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Swiss Ball Magic

I first discovered how truly wonderful a Swiss ball can be during my second pregnancy - the first time around little did I know but I had bought a ball that was too small, and although it was fine, I didn't feel the full benefit until I bought the correct size during my second pregnancy (I had already qualified as an OT at this point, and so I followed the simple steps that you will find below). The wonderful thing about pregnancy Swiss balls is that they can be so useful to support your baby's natural development, as well as essential to soothing and relieving colic and digestion troubles. Not to mention they are great to support getting back into shape after having a baby.


Getting the right ball...


You can see that currently both my girls have their own Swiss ball which they are able to sit on comfortably with their feet flat on the floor. The rules are as follows

  • You should be able to sit on the ball comfortably with your feet flat on the floor

  • Your knees should be bent in a 90-degree angle or slightly more, but not less

  • As a general guide: 45 cm: most children aged 4-7 55 cm: 4'11" - 5'4" 65 cm: 5'5" - 5'11" 75 cm: 6'0" - 6' 7"


Please note that you can always deflate or inflate as your child grows - we've had a 45 cm ball for our eldest since she was around 4, and rather than getting a new one I've pumped the same ball up to give it a little more height. She is now 6 and a half and it is still going strong, so they really do last well!


My little one has a 25 cm ball - and although it is roughly the same size as a large regular ball it is far more durable and bouncy. If you have enough space the 85 cm balls are great fun - and for the taller child or a secondary aged child who requires more feedback they are fantastic as they tend to be wider which gives a better base of support - thereby becoming more of a self-regulation tool rather than aimed at challenging core strength and balance.


We also have a peanut ball which is great fun for play - my two can both fit on here so its great for sibling play. Additionally, we find it perfect for my older daughter who requires a little more support when completing rolling or activities lying over a ball - she sometimes finds her Swiss ball too challenging as she is required to maintain her balance as well as maintaining her posture to complete an activity.





Whichever ball you choose you'll find them a great addition to your home! They are a therapeutic tool, toy, seat, foot stool, musical instrument and a piece of exercise equipment all in one...



Therapeutic tool


A Swiss ball can form a central part of a sensory diet (see A Very Different Diet) through providing vestibular (see here for more information) and proprioceptive (see here for more information) feedback. In addition, a Swiss ball can provide alerting, organising and calming input as part of a sensory circuit.

  • Self-regulation - bounce, crash zone, rolling, balancing, punching (great stress reliever as well as providing proprioceptive feedback from heavy muscle work).






  • Core strength/ balance development through bouncing and static sitting on the ball.



  • Bilateral integration development through practising moving over the ball - you can add in extra challenges of picking up objects and moving them to a different location.





  • Baby motor skills development through rolling a newborn on the ball and encouraging head lift and eventual toy grasp - this motion also simulates a crawling position and so develops the balance and the core strength to facilitate this motor milestone. We did lots of work on Swiss balls when I ran a baby sensory play group when my youngest was little. For babies you can also use a large blow up beach ball - works just as well if you really don't have the space for a Swiss ball. They also prove to be great crawling and walking aids - as is demonstrated by big sister walking workshop below!





  • Baby sensory processing development - Swiss ball exercises promote natural development by providing your baby with additional opportunities to receive vestibular and proprioceptive feedback.


Toy

  • Sea-saw - only really possible with a peanut ball, but my two have a great time!




  • Horse - a different posture to balance in and really great to develop core strength and stability.





  • Ball - I particularly like to encourage children to lay on their back and balance the ball on their legs/ pass it between their hands and feet/ kick it to me - you can also play crab football, feet volleyball or conventional volleyball (as long as you keep it low to avoid the light bulbs:-) ).




Seat


  • Using a Swiss ball as a seat ensures correct seating posture and develops strength whilst sitting. Lovely position for story time with Papa!




  • Also means that you don't have to double up on chairs, making having a Swiss ball more of a space saving option than one can first think!



Foot stool

  • For adults and children - my older daughter uses her sister's ball when she is writing at the table to support her posture - it is essential for good writing posture for both feet to be supported as this grounding engages the core muscles and facilitates an upright seated position.



  • My husband and I both use the girls balls as foot stools of an evening - they really have, even in a tiny house, become a part of the furniture.


Musical instrument


  • Drumming has a fantastic therapeutic benefit - it provides proprioceptive feedback which is why, particularly full hand drumming, it can have a very calming effective. In addition, rhythmical beating mimics our heart rate and so can encourage a child to tune into their inner engine (see How Does Your Engine Run), and match their inner environment - if their heart is racing and breathing is heavy, encouraging a child to drum to a slow and heavy beat can be really regulating.

  • Drumming is also great for bilateral integration (using two sides of the body together) hand eye coordination, sequencing, imitation, motor planning and focus development. In addition to being muscle strengthening.

  • Drumming is a great activity to encourage call and response - I've done this activity with tiny, little and big ones and is a key skill to develop attention and listening skills.

  • Drumming is also a great activity to practise whilst encouraging your child to get into and hold different positions - for little ones they can high kneel over a ball to drum, and for big ones they could support the ball between their knees and then drum - develops the ability to multitask.




Exercise equipment

  • Provides a lovely full body stretch!




  • Great for playing games with or as part of an obstacle course.





Stay tuned for more posts on left-handers in a right handed world and developing a sibling bond during this time!


Hannah OT:-)








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