BALANCE: FROM BABY TO GYMNAST. Baby’s balance development.




Balance for running and gymnastics:


The activities for Levels 5, 6 and 7 are primarily intended to provide a balance development environment to assist toddler to run and do gymnastics well. Some of the benefits of running are described in BABY’S GREAT ADVENTURE Chapters 33, 40 and 47.There are two primary reasons why focuses on gymnastics as a central activity or goal:


  • Firstly: Toddler’s OMSDEP is to be able to balance perfectly in any environment. Gymnastics provides her with opportunities to develop excellent balance (and excellent mobility and manual skills) that can be used in other activities besides gymnastics. Those other activities include climbing trees, riding horses, jumping over rocks, streams or other obstructions while running, and standing on a surfboard while riding across the face of an ocean wave. Gymnastics, therefore, has many natural benefits for toddler’s natural development.


  • Secondly: Many sports or fitness activities require a team of people (and often an opposing team) and often special equipment to be present, if the sport is to be played. Research into the life-long fitness and health attitudes of people who participate in team sports as children and teenagers has shown the majority of those people become unfit as older teenagers and adults because they cannot fit a team schedule into their busy family and working lives.


A child, teenager or adult can practice many aspects of gymnastics alone or with a small group, and with a minimum of equipment if necessary, and still maintain a high level of fitness for a lifetime. When children and teenagers become adults therefore, they can more easily vary the times they practice gymnastics and fit a gymnastics schedule into busy family and working lives.


Whatever choices your child might make in the future about continuing to be a gymnast, time spent doing fundamental gymnastics now, in this and other Levels, should provide her with skills that she can use in a variety of future activities. Activities such as diving, ballet, skating, skiing, horse riding, cross-country running or mountain climbing. In addition gymnastics fosters a lifetime of nonaggressive healthy and active lifestyle, poise, and is a relatively safe activity.


The Balance Development Environments: parents create five balance development environments for toddler at this Level. Four of those environments are described below. Dance was described previously. 


  1. Balance beam (steps one, two and three.) 

  2. Log rolls.  

  3. Forward rolls. 

  4. Trampoline.  

  5. Dance.


1. Balance Beam.


When a gymnast performs gracefully on the balance beam she is demonstrating an excellent level of balance development. At the time of writing, less than 5% of people in any highly educated country can perform effectively on a balance beam. Any average child who does activities from birth and has a suitable gym teacher from about six or seven years of age should be able to perform well on the balance beam (and also do floor routines, perform on the horizontal bars and perform other gymnastics activities well).  


Step-one: The tape ‘beam’. 


At this Level 5, and before she actually uses a balance beam independently, toddler begins by learning how to balance sufficiently well to walk in a straight line. 


Stick a length of packing or other suitable tape onto your living room floor and play a game of walking along the tape ten times each day. 


Initially the tape can be made one or two meters long and then be extended to four meters as toddler succeeds in walking on it for over a month or two. The tape should be about one hundred millimetres wide. You might increase enjoyment of the game by starting with one meter and after about a week or two adding say 50 or 100 millimetres to the length each day. 


An additional way you might add to toddler’s enjoyment, for example, is to have an arrangement with her that you both walk on the tape when you leave to go outside and/or when you return to come inside. That means you only have to go out and back in the door five times each day to complete ten walks on the tape ‘beam’. You could even ask toddler to choose new directions for the tape ‘beam’ so, adding a little more each day, it will become a trail around your home.


Other ways of practicing walking in straight lines that toddler might enjoy include: 


Walking on wide brick fences, walking on narrow pathways, following narrow tracks through parks and across grass (such as tracks made by cattle, goats or human traffic), walking on or between cracks in concrete slabs, pavers or floor tiles, walking on slabs of timber, following lines made by dragging a stick through damp beach sand, walking on concrete garden edging, and walking along a garden hose. Create a miniature adventure circuit in the house or yard that includes the floor tape ‘beam’, climbing over cushions and a short sprint and/or roll. Create other circuits.  


By combining the use of the tape on the floor and the other suggestions mentioned above toddler might, for example, do four tape walks, two garden edging and four garden hose walks in one day to make a total of 10. Having a short or slight curve in the hose or other line is acceptable in these cases and may even add to toddler’s enjoyment. The important point for her balance development is that she tries to walk along a narrow line; whether it is perfectly straight or not is not particularly important. 


All balance beam activities are best carried out in bare feet (no shoes and no socks), to give toddler the opportunity to grip well and naturally feel the surface she is walking on. 


Avoid giving toddler your hand to help her balance. Her natural balance sense develops far, far more if she uses her body’s own balancing system, rather than being assisted (or even overridden) by yours.


Step-two: Toddler’s New Balance Beam.  


When toddler can walk two meters in a straight line on her tape or a similar ‘balance beam’ use the timber beam described in the next paragraph for one, and then two, and then more of her daily ‘balance beam’ walks. Over a period of about two (2) months gradually replace Step-one with Step-two.

Place a piece of timber approximately 100 mm x 50 mm and 2.8 meters long on a carpeted floor (carpet is softer to fall on). It is best if the timber is a heavy hardwood rather than a light pine or similar timber as this reduces the chances of it moving when being walked on. The 100-mm wide side is the side toddler walks on. Two bricks or other heavy weights might be required at each end to help steady the beam if it tends to move. 


Gradually replace the activities in Step-one above with nine walks along the length of the timber beam each day. Try to space the walks out through the day by doing three sessions walking 3 beam lengths each session; one morning, one midday and one afternoon session.  An alternative that will still allow toddler to walk the beam nine times daily is to have the beam on the ground or floor near your door for toddler to use nine times as she enters and leaves home.


Avoid giving toddler your hand to help her balance. Her natural balance sense develops far, far more if she uses her body’s own balancing system, rather than being assisted (or even overridden) by yours. If it appears necessary place the timber beam close to a wall and toddler can reach out to the wall whenever she needs the extra stability, but try to avoid doing this. 



Step-three. Raising Toddler’s Balance Beam.  















Make your child’s balance beam as shown in this diagram.



In this Step-three toddler enjoys walking 100 millimetres above floor level on a 100mm high beam. She also learns to maintain her balance as she steps onto and off the beam. 


Toddler has now become an expert at balancing on her balance beam and is rewarded with a new and higher balance beam. The new balance beam is 100 millimetres x 100 millimetres whereas the previous one was 100 x 50 millimetres. 

Replace Step-two above with ten walks along the length of the new 100mm x 100mm balance beam each day. 


Encourage faster walking as toddler becomes more proficient on the beam over the months ahead. 


Avoid giving toddler your hand to help her balance. Her balance sense develops far, far more if she uses her body’s own balancing system, rather than being assisted (or even overridden) by yours. 


2: Log Rolls.


Log rolls are named after the method used to move heavy logs from one place to another. The easy way to roll a log is to push it from one side to make it roll horizontally across the ground.  In physical education a log roll is when a child or adult lays horizontally on the floor like a log and then rolls. The person doing a log roll places her arms by her sides when she rolls. The ideal surfaces for doing log rolls are soft surfaces such as gymnastic mats, carpeted floors or soft grass. 


Initially toddler might require some help to log roll, until she learns how to do it herself. She will though, have some log roll experience if she did the activity  “rolls” in Level 1. In that activity she used her grasp reflex to be pulled over in a half log roll. Demonstrate to her how you do a log roll and then place her on her side on the (soft, carpeted) floor and gently roll her over. Whenever possible lay down with toddler on the floor and do log rolls together with her.


Each day help toddler to do one log roll from left to right and one log roll from right to left on ten separate occasions during the day. Each week or two increase the number of rolls per session and reduce the number of sessions as shown in the following table. As with other activities the log roll sessions should be spread out over the whole day, with several sessions being in the morning, several around midday and several in the afternoon. 


The table below shows how the number of log rolls toddler does can be gradually increased over 18 weeks. In week 1, for example, toddler does 10 sessions each day and in each of those sessions she does one log roll from right to left and one log roll from left to right. Similarly, in week 4 toddler does 8 log roll sessions each day. She does 3 complete log rolls from left to right and 3 complete log rolls from right to left in each session.


The total time spent doing all rolls each day is about 5 to 10 minutes maximum.


Although it is important to encourage toddler to complete the listed number of log roles in each session it is also important that she is happy and does not do more than the number of log rolls she enjoys doing. If she only enjoys doing 5 rolls in each direction each session then it is better she enjoys doing 5 rolls for a few minutes each day than she dislikes doing more. This point is true for all activities; it is better for a child to enjoy doing less than to dislike doing more. 















































Making log rolls more fun:  


To make log rolls more enjoyable for toddler you can do as follows: 


  1. In week 18 toddler is doing 4 sessions of 10 log rolls each day. It is usually more fun for toddler to do 3 or 4 rolls in one direction and then 3 or 4 rolls in the other direction and then three or four rolls back again than to do, for example, 10 rolls in one direction and then 10 rolls in the other direction. 


  1. When toddler is doing 4 sessions of 10 rolls each session in week 18 try gradually increasing the rolling speed each week.  


  1. ‘Knee walk’ alongside toddler to help her log role by gently nudging her over for the first week or two.  


  1. With her approval, occasionally lay toddler across a towel on a bed and roll her up in it with her arms at her sides and her head out of the towel. Gently lift the end of the towel into the air and ‘unroll’ her. She is likely to thoroughly enjoy this activity. Be sure to unroll the towel gently so that her neck is not twisted as she unrolls.


  1. After the first week or two (and when she is log rolling by herself), lay down beside toddler and roll with her.  


  1. Play ‘log roll tag’. A tag is made by rolling into the other player. You both roll and take turns at tagging and being tagged. Don’t overdo this though, stop play when you have (approximately) done the required number of log rolls and toddler is still enjoying the game.  Ensure that toddler usually succeeds in tagging you and that you usually do not succeed in tagging her. This helps her to feel more successful.


  1. Play ‘log roll cuddle’ where you roll up to toddler and give her a cuddle. Then roll back to where you started. Then toddler takes a turn to roll up to you and give you a cuddle. Then repeat the procedure.


  1. Log roll together to get to a toy, place or pet.  


  1. Always stop a log rolling session before toddler tires. If she loses interest in log rolling then stop doing the daily sessions for about two or three weeks and then start again. When you start again, start at least one level on the log roll table below where you left off and be sure to do fewer log rolls than will tire or bore toddler. Stop while she is still enjoying the activity and then she will want to do it again. You may find you will need to go back to the beginning, that is, 10 sessions of one log role each day, Then increase the number of rolls each few days until you catch up to where you left off.    


3: Forward Rolls:


Forward rolls are fun for toddler to do when done correctly. Ensure they are done carefully and that toddler’s neck is not put under any unnecessary strain. Assisted forward rolls were used in Level 4 as a means of balance development and to introduce baby to how it feels to do forward rolls. Assisted forward rolls can also be used now to help familiarise toddler with how it feels to do a forward roll; if you think she needs more familiarisation.  If she does need some familiarisation with how it feels to do a forward roll then commence the activity “Assisted forward rolls” as described in Level 4.  If she does not need more familiarisation with how it feels to do a forward roll then begin the forward roll activity described below when (i) toddler clearly indicates that she enjoys doing assisted forward rolls or (ii) she indicates that she wants to commence independent forward rolls.


Independent Forward Rolls:


The balance activities toddler has been doing have helped her to develop a sense of balance that should now assist her to do forward rolls. If she can walk and balance well enough to carry objects 3 to 4 meters across a room, then she should be able to commence forward rolls.  Due to the fact that children can be injured when doing forward rolls parents should ask a qualified gym teacher or other expert to demonstrate how to help toddler to do forward rolls. 


To provide her with some additional motivation parents and other family members can do forward rolls ten times each day while toddler watches.  Before doing a forward roll other family members should place a thin sock between their chest and chin and hold the sock firmly in place with their chin. Holding the sock in this way ensures that the head is tucked under during the forward roll. When toddler commences forward rolls she too should hold a sock between her chest and chin. If a sock is unavailable a similar effect can be achieved by a child wearing a tee shirt if she bites the tee shirt when she rolls. A neck support is not used as toddler’s chin is placed on her chest. The family’s forward rolls should be done as fun and not as a staged ‘lesson’. When she sees other family members enjoying forward rolls toddler will most likely soon start trying to do them herself. She will likely begin by placing her head on the floor and her hands beside her head, and then walk up to her hands as she tries to roll over. She might need some parental help at this point to gently tuck her head under with one hand and push her hips and bottom over with the other. No weight should be placed on the head or neck when doing forward rolls. The chin is tucked down onto the chest and all weight is placed on the shoulders and back. Be sure that she is on a soft surface such as a gym mat, bed or thick carpet so she does not hit the floor hard when she is doing her first rolls. Show toddler how to place a thin sock under her chin and ensure she uses it each time she does forward rolls. 


If toddler is not trying to do forward rolls on her own demonstrate how she can do so. Place a sock under her chin, then show her how she can place her hands beside her head and then walk up to her hands. Then help her to roll over (on a gym mat or similar surface) by gently tucking her head under with one hand and pushing her hips slightly up and over with the other. 


When toddler has learnt to tuck her head under she can begin independent forward rolls by rolling on a slight downhill slope. Five to ten degrees is usually a suitable slope and can be made by placing a plywood sheet raised at one end under a gym mat, soft carpet or other safe surface and then placing toddler, ready to forward roll, on the slope. A suitable natural slope might also be found in a landscaped park or home yard. 


Keeping the head tucked under is always important for children (and adults) of any age when doing forward rolls. The forward roll is done by placing most of the body’s weight on the shoulders and back; and almost no weight is placed on the neck and head. The head should always be tucked under and no strain is placed on the neck.  


Do ten one minute forward roll sessions each day. In some sessions toddler might do only one forward roll; especially during the first few months. In other sessions she might do six or seven forward rolls.  One forward roll in each session is adequate for the first few months. 


  1. Trampoline:


When toddler can walk a distance of 10 meters using both hands to carry an object she can begin to do ten one minute sessions on a trampoline each day. Place toddler on the trampoline and encourage her to walk around and feel the surface. Over the next few months gradually encourage her to jump, bounce and perhaps do forward roles on the trampoline. If she is light then she may not yet be able to bounce well on a standard spring trampoline but as she grows heavier over time, she will be able to bounce more effectively. The value of a trampoline for balance development is that toddler frequently changes her position when bouncing on a trampoline and her brain learns to understand those changes in position and how to correct the position of her body in order to remain standing or to land as desired. It is very important to carefully supervise toddler as many accidents occur on trampolines when children are not properly supervised. 




Fun balance activities for parents and children:


  1. Balance beam:


Commence with Step-one and proceed to Step-two and Step-3 as described above. 


  1. Log rolls: 


Commence log rolls as described above in this Level 5.  


  1. Forward rolls:


Commence forward rolls as described above in this Level 5. Do ten one minute forward roll sessions each day. In some sessions toddler might do only one forward roll, especially during the first few months, in others she might do six or seven. One forward roll each session is adequate for the first few months.  


  1. Trampoline:


When toddler can walk a distance of 10 meters using both hands to carry an object she can begin to use a trampoline as follows:


Commence: Ten one minute sessions on a trampoline each day.


Month two: Change to five sessions of two minutes each, each day.  


Month three: Change to four sessions of three minutes each, each day.


Month six: Change to three sessions of four minutes each, each day.


  1. Dancing:


Continue to dance with toddler once each day for five minutes or more. Parents and children who are keen dancers sometimes increase their dancing sessions to up to three 20-minute sessions each day. 


Whilst being careful not to bump, strain, or drop toddler, dance extravagantly at this Level 5. Be very active, for example lift toddler high, spin about, hold her upside down by the ankles, be ballroom dancers, do ballet duets, dance like acrobats and like Olympic figure skaters, dance freely and have a ball with toddler. 


  1. Mobility and balance:


BABY’S GREAT ADVENTURE also provides toddler with general balance development activities. When she does mobility activities such as walking or running toddler’s brain grows and she learns more balance skills. The balance skills she learns when she walks will eventually help toddler to balance when she runs, dances, rides horses, does gymnastics or any other activities requiring balance ability. 




The following clothing is suggested for Level 5 Balance Development Activities. 


T-shirt and comfortable pants or shorts.

Bare feet (shoes reduce tactile sensation to the feet and rigid shoe shapes can hurt a child if, for example, sat upon).