One of the physical challenges children engage in all the time is balance. A few years ago, I built a box tower that the children used to practice their balancing skills. The tower consisted of three boxes on the bottom, two in the middle and one on top arranged pyramid style. The structure rose vertically two and half feet out of the table.
These holes played an important role in helping the children balance as they explored the apparatus. Here are two simple examples. Both children pictured grab a hole for balance, one as he bends down (left) and one as he reaches up (right).
You are going to fall from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
What allowed him to "have" his balance, except for the brief moment when he spread his arms, was the fact that this child established three points of contact at all times with the stable setup. Even when he was stepping down from the lip of the table, he dropped his metal measuring cup so he could grab two of the bottom holes of the apparatus. That allowed him to lift his right foot off the lip of the table and to step back onto the stool.
Here was an interesting study in balance at this same apparatus. These two children were standing on the same small stool. The child in the red shirt was more stable because his knees were up against the table and his hands were in contact with the box. What about the child in grey? He was not as stable because his feet were on the corner of the stool partially behind the boy in red. Because he was not as stable, his actions seemed more measured and cautious.
At a conference last year, one of the participants called me out for letting a child climb on the sensory table. She asserted that it was just too dangerous. It was true, there may have been an increased risk of falling. However, that risk was mediated by the children's own sense of caution as they challenged themselves physically. Why else would their movements have been slow and purposeful as they climbed up and climbed down? How did they know to have at least three points of contact---even if they were ever so slight---to keep their balance?
It is true that children do not need to climb on the sensory table to work on their balance. But since almost everything they do in life depends on their sense of balance, they do have to have opportunities to grow their balance both at the sensory table and throughout the room. And more often than not, the children will create their own balance challenges. Our job is not to always shut them down in their balancing endeavors, but to make sure they are indeed measuring their own risk.