Jumping and Balancing Equipment

Enjoyment from jumping and bouncing undoubtedly starts in the early months of life. All babies enjoy being bounced up and down and ‘feeling their feet’ when adults hold them so that the soles of their feet can drum the ground. Many a pram has been wrecked by a sturdy ten-month-old deliberately bouncing it as hard as he can by lifting his weight on to his hands clutching the raised sides and then letting himself fall on his bottom with a great thud. Baby bouncers seem to give the same pleasure. With such baby activities the adult or the equipment is really holding the baby safe. One of the problems of jumping games is that for young children most of the strength and control they need for physical activities is in their hands and arms. If one watches a young child on a climbing frame this soon becomes evident. Any equipment which does not allow a child to use his hands deprives him of a good deal of control. Even an older child using balancing equipment for the first time either looks for an adult to hold his hand or waves his arms about frantically trying to keep his balance.

Trampolines are one of the newer pieces of equipment provided for young children which appear to fill this need. In fact they are extremely dangerous and in some areas have been banned for nursery use. The accidents arising from them can be unpleasant because children are not in control of the movements. All children fall off equipment at times but usually land in such a way that the toughest parts of their body take the brunt of the damage. It is when a child falls awkwardly from an uncontrolled movement that severe damage is done. Some nursery groups use the trampolines which have a hand rail, supervise them rigor-ously and take every care; of course staff must make up their own minds about this. Nevertheless there could always be one of those unguarded moments which is always the time when accidents happen – after all if an adult sees an accident happening it does not happen.

There are other ways of providing for jumping games which are just as much if not more fun for children than the restricted jump-up-and-down movement which is all that limited skill and a small trampoline allows for. A small mattress or air bed is one possibility. One of the new pieces of equipment consisting of a frame supporting an ‘elastic’ seat would be just as useful for young children as the handicapped children it was designed for. The children sit astride the bouncing belt and can hold on to the side pieces with their hands. Other spongy blocks and shapes produced for handicapped children would also be useful in nursery groups which can afford and can store the larger pieces.

Space hoppers are difficult to manage and very young children trying them for the first time are likely to roll off backwards. These are probably best left for competent four-year-olds and even then commonsense should be used about how hard to inflate them.

All jumping games demand or involve a degree of balancing ability but there is some specific equipment, such as balancing rails, which encourages control of movement by the feet only. The true gymnasium beam set several feet off the ground and only inches wide is many years’ ability away from young children. A foot-wide surface raised only an inch or two from the ground is enough of a challenge for most three- and some four- year-olds. Thus trestles with a plank set on the lowest rungs answer this purpose perfectly well. With this type of adaptable material the children soon learn to adjust the height of the plank for themselves when they feel ready to try something higher. For many three-year-olds a set of stepping stones made from separated concrete slabs or slices of tree trunk set into the ground are a popular game. Many adults remember the teeter-tottering they used to do along the edge of a pavement. This is far too dangerous for children to do now but kerb stones set into a garden are a possibility or old railway sleepers if they are available. If there is space in the garden it might even be possible to make a ‘maze’ with these which would do for balancing games and also provide for many other activities. Failing all this, perhaps chalking lines or stepping stones on a yard or a washable nursery floor would provide for occasional games.

Stilts are fun for competent seven-year-olds and can be made easily enough although one can buy them these days.’Treacle-tin feet’ on long strings are still enjoyed as a change but they do make an horrific noise and are certainly not suitable for precious floors.