Teaching Balance Training to Improve Stability and Cognition for Children

Article excerpt

Falls are the leading cause of injuries in children, especially among those who are under the age of 10. Physical education professionals must be reminded that these children are still developing their central nervous system, which dictates their mobility and coordination. According to Tinsworth and McDonald (2001), the types of injuries caused by falls in children range from simple scrapes to fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations. Approximately 8,000 children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fall-related injuries on a daily basis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Over the past few decades, the number of studies on falls in children and on the prevention thereof has been very limited (Phelan, Khoury, Kalkwarf, & Lanphear, 2001; Suecoff, Avner, Chou, & Crain, 1999; Tinsworth & McDonald, (2001).There has also been no true curricular approach toward preventing this issue, especially in physical education programs nationwide.

The Use of Balance Boards

There are many benefits to having young children train or practice on balance boards.The physical education setting allows educators to provide opportunities for youth to develop essential fitness skills that can be transferred into other life experiences.Training or regular practice sessions on balance boards can help young children to improve their balance, coordination, leg strength, upper-body strength, and core development. A recommended teaching strategy for using balance boards is to set up a balance-board station during a fitness unit. Fitness stations can be enhanced with learning cards that include pictures and descriptions for each activity. For the activities to be effective and safe for children, physical educators must demonstrate and teach proper skill progressions for each activity. The learning process for children involves learning the least challenging components of an activity first and then proceeding to the most challenging through a natural progression. Of course, not all children will learn at the same rate (Pangrazi & Beighle, 2010). Physical educators can present young children with a variety of activity progressions and encourage and motivate them to advance to more challenging activities when ready. The following sections describe some basic teaching tips for using balance boards and provide examples for exercises and activities that physical educators can use when introducing balance boards in the physical education environment.

Exercise Progressions for Younger Children

When introducing balance-board activities to young children it is important to start with basic exercises and progress to more challenging ones. First, have the child step onto the board and stand on it with feet shoulder-width a part. The child should try to balance on the board for a designated amount of time while trying to keep the edges of the board from coming into contact with the floor. Each time the child attempts this exercise the physical educator can encourage the child to set goals such as exceeding the balance time from the previous attempt. The body position should indicate a slight bend at the knee and an upright upper body to engage the core muscles and to enhance good posture.

Once the child is stable with the basic balance exercise he or she can progress to the next level of movement, which involves balancing on the board from side to side, front to back, or in a circular motion. This will develop leg strength and core stability as the child continues to focus on keeping good posture (upright upper body and looking straight ahead). Progressions to this exercise would include having the child move his or her feet closer to the center of the board or staggering them on the board while trying to maintain balance while performing the same side-to-side, front-to-back, or circular motions. After some time and observable improvement of a child's balance and stability, instruct the child to practice the same beginning-level exercises with eyes closed. …