of sustaining a fall than adults do. This is often because they lack postural control and muscle strength. A 2011 study, tracked 30 Grade 1 students, half of whom engaged in regular balance training (3 sessions per week) for 4 weeks. The children who engaged in the balance training were seen to have improved indicators in terms of balance, postural control and muscular strength than did the non balance board group.
6. Sporting Benefits
Balance board training will help young athletes to become more agile. They will be able to make sharp turns more effectively, come to sudden stops without tipping over and improve their kinaesthetic awareness.
Balance board training will also help children to ward off potentially devastating sporting injury. A study out of the University of Wisconsin is just one of many that has analysed the effect of a regular balance training program on ankle injury. This study documented that a balance training program, implemented throughout a sports season, will reduce the rate of ankle sprains by 38% in high school basketball and soccer players.
Balance training can also make young sports people stronger for their sport. Balance training can also make you stronger. According to Louis Stack, a Canadian national speed skating team member and balance training expert, “Balance conditioning is a way to train the body to make better use of the strength you already have. When you train someone for stabilization, proprioception and balance, by default he or she is at less risk for injury. Good balance reduces the need for additional effort.”