This little man here is my son Hugh. He's now ten, he's had developmental delays since he was born, in particular his core strength has been one of his biggest challenges.
In this image below you can see how Hugh used to sit on the floor, because he didn't have the core strength that his body needed to sit up straight and resist the forces of gravity that push his body into this floppy position.
We sometimes think that core strength is just being able to do sit-ups or hold the plank. But this is definitely not the case.
Core strength is about the muscles of the stomach, hips, gluteals, and back and each of these muscle groups' ability to hold the body upright in a range of different positions, against the force of gravity.
It's important that we raise awareness that core strength isn't just about being able to sit up. Core strength is also about being able to
- control our torso from left to right,
- being able to bend forward,
- being able to bend backwards,
- being able to stand on one foot without falling over
- able to reach our arms up above our head without losing a strong torso posture
What happens with our ability to move our body is our core muscles develop before our arms and legs and hands and feet develop.
Our motor development occurs from a proximal to distal pattern. Our core muscles are proximal to our spine, our hands and feet are distal (away from) our core muscles. What that means is our hands are the most distal area from our torso, our feet are the most distal of the areas from our hips. So we start in this nice little belt area of motor development that I call core strength and if we don't have the core muscles working together as a team to start with (proximal muscles), then we will also find it challenging to do gross motor and fine motor development with our distal muscles (arms, legs, hands, feet).
For example, some children struggle with extending their legs, getting their legs to stretch right out away from the middle of their body, because their hips, and their glutes, their bottom muscles aren't doing their job of creating a strong core first.
I'll teach some tricks very soon of how we can build up that core strength. But firstly, look at this picture of Hugh sitting at a table.
You can see that Hugh has poor core strength at this table. He's leaning forward, leaning onto the table, rather than sitting upright holding his body up against gravity.
When we are doing our work and we're leaning on to the table, it's our forearm that's actually restricting our hand from being able to move. We can't get that beautiful free letter formation when we're stuck at the table.
When I'm freely sitting upright my elbows are tucked in, they're not out to the side, I have free movement of my hand. My hand can move more freely when I'm sitting upright versus when I'm leaning on my desk.
It's very important that we improve their core strength as young as we possibly can, even as young as this first picture of Hugh is when we started to develop his core strength.
We see children sometimes laying on the table. It's Hugh's poor core strength having difficulty being able to sit upright.
To improve children's core strength I start with tummy time - tummy time, tummy time.
The best thing about tummy time is it's using all of the core muscles at the same time.
If we have children who are floppy, we need them in this tummy time position every day as often as we can.
We also want children to crawl every day.
What I do is, I put a table right in the middle of the doorway to get outside or to get inside and I get every child to crawl under that table. If we can encourage all children to crawl it's going to build up their core strength.
If you have babies who 'army crawl' they might hold one arm out, and they might scoot along the floor like a snake. We want to use cushions to get them to bring their hips up off of the ground so crawling up and over a cushion brings the hips and the pelvis up. This makes those hip muscles work a little bit harder and then they'll be able to slowly go from an army crawl into what we call an 'all fours' crawl.
We also want to play in a range of different positions.
This activity above I call a singular high kneel. The idea behind the high kneel is that her bottom is off of her feet. Some children with poor core strength will kneel for 20 seconds and then they'll sit on their heel, then sit back on their feet. I want them up as high as they possibly can for as long as they can to build up their core strength.
Phoebe's loving doing academic handouts at the moment. She wants to copy her big brother and sister so I put an age appropriate handout on the wall instead of on a table and I encourage her to still do the same activity but a more challenging play position. Why? Because it's challenging the core muscles even more.
The more we can challenge the core muscles in an activity that the child is enjoying, Phoebe just thinks she's doing an activity that she loves, but what she's doing is building up those beautiful core muscles all the way from her ribs to groin area, all the way from the top middle of her back, to the bottom of her back. It's fantastic for core strength!
You could do it outside by painting on a window with water, by sticking stickers onto a wall. You could do this activity with having it in front of the painting easel where some children might like to stand at the painting easel some children might like to kneel at the painting easel. It's about bringing their play resources from the ground up to a just above their head height.
Having a mixture of both is fantastic.
Also you can do activities that challenge balance.
In the picture above you can see Isla is balancing on a dura disc doing a jigsaw puzzle. When we are challenging our balance we're working on our core strength. Because our balance, our ability to stay upright, comes from the strength of our core muscles. The stronger our core muscles are, the better we are at balancing.
Doing simple activities while balancing will get those core muscles to wake up and stop having the holiday that they're enjoying.
However, when trying to do balance activities be very mindful that the activity needs to be simple. The child is already working hard enough to get those core muscles to work, we don't want an activity that is too complex. If we do an activity that's too hard, then the child will disengage from the activity and then we're not going to get them the amount of endurance the amount of core strength that we're actually here to work on.
Take the academics level down a bit, so they're building up their core strength in this goal, not just worrying about the complexity of the puzzle or the intensity of the activity.
You'll see even back to the first picture of Phoebe laying on her tummy, I have no tongs, or spoons involved in this activity. My goal for this activity was to lay her on her tummy and trace a simple rainbow arc line. No spoons, no tongs involved. That's not my goal. Right now my goal is to improve her core strength.
For more gross motor skill activities check this out