How many hours do we ask children to sit? At home, on public transport, at school, at after school activities? Sitting in the same position for prolonged periods of time can have a poor effect on children’s posture and in turn their spine.
Children may experience joint pain, increase the potential of injury to the body and experience fatigue.
Sitting in front of TV, on the computer or other smart devices has become part of the normal after school activities for many children. Coupled with long hours spent in a desk at school and doing homework and there may be a ‘trickle-down’ effect on the whole body as a result of tight necks, and slumped shoulders.
You can identify postural issues if, when viewing the body from the side, there is a forward curve in the mid back, with head forward of the body like a ‘f’ shape.
Children’s school bags can be responsible for poor posture and may change the curve of the spine. The bag should be ideally 10% of the child’s weight and should be wore with both shoulder straps over the shoulders.
School shoes can also be responsible for poor posture. Ensure when buying shoes that there is a good heel support and heel grip.
What is good posture?
Improving posture can improve general health, body strength and spine health. Good posture can help children to feel better, be more confident and improve breath flow by opening the chest. The result is a greater feeling of energy and ability to concentrate in class.
- The spine should have three normal curves.
- When standing the ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should line up.
- Ram rod style postures are also damaging for spinal health.
- Avoid slouching or hunching particularly in chairs.
- When sitting, distribute the weight evenly across the hips, with the feet flat on the floor and push the slower spine into the back of the chair
Postural Balance is the distribution of weight in relation to the force of gravity. This is important for children as it reduces clumsiness, alleviating the potential for falls and injury.
The ankles play an important role in postural stability as do the contra lateral movements required to cross crawl. Postural muscles and the messaging patterns to the cerebral cortex, the cerebellum and spinal and peripheral nerves will all effect postural balance.
Postural exercises as a part of a dance warm up
Of course, general exercise, standing and walking more will strengthen the muscles that control our posture. In addition, by doing a few simple movements as a part of your normal Warm up routine in your primary school dance classes you can help develop children with strong postures which will impact balance, strength and flexibility of the spine.
Always begin these exercises by ‘checking in’ with the body. Ensure that the children have lined up the spine and that the back of the head is in line with the centre of the back. Draw their attention to the torso, drawing the belly button into the spine, to ‘wake up’ the abdominal muscles.
An even breath flow is also important to reduce tightening or gripping in the muscles. Part of the beginning part of your Warm up should involve children engaging with their breath.
Place fingers on the upper tip of the sternum. Imagine there is a balloon connected to that point and it is lifting to up towards the ceiling. Most children will only need to lift a couple of centimetres.
Gently roll the shoulders forward and backwards while still feeling the ‘balloon lift’. Try to set up a relaxed breath cycle throughout.
By lifting the manubrium (the upper part of the sternum), the head will align to the central position.
You could use the balloon image throughout the day as prompt for good posture. “What colour is your balloon? Can you feel it gently lifting you?”
2. Head Nods
This movement assists with relieving the tension in the Trapezius muscles (the triangular muscles extending over the back of the neck and shoulders) that comes from curving forward over electronic devices. The forward carriage of the head can place a lot of strain on these muscles.
Nod the head forward and then gently turn the head from side to side. Use the fingers to massage the muscles below the back of the head. Avoid jamming the chin to the chest, leave a little gap.
Standing with feet apart, arms stretched out to the sides, with the belly button pulled in. Tilt the star shape a little to each side without disturbing the hips too much. Imagine the nose making rainbow shapes in front of the body.
Repeat the starting position but twist the shape to face each side, keeping the arms horizontal. These movements should be done slowly and carefully to avoid an unstable alignment in the lower body.
Lift the arms up to above the head, like a bird opening its wings. Smoothly and slowly slide the shoulders up and down, working the scapular (shoulder blade) on the back of the body. Avoid jamming the shoulders up, the important part is the dynamic, not the maximum range of movement.
Place the hands behind the head with the elbows open. Try to line up the elbows with the ears at the side. Slowly bring the elbows together in front of the face and then open to the starting point.
5. Snow Angels
Commence by lying on the ground, on your back, with arms and legs outstretched, straight. Without lifting the arms from the floor bring the arms down by the side of the body. Bring them back up the way they came to finish above the head.
Repeat this movement bending the arms as they are coming down so that the elbows finish by connecting with the waist. The arms go back following the same pathway until they finish above the head.
Lying on the floor, face down, with arms and legs stretched out in a ‘flying’ position. Carefully lift the right leg and the left arm slightly off the floor. Repeat on the other side.
An extension of this exercise is lifting both arms and legs off the floor together. Many children will find this difficult and you may need to lead up to it by doing the first version for several weeks.
It important that children experience success with these movements, as a result of facing the challenge, to grow confidence.
7. Ankle Rocks
Place the feet hip width apart, with the hands on the hips. Gently rock the feet, transferring the weight from the right side of the foot to the left side of the foot. The ankles may be a little stiff at first but will loosen up after several rocking movements.
Repeat transferring the weigh from the ball of the feet to the heel. You may lift the toes up as you shift the weight to the heel.
The idea with these exercises is to mobilize the ankle joint to enhance postural balance.
8. Cross Crawl
Standing with the feet slightly apart, lift one knee up to the chest, bringing the opposite arm forward in a marching movement. Repeat with alternate legs. This should be done slowly to test balance on one leg.
Then take the right leg back to a small lunge without shifting the ankle forward over the foot. The opposite arm goes forward like a speed skater. Then come together and repeat on the other foot.
Cross Crawl movements are important in assisting with vestibular training for postural balance.
Try all these exercises yourself first to get a feel of how difficult or easy they are. This will determine how many repetitions you get the children to do. By trying the exercises, you will also be able to determine which parts of the body are being used to make decisions about which movements to combine. All these movements should not be done as a part of the same Warm up to avoid overuse of muscles and joints.
Keep watching the class to see who is struggling and think about reducing the repetitions. It’s always a good idea to start easy and to work up to more repetitions. It should be slightly challenging but not horribly strenuous, to encourage the children to really try their hardest.
These movements are all meant to do slowly for the maximum benefit. Consider using music that is calming and slows the fast movers down a little. Emphasis the use of breath throughout.
Good posture is important for children’s general health but will also provide a focus for the dance Warm up. These exercises are good for the teacher as well!
Stand tall and feel better.