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What is Balance?
This article provides helpful information regarding the importance of a child’s balance system and how it correlates with learning in the classroom. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
A child’s balance may not seem very important for learning development. However, you may be surprised to learn that good balance is closely related to many areas of higher learning.
Kids who often struggle with balance may also have trouble with concepts like reading, writing, spelling and math.
How is it all connected?
To gain a greater understanding of how balance is tied to the learning process, we must first understand balance and how it works in the body.
What is balance?
Balance is part of a larger structure called the vestibular system. The vestibular system is a system of balance and motion and is located in the inner ear. It’s fully developed in a child at 5-months-old. So even babies can be exposed to balance opportunities when they are in their infant stages.
The cerebellum, located in the lower level of the brain, is the control center for balance and movement. This part of the brain uses both sides of the body to support the child’s balance. Balance gives the body the ability to function within the force of gravity, or to “know your place in space.” Within the balance system, static and dynamic balance, are two components that contribute to a child’s learning progression.
A child who can demonstrate good balance has the ability to stabilize their body at any given time. Balance requires the child to respond when body position changes based on what is happening in their environment.
Both balance and posture work together and rely on each other under the child’s reflex system to function properly. Balance is mastered throughout the child’s development and continues to build as the child meets specific balance milestones during each growing stage of life.
We may think of ABCs as the first step in a child’s learning process, but let’s reverse our thinking. The primary alphabet every child needs for learning readiness is a strong foundation of Attention, Balance and Coordination (ABC). Together, these three pieces set the framework for “balanced” learning.
“Secure balance is fundamental to navigation in space because it provides the physical basis for a secure internal reference point from which spatial judgements about the external environment are formed.” Sally Goddard Blythe, Attention, Balance and Coordination.
Why is balance important?
When balance is working properly, we hardly notice it. It’s only when other sensory, learning and emotional systems break down that we see a wide variety of signs and symptoms that may be attributed to poor balance. Many of these signs and symptoms are “masked” as cognitive and emotional disorders, when it’s really the balance system that is failing.
Good balance allows children to sit still, concentrate when needed and control eye movements necessary for coordination, reading and writing.
A child’s vision system is supported by balance. Balance gives kids the visual stability to view images, letters and numbers on the page. It allows kids to read words across the page, write their letters correctly and copy notes from the chalkboard without getting dizzy or disoriented.
Vision and balance must work together, while hearing must support balance. All three components are needed for students to receive information (through eyes and ears) and apply the information they receive. Without good balance, reading can become tiresome, frustrating and fragmented.
Balance is what tells our body to be aware of spatial relations, such as right and left, up and down, front and back, east and west, and north and south. This information is especially important when kids are learning to write letters and space words across the page. Children who continue to reverse letters, numbers and words on the page after the age of eight often struggle with balance and stability.
When do kids struggle with balance?
It may be hard to believe, but balance is not something that develops automatically. Balance is something children build overtime with practice and play. Multiple forms of play activities contribute to sustainable balance for babies, toddlers and older children.
If balance is not developed properly, there are many signs and symptoms of an immature balance system. Parents and therapists may find kids struggle with the following activities:
- Amusement Park Rides: Experiences fear and anxiety of riding rides that create butterflies in stomach.
- Sea-crossing Activities: Experiences motion sickness in cars, boats and spinning park equipment.
- Standing on the edge: Experiences vertigo and dizziness.
- Park Equipment: Avoids park equipment that requires spinning, swinging and rolling.
Children who experience multiple ear infections as infants and toddlers may damage their inner ear where balance is housed. As a result, kids often show signs of poor balance, attention and posture. Research also indicates that children with a history of chronic ear infections may show signs of ADHD and additional learning disabilities.
Retained Primitive Reflexes are another developmental marker that can cause issues with control of balance, posture and motor skills. When kids are tested for retained Primitive Reflexes, the three reflexes that most commonly hinder balance and motor development are the Tonic Labyrinth Reflex (TLR), Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR), and the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR).
Kids with balance, motor and postural delays are often labeled “good enough” because they meet the minimum standard requirements in school to move to the next level. Many children are held back by their motor problems, but tend to get “lost in the system” because they can still perform reasonably well within the school system.
Balance Development Activities
Before incorporating balance activities in a child’s routine, parents and therapists should perform a few simple balance tests. Assessing a child’s balance through simple checklists and assessments can give parents and therapists a better understanding of the child’s level of balance and what activities may be beneficial for strengthening learning development.
Playground equipment such as carousels, slides, swings and see-saws are designed to “exercise” the balance system. However, many of these types of activities that work the vestibular and balance systems were deemed as “dangerous play” and have been removed from parks and recreational playgrounds.
Even if kids don’t have parks or playgrounds with these types of equipment, simple balance activities in this blog post can still be incorporated at home and at school to accomplish the same outcomes.
In addition, many activities involving boxes, ladders and balance beams can develop underperforming areas of balance and can establish better learning growth in the classroom.
To access several slide decks created for therapy and in-home practice that require balance, check out the following blog posts:
If you find all the activities and exercises above helpful for balance, you may consider joining our Integrated Movement Center membership.
This resource provides members with monthly or annual access to activities that strengthen and support all motor skills, including balance.
Join other Integrated Movement Center members here.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs