When I choose toys, tools and equipment for my child, I try to invest my money in some main pieces that will grow with my son and that he can use for years to come. Two learning tools that my son has enjoyed and has helped to improve his gross motor skills are a large wall mirror and this balance beam from IKEA.
When I first purchased this balance beam, my son was about 8 months old and I assumed that he would not actually use it for a few more months. My assumption ended up to be completely wrong. Once the balance beam was assembled, I realized that it was actually quite sturdy so, I wanted to see what my son would do with it. I placed the balance beam in front of a large wall mirror with plenty of room to play around all sides of it. Within a day, he began using the beam to pull himself up into a standing position. He enjoyed keeping himself amused by standing and slapping the hard top surface of the beam, all the while observing himself in the wall mirror.
Soon, he used the balance beam to support his first attempts at walking. He learned that if he used it as a support, he was able to walk all the way around it. He also began to use the top surface as a place to set his toys, spending lots of time moving toys from his basket, onto the balance beam, then back to his basket.
Once he became more confident walking with support, he discovered that he could crawl underneath the beam. Crawling under the beam was a challenge he happily took on. He learned that although he could fit his head under the beam, his bottom stopped him from getting his entire body all the way under. He soon learned different ways to lower his bottom to get the rest of his body under the beam. Looking in the wall mirror helped him to see where he was getting stuck and, I think, learn more quickly how to manoeuvre his body.
Now, at 14 months, he has learned to climb over top of the balance beam, sit on it and bend over it, looking at himself upside down in the mirror. He still uses the surface to play with toys, stacking blocks and comparing the sound of the surface to the sound of other surfaces in the room. All of these things he discovered completely on his own.
As much as I think that this balance beam was a great purchase, I don't think that my son would have used the beam as effectively without being able to see himself in a large mirror. The combination of these two pieces provided a challenging, open-ended learning environment where my son could learn about his own body, at his own pace. I am looking forward to observing and sharing how he will next use these two great learning tools.