The Art of Balance

Walking through the Primary classes you may notice some of the children doing yoga poses, carefully walking on a thick rope, or riding a balance bike in the outdoor classroom. Children are invited to these lessons to help improve their balance, coordination, and awareness.

Many children are not born with the gift of balance and need to practice balance just like any other physical activity.

Balance is the ability to maintain control of a particular body position while performing a given task with minimal postural sway. This can be practiced by sitting at a table, standing on one leg, playing common games like hopscotch and freeze tag, and many other activities.

Why practice something so basic? Part of the reason is physical. To perform efficient movements across a host of activities and tasks, we need to be able to maintain control of body positioning during static (stationary) and dynamic (moving) activities. Developing good balance reduces the energy required for these activities and minimizes fatigue.

Balance is the pillar beneath every skill we have,” says Marjorie Woollacott, Ph.D., professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon in Eugene. And because children are bending over laptop computers and video games, shouldering heavy backpacks, and becoming overweight in alarming numbers, experts believe their balance is more challenged than ever.

Continuously hunching over or carrying extra weight “can affect posture and balance, which could then lead to less success in sports or even problems with gait,” says Harriet Williams, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Practicing balance also has other benefits. More and more, researchers are connecting balance to mental, not just physical, functioning. “When kids stabilize themselves from an unstable pose, they learn how to focus faster and more efficiently,” says Catherine Jackson, Ph.D., chair of the department of kinesiology at California State University at Fresno.

Children with learning problems, who often have less than optimal balance, can particularly benefit from balance training. “If you use half your mental energy to control balance, you have only the other half to process information,” explains Dr. Williams. “But if you have to use only one-tenth of that energy for postural control, then 90% is available for cognitive things.”

Balancing goes beyond physical strength and academic learning. Finding balance helps create a more settled child who is more aware of their surrounding environment and of their own personal accomplishments.