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By Kelsie McGladrey, DPT

A yoga (or therapy) ball is a great tool for children! There are many different exercises for strengthening, balance training, and sensory input! The yoga ball can be a great way to help motivate children to participate in gross motor and fine motor play! There are many positions and variations to keep things interesting. Here are some ideas:

Prone (lying on your stomach):

Lying on your stomach over the ball can be a great way to strengthen your trunk and shoulder girdle. Depending on the size of your ball, you can have your child lay across it using their hands on the ground to balance; or if the ball size is too large and your child cannot reach the ground you can support them at the hips or feet to prevent falling. Having your child weight bear through their arms is a great way to build shoulder strength and give them sensory input. You can add to the challenge by having them reach for toys. Start with the toy below shoulder height and slowly increase the height for an increased challenge. An additional challenge can be added by having your child reach across midline to reach for the toy. Other fun ideas can include puzzles, sorting objects, drawing, and board games.

Supine (lying on your back)

Start by having your child stand in front of the ball or seat them on it. They can slowly lower themselves backwards while you support them at their hips. At this point you have a few different exercise choices; you can have your child bear weight through their arms to be in a supported bridge position—this serves as a great way to get input through their upper extremities. You can also have them pick up a toy from the ground and return to sitting for a good core strengthening exercise.

Seated on the ball

The ball can serves as a chair in many daily activities while allowing them to work on their balance, posture, core control and receive extra sensory input. This can be while they are doing homework, eating dinner, playing video games or watching a movie. While sitting on the ball they are able to bounce and wiggle some for extra sensory input through their pelvis/spine. The decreased stability of a ball versus a chair helps the children activate their core muscles while sitting. It can work as a great way to work on their posture. For an added challenge and fun you can play games on the ball.  You can encourage your child to practice reaching across body while playing with toys on a mirror or magnets on a fridge. An increased challenge could involve reaching down and across to pick up a toy from the floor and then returning to upright. For another core activation activity, encourage your child to march in place while on the ball. For increased difficulty you can encourage them to kick out forward one leg at a time.

Exercises off the ball

There are many other uses for a yoga ball that do not actually involve playing on the ball.  One exercise involves “rolling” your child. This exercise serves as a great way to provide deep pressure to the entire body. Have your child lay flat on the ground. You will roll the ball across them putting mild pressure through the ball to “squish” them.  Another way to provide deep pressure is too have them complete supine leg kicks. Have your child lay on their back in an open room. Make sure there are no breakable items in close surrounding areas as the ball can sometimes go off track. Ask your child to lift his legs while you roll the ball towards their feet. They then get to kick the ball back to you. This exercise provides good input through the bottom of their feet.

Tips and Tricks

-There are many types and sizes of yoga balls depending on your use. The size will be affected by your child’s size and your goals with the ball.  Often times getting a medium size will allow your child to be able to use it now and when they grow! There are also other shapes and textures. Often times you will see “peanut” shaped yoga balls. These balls are also great and can be used for most exercises list above. The textured ball will depend on your child’s preference. Some children prefer more texture while others do not. This will also affect the type/amount of sensory input provided through the contact with the ball. Talk with your physical or occupational therapist to help decide which ball is best for you.

– Use a taped pool noodle in a circle to help corral your ball while you are sitting on it or storing it.

-Yoga balls are versatile exercise tools for children of all sizes.  Talk to your physical or occupational therapist about a more individualized exercise plan for your child.