With a little bit of imagination you can easily make play equipment at home to encourage co-ordination and balance. For example:
- Use a washing-line or rope as a ‘snake’ and ask the children to walk along it; walk with one foot each side of it; walk across it in a zigzag and jump across it;
- Balance a piece of wood on two stacks of books or house bricks, just one brick high, and encourage them to walk along it. Hold their hand if they are not confident. Get them to walk it with one foot on and one foot off. Get them to do ‘fairy steps’ (toe to heel, toe to heel) along it. When they’re really good, get them to walk backwards along it;
- Give them something to balance on their heads as they move – it might be a large plastic bowl, a small beanbag (or bean-filled toy) or a teddy.
You can make this slightly harder by getting them to clap their hands while they’re walking, or by getting them to march or
- Do steps across the pavement, missing out the cracks. Alternatively, walk only on the cracks;
- Walk along low walls, doing different walks, such as strides, tiptoe, ‘fairy footsteps’;
- Lean one end of a plank of wood against a step and encourage or help your child to crawl and then walk up and down the sloping plank.
Of course, you must make sure that none of the things you have set up are likely to be dangerous, and stay with your child to supervise.
Make Up Your Own Games
You can also make up games involving lots of physical activity, which the children will enjoy playing just with you almost as much as with a group of other children:
- Walk forwards, backwards and sideways, and with a small beanbag/cuddly toy on your heads. See whose beanbag falls off first;
- Stand with a small beanbag on your head and try to sit down without it falling off. If you manage it, try to stand up again;
- Play ‘musical statues’ together. Play some music to which you walk, hop, skip or dance. Freeze into statues when the music stops (which you’ll have to make it do);
- Try hop-racing along the room, first on one foot, then the other
- Do follow-my-leader silly walks, such as crouching down and swinging your arms; bending at the knees; doing four steps and a jump or marching like a soldier. Encourage the children to be leaders sometimes;
- See how many different parts of the body you can both balance on. Can you balance on one leg, one leg and two hands, your bottom and one foot, two hands and one foot, your side, your bottom alone? You may be able to think of lots more fun ways to balance -encourage your child to use her/his imagination.
These kinds of games are simple, but they never lose their attraction for the children because each time they join in, they find that they can push themselves just a little bit further, or achieve just a little bit more.
Throwing and Catching Games
You can start throwing and catching games quite early, but bear in mind that children need to have developed a lot of co-ordination, balance and manual dexterity to have much control.
In a way it’s far better for adults to be involved in throwing and catching games, because children find it quite difficult to throw accurately to each other and this makes it even more difficult for the child catching.
Choose your materials carefully. Small beanbags are excellent for throwing and catching, and much easier for little hands to manipulate than balls. By the same token, small balls are much better for practising kicking than football-sized balls, which are too large and often too hard for small children to kick.
In the absence of anything else, screwed-up newspaper makes an ideal substitute for a ball, and a large cardboard box with no lid makes a perfect container for throwing the missiles into. A hoop leaned against a wall or laid on the ground is also good.
Try to encourage the children not to compete with each other, but with themselves, so that they’re striving against their own previous performance – for example, two beanbags in the hoop one week, three the next.
The same with catching. Get the child to sit or stand, and encourage them to follow the object you are throwing with their eyes. Often they watch their hands, hoping that the beanbag will land in them. They have to learn the art of keeping their eyes on the ball, and it takes a long time for this co-ordination to develop. Don’t be down-hearted if you think the children are making no headway. Remember, it is practice that will establish the skill eventually.
Developing Fine Motor Control
Probably the first thing babies do towards developing fine motor skills is to track a moving object with their eyes. They will begin to do this very early on, when you hold a small toy in your hand and attract the baby’s attention with it. Move the toy gently round and round and the baby will watch it. After a while you will find that if s possible to put a small rattle or toy in the baby’s hand and shake it gently a few times. The baby will carry on holding it for a little while.
At about six months babies are able to hold a toy or other object in each hand. If you hold a rattle or sound toy just out of reach and make a noise with it they will respond to the sound. Ask them to take the toy from you. If it drops from their grasp, ask them where it has gone, and try to get them to follow it with their eyes.
Babies usually show a lot of interest in their fingers and toes. Encourage this play, touch their fingers and hands, toes and feet in different ways and try to build up their awareness of these parts of their body.