Tummy time is a common buzzword right now in the infant world. Parents are encouraged to put their infants in tummy time frequently throughout the day in order to work on strength and avoid issues such as flat head or torticolis. Most parents that have had babies already know this, but what most parents do not realize that tummy time should be continued after infancy. School based occupational therapists will use tummy time as a therapeutic tool for many of the goals they are working on with kiddos and it is such a versatile tool that it can and should be used with ALL kids! (Lets be honest…ALL people!).
In this day and age, school aged kids spend a lot of of time in a hunched over posture (again, let’s be honest, people in general spend a lot of time in a hunched over posture. We hunch over desks, tablets, cell phones and computers for more of our day now than ever before. And what does this poor posture do to us? It weakens our core. When looking at a kiddos challenges from a physiological perspective, (the mechanisms of how the body works), we need to work proximally (closest to the midline of the body) to distally (further away from the midline). This is because our biggest and strongest muscles are in the center of our body (which is why we call them our core) and our smaller, weaker muscles require those bigger muscles to be engaged in order to be able to function well. This means that good core strength is vital for kids to succeed in school.
Why is Core strength needed to succeed in school?
There are so many different challenges that kids face throughout the school day that require good core strength. When looking at challenging tasks for a kiddo, I like to put myself in their place to think about what physiologically is happening. For example, If my core is weak, I can’t get comfortable in my desk chair or sitting on the floor for long periods of time. This becomes so distracting to me that I can’t pay attention to my teacher or my work. It also makes it hard for me to use my fine motor skills for cutting, coloring and writing because if my big muscles are not engaged, my smaller muscles in my arms and hands are not able to engage and coordinate properly. Copying words off the board would be hard with a weak core because I would need to to be able to shift my head/neck/gaze using small muscles in order to copy. If I am having to put lots of physical effort into these motions, I am going to forget words or letters, be disorganized in my placement on the paper and have difficulty with spatial and visual perceptual skills.
So, to summarize, kids with a weak core may:
- Have difficulties sitting still, be extra wiggly
- Struggle with handwriting, fine motor skills and reading
- Be hyperactive or have attention difficulties
- Be clumsy
- Have poor balance and coordination
- Be sensory seekers or sensory avoiders
- Have frequent meltdowns
- Shut down or not want to attempt work
- Seem overwhelmed by everything
Why should a big kid do tummy time?
There are lots of ways to improve core strength but one of my favorites is tummy time! The reason I love it is because it is so versatile. You can take almost any activity and turn it into a strengthening exercise by doing it on your tummy! When doing an activity on their tummy, kids can strengthen their neck extensors, shoulders, arms, obliques, chest, and back muscles. Tummy time also provides kiddos with much needed proprioceptive input in through their joints which helps calm and regulate their sensory system.
When should big kids work on tummy time?
Does this mean that when a child is working on an activity that is challenging to them you should have them do it on their tummy? ABSOLUTELY NOT! For a child with a weak core, time on the tummy could be difficult, uncomfortable and distracting. The best way to incorporate tummy time with kids that have a weak core is during as many fun, motivating and exciting activities as you can. The goal is to work on core strength in such engaging ways that the child doesn’t realize how hard they are working. Just like with babies, we want to try to revisit tummy time frequently throughout the day.
Here are some of our favorite ways to incorporate tummy time into our day:
- During tablet, lap top or television time
- While playing card or board games
- Building with blocks
- While reading or listening to books/podcasts
- During bath time (if water is too deep, weight-bear into hands instead of forearms)
- While playing in sensory bins
- When coloring or using sidewalk chalk