Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

The Impact of Free-Choice Motor Activities on Children's Balance Control

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

The Impact of Free-Choice Motor Activities on Children's Balance Control

Article excerpt

Introduction

Human balance control is the capacity to maintain one's equilibrium when moving or standing in a certain position, and it is necessary in every activity being performed on a base that is narrower than the base on which the person usually moves as part of daily activities (Eckert, 1979; Pollock, Durward, Rowe & Paul, 2000).

Control of balance lies at the foundation of children's fundamental motor skills, and is also necessary when children learn new motor skills (Austad & van der Meer, 2007). In addition, balance control is the basis of the ability to focus attention on learning (Blythe, 2000) and can be either static or dynamic. Static balance involves the length of time the individual succeeds in stabilising his/ her body trunk in a way that enables one to focus his/her eyes (Rogers, Wardman, Lord & Fitzpatrick, 2001; Slijper & Latash, 2000). This activity depends on the control of sensory feedback based on a closed-circuit system in which pressure at the centre of the foot is continuously on the centre of the body mass (Winter, Patla, Prince, Ishac & Gielo-Perczak, 1998).

Dynamic balance, on the other hand, is a fundamental component of most complex tasks, mainly including coordination, which involves maintaining one's body equilibrium during the progression of various movements, thus enabling stability and reflection--during the performance of complex tasks, the body has to constantly react to changes occurring in this progression (Hatzitaki, Zlsi, Kollias & Kioumourtzoglou, 2002). Dynamic balance comes into play whenever one performs an action in which contact with the ground is temporarily suspended, such as running and jumping (locomotor skills), since in the transition stage, when the person performing the action shifts from one base to another, he/she has either partial or no contact with the ground. Balance has to be maintained both off the ground in order to return to the base and on the ground when stabilising the landing.

When the performed movement includes lifting the body off the ground and at the same time performing an additional action, such as clapping one's hands or turning the body while hopping, the movement becomes more complex. Not only is the body required to perform an additional movement that raises the level of difficulty of coordination of the body's dynamic balance, but this additional movement requires the performer to have enough muscle strength for reaching height and to have the ability to plan in advance both the amount of strength needed to execute the hop and the timing of the movement as the body reaches the peak of its trajectory (Assaiante, 1998; Kohen-Raz, 1986). Therefore, it is likely to occur later in the development scale.

There are two reasons for examining the effect of free-choice motor activities in kindergarten children. The first reason is that children spend a large part of the day in the kindergarten (Venetsanou & Kambas, 2010), where they have a physical environment in which they can choose the activities for their learning (Berris & Miller, 2011) and where much of their daily physical activity takes place. The second reason is that, at ages four to six, children have the most significant potential for developing their balance control, provided they are given the conditions in which to practice balance maintenance (Chow & Louie, 2013; Rival, Ceyte & Olivier, 2005; Shala & Bahtiri, 2011). In many cases, motor activity time in kindergarten is the only regular physical activity a child performs throughout the day (Pate, Pfeiffer, Trost, Ziegler & Dowda, 2004).

Typically, motor activity in kindergarten takes place either outdoors in defined areas equipped with playing facilities, or indoors with various apparatuses the child uses as part of elective activities done in learning centres (Giagazoglou et al., 2011; Mikkelsen, 2011). Moreover, teachers are responsible for organising the environment in a way that keeps the children busy in various activities and for ensuring that the atmosphere and the conditions in which the children play will encourage them to become involved (Martin, Rudisill & Hastie, 2009). …

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