Why should play be limited to the playground? Play is the major ‘occupation’ of children. It is how they learn and grow. Children live by playing. This is why I believe unconventional play spaces and playful interactions with our everyday environment should be encouraged, supported and celebrated. This post puts a spotlight on a small snapshot of the ‘balance beams’ we’ve found recently in our local community.
Firstly – what a cool structure in this cover picture? It might not be clear in the photo, but the surface our 4 year old is traversing is on an angle as well as gradually increasing and decreasing in height. It might not have specifically been designed for children to play on and around. However, it makes for a nice break along the regular communal walkway, keeping the sensory system alert.
At the other end of the spectrum to lovely, unusual architectual structures, are kerbs – which are possibly the most common community ‘balance beams’!
Children will let you know how much support they need and how quickly they’d like to experiment with balance beam ‘tricks’ – two hands, one hand, a finger, … nothing at all… arms out to the side like an aeroplane (or trapeze artist!)… arms close to the body like a train … or cool as a cucumber, hands in the pockets!
Follow their lead, and enjoy watching their confidence and skills develop! Children love to experiment with speed, direction (forwards, backwards, sideways), and form (tip toes, heels, jumping, hopping,…)
Wandering around our beautiful city, Melbourne, we found lots of balance opportunities. And regarding the flat lines … okay, sure – you might be thinking: “Hey! That’s just a line on the pavement – does that really count as a ‘balance beam’?” My answer is “OOH, YEAH!” Flat, (straight) lines are great visual motor integration practise, where children learn to coordinate what they see with their actions and movements.
Wide bench seats are great fun for moving along quickly, and of course, leaping off the end! They are what I call ‘confidence builders’!
And there are so many other fabulous ‘balance beam’ opportunities to be discovered out and about! We loved the row of half buried, tyres for a laugh; and delighted in walking the kerb – bending on one leg and kicking through Autumn leaves with the other. And tree trunks are pure ‘balance beam’ gems!
As for the beach, following along the sand cleaning truck wheel marks is a clear favourite of ours at our local beach; as well as tracking each others patterns made in the sand. The sand’s naturally uneven terrain, sparking multiple righting reactions, makes for BRILLIANT balance practise. The challenge is taken up a level with slower, more controlled moves too!
If carried out barefoot, children get the added benefit of strong tactile sensory feedback from the sand’s texture, reinforcing their sense of body awareness… and therefore, balance.
I have been asked how often or how long children should practise balancing daily … my answer is generally that children should have lots of little opportunities interspersed and integrated throughout their day in the context of their everyday activities; ie. as they go about their day, playing! Lots of little, short bursts of practise will not only improve their balance and gross motor skills in general – they are challenging, in an exciting, fun way! Kids love seeking out and conquering balance obstacles naturally.
So there you have it, a glimpse of some of our favourite ‘balance beams’ in our local community – urban play spaces beyond standard playground areas! I know we don’t always have the luxury of time to ‘balance’ on our way from A to B, but boy, I guarantee that by allowing children (and yourselves) the opportunity to explore and play more with these ‘real world balance beams’ whenever possible, your time won’t ever ‘wasted’!
I’d love to hear about how you and your kids enjoy urban play spaces, so feel free to leave me a comment!
Thanks so much for stopping by Kids Play Space!
Until soon, Happy Playing!