AS PROFESSIONALS, WE ALL KNOW THAT WE CAN'T TAKE physical development and treat it as unconnected events strung together. For example, take this issue's topic: agility and balance. Think about how closely related agility is to strength (February's topic): The stronger and more under control one's muscles are, the more agile one is. So, too, with balance and coordination. They aren't distinct from one another, but rather interrelated. The more a child can coordinate his movements, the easier it is to "balance."
Defining Agility and Balance
Agility simply means the speed with which a child performs a movement. We speak of agility and nimbleness together (remember Jack and the candle). Balance means poising or standing still on a point or a small base. In other words, when a child is standing still on her tiptoes, she is balanced. Of course, in order to balance, she must have the strength to get up on her toes and the coordination to remain there in order to be balanced for any length of time.
As we think about activities which promote agility and balance as being interrelated, remember, too, that music and movement are interrelated: Music can be a great asset in your activities. Children can practice moving slowly and ponderously to slow music, using their balancing skills in a different way. Having children move on tiptoes to music with a faster tempo challenges agility and balance in still other ways.
Infants: Head Games
Rapid head turning to follow an object takes time and practice. Start by holding a black and white high-contrast design or toy so the infant can see it. When you are sure the infant is looking at the object or design, move it slowly from Baby's right to left and back again. With older infants (six to eight months) who can sit in a high chair, hang a moving crib toy within reach so they can both track the movement and reach with their hands. Remember, things that move too quickly for the eye to follow are going to be too fast for the hand to grab. Begin working on balance with older infants as you pull them to a standing position and hold them at the waist. You're helping them begin to feel the movements necessary to balance their bodies.
Toddlers: Snake Walking
Use a 20-30 foot length of 1/2-inch rope laid out in a zigzag pattern on a stable walking surface (floor or level ground). Get children to walk along "the snake" as fast as they can without stepping on or over the snake. The faster (more agile) and more controlled their movements are, the better they'll be able to balance and avoid stepping on or over the rope. Since toddlers are great at mimicking-everything from facial expressions to sounds and movementsperform exaggerated movements such as giant steps or "heavy" walking and encourage toddlers to follow you.
Preschoolers: Dances With Scarves
Scarves can be a great too] for promoting agility and balance among preschoolers. Give each child a scarf and have the children toss the scarves as high into the air as they can and then run under the scarves and catch them. Because scarves flutter and fall in an erratic manner, this prevents opportunities for children to be agile and use balance skills as they twist, turn, and stop to catch the scarves. For added challenge, have children try to catch the scarves while hopping or skipping. Have children throw their scarves up with one hand and catch them in the other.
Kindergartners: Dodge Ball With a Twist
Enjoy the challenge of dodge ball as a way to develop agility and balance. For a twist on the traditional version, try "medic" dodge ball. Divide your class into two even groups and place a rope on the ground between them. Designate a "medic" on each team and identify the medic with a scarf tied around his arm. Give each child a utility ball. The object is to hit the medic without getting hit and without crossing the rope. If a child gets hit, the medic can touch him and restore the child to action. If the medic gets hit, the game is over. Children are using a variety of skills in this game: strength (to throw the ball) and agility and balance (to avoid getting hit).
Jack be nimble, Jill be agile, both be balanced and neither be fragile. Remember: The more opportunities children have to use their bodies and practice their skills in the context of playful activities, the more strength, agility, balance, and coordination they'll develop.
Special thanks to Madely Russ for her assistance with this article-the scarf activities in particular.