From the wobble to the bosu board, toddler balance boards seem to be the latest “must-have” for any playroom. But the question that most parents come back to is if a toddler balance board is worth it. Are these boards going to be used frequently by your child and how do balance boards benefit your toddler’s development?
Let’s discuss whether a balance board is worth it, the difference between a wobble and other balance boards, the benefits of balance boards, and 15 activities using a balance board straight from an Occupational Therapist.
What are balance boards used for
In occupational therapy balance boards are not a new FAD but an important therapeutic tool and open-ended toy that has been used for decades.
Of course, balance boards like the wobble give children the opportunity to further develop balance skills but they also work on other critical skills when used right.
Are toddler balance boards worth it?
Short answer, yes! Balance boards can be a fantastic, easy-to-pack-away toy for supporting toddler play and gross motor development but don’t be fooled into thinking that there is only one type of balance board or that a balance board for your toddler has to come with a big price tag.
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Benefits of toddler balance board
There are endless benefits to having a balance board for children available in your playroom. These are just some of the reasons that I, as an Occupational Therapist would recommend or use a wobble board in therapy.
Righting reactions are an important prerequisite skill for balance. If you think of a baby learning to sit, at first they may get into the seated position but quickly topple over. As they practice sitting over and over again, they begin to learn how to find their center of gravity and in a way pull their body into the center of itself so they don’t fall. This skill is essentially what a righting reaction is- the ability to self-correct and bring the body back to a stable base of support.
Whether sitting on a balance board or standing these righting reactions are being developed when your child self-corrects to prevent themselves from falling.
As fellow Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom points out in her book “Balanced and Barefoot” many teachers are finding that children are falling out of their seats at a much higher rate than in previous generations. This may be in part to a lack of balance skills and righting reaction consolidation.
A child’s core muscles are essential to muscles around the stomach, and back. These form the basis for a child’s posture or in other words the solid foundation for a good lever system (the arms and legs).
While balancing on a wobble board, children are activating their core muscles in order to hold their balance and position on the board.
This core strength will later help children maintain an upright sitting position which is essential for managing in a classroom setting.
Visual tracking is another important part of overall balance and something that is developing while a toddler is playing on a balance board.
While a toddler rocks back and forth on a wobble board their eyes are working to maintain focus on whatever they are looking at which activates essential and complex muscle structure around the eye.
Occupational Therapist will also often combine balance boards with throw and catch type games (there are 15 activity ideas below like this). The reason for this is that the combination of balance and hand-eye coordination in one activity supports many therapeutic goals like integrating primitive reflexes, spatial awareness, crossing the midline, and working on timing.
The vestibular system is the sensory network found in the inner ear which allows the body to sense and interpret our head position in relation to gravity. In essence, this is the sensory side to balance.
According to Hanscom, most children today have underdeveloped vestibular sense. This lack of development leads to easily being overstimulated, falls, aggression, and difficulties with attention.
While balancing on a wobble board children are using rhythmical and non-rhythmical movements to activate and develop their vestibular sense.
Body awareness is much more than simply being able to label body parts. It is the ability to sense where your body is in relation to itself as well as to the things around it.
If your child closes their eyes and you told them or to find their belly button- that would be body awareness. Similarly, the coordination that we use when running in order to not trip over our own feet, is body awareness.
As a child rocks back and forth on a balance board they are learning simple components of body awareness like how far they can lean to one side before falling, how much they should bend their knee in order to rick the balance board and so much more. This kind of learning has to be experienced and is not something that we can instruct our children on- they need to feel it for themselves in their own bodies.
What age is best for a balance board?
A balance board can be good for any age if there is adult supervision. Think about this by first considering how it will be used.
For example, I wouldn’t recommend that this be out and for free use in a daycare for example because it is easy for fingers to get squished while someone is on the board.
However, if it is intended to be used only with adult supervision, you can even start playing with a balance board in sitting before your baby’s first birthday.
Many balance boards, like the bosu, are involved in workout routines so we can also say that these are for any age.
There is no one age that a balance board is best for. This is a tool that can serve your children at every age and maybe even be used in your own exercise routine.
Are wobble boards for kids worth it?
The wobble specifically is a very popular balance board at the moment because they are sleek, easy to store away, and can be very engaging for children. However, they come with a price tag forcing parents to ask if they are a worthwhile investment and how much use they will actually get.
An original wobble cost in the region of $200. I will be honest in saying that it is a great design and the shape is innately engaging for children. Not just for using it as a balance board but also as an open-ended toy to be played with or made into a pretend tunnel or bed.
It also has features like an outer nonslip cover and attachable cushions which make it extra special.
However, as an Occupational Therapist and having tried out almost every type of balance board that there is, it seems too overpriced for the amount of use it will get.
Below are the balance boards that I recommend.
Best wobble board for toddler
This is a knockoff of the original wobble so you can expect that the quality will be different. However as mentioned, it has a great design and is easy to pack away.
This is the balance board that we have at home. While it is bulkier than something like the wobble, I like that it can be used on the round or the flat side. It, therefore, gives a big range of balance challenges. We also like using it as alternative seating.
This is less sturdy than the above options but has a considerably lower price tag. It would be a good option for a backyard accessory.
Round wooded wobble
This version of a balance board is often found in therapy clinics. I would recommend this for children over the age of 5 because it is harder to balance.
This is another option that is often used in Occupational Therapy. It is a little easier to stand of the rounded version however it is also quite heavy and does take up a bit more space.
What can I do with my toddler’s balance board?
- Have it out for children to freely use as an open-ended toy
Especially the wobble-shaped balance boards can easily become an open-ended toy to be used in play as a boat, a bed, a tunnel and so much more.
- Use it for indoor throw and catch
A favorite for most Occupational Therapists, a game of throw and catch or a bat and ball game while the child stands on the balance board is incredible for supporting hand-eye coordination, righting reactions, balance and timing.
- Use the balance board as part of an obstacle course
A balance board has always been a part of almost every gross motor group that I have run in my many years working with kids. It can be simply one of the obstacles that they need to climb over or it can be part of the challenge.
I often place a balance board as the last stop of the obstacle course where children need to stand of the board and throw a ball into a basket or something similar.
- Sew saw pair on the wobble
Great for joint attention, laughter, and balance skills. Invite each child to sit or stand on one side of the balance board while holding hands in the center. Let them enjoy the process of learning how to remain standing together without toppling over.
You can add to the challenge with a timer or instruction that they have to both remain on the board for 5 consecutive counts or long enough to say their favorite nursery rhyme.
- Use as part of a magnetic tiles marble run
This is most relevant for the wobble board shape specifically. You can either add it to the end of an actual marble run or make it a stand along the run. Build a border on the balance board with square magnet tiles and then add corresponding triangles in order to form a path for the ball or marble to roll. You might find it best to place the board on a standing surface like a couch to let gravity play its part in the balance board marble run.
- Car ramp
If you have a child moving through the trajectory play schema or a child that simply loves cars- they will love using their balance board as a ramp or tunnel while playing cars.
You can take this a step further by placing a magnetic or wooden track around the balance board for your child to play with.
- The balance board can be used as Alternative Seating
As mentioned previously, we love our bosu balance board not just for standing but also for sitting. While sitting on a balance board children are activating their righting reactions and this also is helpful for children that struggle to sit still. We have used the bosu to sit on while playing board games as well as while watching TV.
- Lift and place games
If you have ever stood on a balance board, you will know that balancing in standing is one thing, but throw squats into the mix and you have an entirely new challenge. In Occupational Therapy sessions I would often use a balance board for lifting and placing activities.
This might look like having a child stand on the balance board with a big spoon and having plastic eggs on the floor that they need to scoop up and place in a basket on a higher surface (like a table next to them).
- Sitting while playing clap games
Another way that you can support your child’s core strength and balance is by playing clap-hands games (like patty cake) while your child is seated in the balance boards with their legs crossed.
- Keep the marble on the board
There are many balance boards that have a built-in marble maze on the board. I don’t love these because they become a bit one-and-done and are generally too hard for the average school-aged kid, never mind a toddler. However, you can use this concept in a simpler way at home. Simply place a marble or ball on the balance board while your child is standing and instruct them to balance enough that neither they or the marble falls off. This will take a lot of trial and error and practice which is all developing your child’s balance skills. Win!
- Squigz building
Squigz on a balance board is a classic Physical Therapist and Occupational Therapist go-to activity. Simply stick the squigz to the base of the balance board or the floor and instruct your kiddo to pull them off and stick them to the wall, window or vertical surface nearby.
Because the squigz will need a good pull to come off this adds a new challenge to balancing on the balance board.
- Kick while standing on board (ideal for bosu that is turned over)
You can also use the balance board to really strengthen your child’s hip, pelvic, and core muscles by playing a game of kick while they stand on a balance board. This is ideal when using the bosu ball with the hard surface ground facing. Make sure to use a softball and stand close by to receive the ball.
- Kneeling zoom ball or popper
Zoom ball is a great game for building children’s sharing skills, joint attention, coordination, and timing. You can combine this family favorite with balance skills by playing it while your kid is kneeling or sitting on a balance board. Kneeling will be much harder than sitting but will also provide some great core work.
- Kneeling transfer play
Similar to the bend and scoop game above, this involves your child holding a spoon and bending to lift something and then placing it on a higher surface. However, when doing this in a kneeling position your child’s center of gravity, core strength, and balance skills are even more challenged.
- Ball bounce
Our balance skills are very linked to our eye muscles and coordination. You can activate these all at once by inviting your child to either bounce a ball on the floor with standing on the balance board or bounce to a specific target on the floor or wall.
Looking for more ideas for gross motor toys for your toddler, come check out this guide.