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By Joanne Looney and Bindy Cummings
The simple slide in your local play area is perhaps not so ‘simple’ when it comes to growing the bodies and brains of our babies and young children.
Sliding babies up and down the slides on their tummies or backs provides them with a terrific amount of sensory stimulation. As they are moved up and down, hundreds of messages are passed from the nerve endings, just under the surface of the skin, to their brains about their body. They are developing body awareness, visual skills, balance, coordination and muscle tone.
As they grow, before our children can independently enjoy the rush of the ‘slide’ they usually need to climb to the top. To do this, children need to be able to coordinate their arms and legs, reinforcing the internal awareness that they have two sides to their bodies and also a top and a bottom. This in turn leads to a knowledge of directionality – along with an understanding of left and right – both necessary for the later learning of the direction of numbers, letters and words.
As your little ones grasp the rungs of the ladder, they are strengthening the muscles in their hands and fingers and developing fine motor skills. All good practice for holding a paintbrush, using a pencil and other tools that require good manual dexterity. The muscles in their little feet and legs will also strengthen as they push and pull their way up the ladder.
These movements will also develop children’s spatial awareness – their ability to know how much space their body takes up and how to orientate their bodies in that space. We need this awareness to relate to other objects and people but also to be able to relate objects to objects and people to people – such very important skills! In other words – how far do I have to move my leg to get it on to the next rung? Can I fit between these bars? Spatial awareness is important for estimation skills required in mathematics, being able to line things up when pasting or for writing across the page and between the lines – to name a few.
Once at the top they have to organise themselves to sit or lie down on the slide – this requires the unification of visual, proprioceptive and vestibular information – no easy task and I’m sure that many parents have waited patiently on the side as your little one ‘gets organised’ in preparation to launch off down the slide. The thrill of the slide is exciting as our vestibular systems are stimulated – and as parents we all anticipate that little word “again” as we catch our precious bundles at the bottom!
Babies will start to climb as soon as they can crawl – their bodies and brains are ready and eager to learn. It’s best that they learn to do so safely. This is why we have specially designed smaller ladders and slides at GymbaROO-KindyROO and why we encourage parents to teach crawlers how to ‘turn around and go down backwards.’
Sometimes the park slides are too big for your little ones to manage or they have perhaps not quite mastered the action of climbing up the ladder yet – so choose a park that’s a little quieter and let your little ones safely climb/crawl up the slide as far as they feel comfortable (and you do too) and then slide back down on their tummies.
Also when your toddler is just learning about slides take a visit to your local toy library – they often have ‘pint sized’ slides available for hire – just perfect for your toddler to begin on and to gain their confidence.
An important note: Manager of the Kidsafe NSW Playground Advisory Unit Kay Lockhart and paediatric orthopaedic specialist John Gaffney advise that slides should always be used one at a time only to avoid leg injuries that may be caused by children catching their legs on slides whilst on parents’ laps or sliding with another child.
Joanne Looney is the Master GymbaROO Franchisor in New Zealand. Read more from Joanne here.
Bindy Cummings (B.Ed hons) is a teacher, GymbaROO early childhood neurodevelopmental consultant, early childhood development lecturer, GymbaROO teacher trainer, INPP consultant and iLS consultant. She is the Editor of GymbaROO’s First Steps magazine and mother of 4 children. More on Bindy Cummings here.
References: Jean Ayres – Sensory Integration and the Child
GymbaROO Images by Studio Z Photography
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