Along with gross motor control, balance is an essential skill. We use it every time we maintain any controlled body posture or position: standing up, hopping on one foot, riding a bike, walking, or simply sitting without falling sideways.
Children need their balance skills for many things beyond their physical actions. Increased mobility and stability of their bodies mean that children between 2 and 4 years of age start venturing more into pretend play alone or alongside peers, they begin playing games that involve sitting (like drawing or coloring), and they start asserting their independence by putting clothes on and off, or by using a fork to eat with increased autonomy.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, at around 36 months of age, most children can seat by themselves in a child-sized chair, bend over without falling, climb the ladders in the playground, and even walk four or five steps on their tiptoes without help. Then, approaching 4 years of age, your child’s balance skills will be sufficient to stand easily on one foot for at least two seconds.
But balance skills don’t end during the preschool years! A group of researchers from Taipei Hospital looked into how balance skills develop through infancy into what we’d think of as an “adult-level” of balance. Their findings, published in 2009’s International Journal of Pediatric Otolaryngology, suggest that balance skills start spiking around 36 months of age, and children achieve optimal balance by the time they are 12 years old. This is why it’s so important to help your child build a stable and strong base for skills like these during their early years of childhood.
There are many easy and fun ways to encourage your little one to develop their balance skills. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Dance together to some fun music. You can model moving upper and lower body parts to the rhythm of a song. If your child gets really good at this, you can try playing “Musical statues”.
- When sitting on the floor playing, encourage your child to sit with their legs crossed. By doing so they’ll engage their core muscles to maintain an upright position.
- For your 3 to 4-year-old, you can practice learning to pedal a tricycle.