A big bouncy exercise ball makes even the work of getting fit seem fun. Kids as young as 5 can reap the benefits, says New York City-based kids' fitness expert Steve Ettinger, and the balls naturally lend themselves to playful movement while improving balance, strength, and stability. You'll want to get a ball sized so that your child can sit on it with her feet on the floor and her knees and hips at 90-degree angles (shown here, Sportsmith's 45-centimeter ball; $13.95). Once she's outfitted, try some of Steve's favorite exercises.
This simple challenge is a great way to teach balance and improve posture and to work core muscles, says Steve. Have your child sit up straight and focus on keeping her tummy muscles tight. See if she can lift each foot a few inches off the ground for ten seconds. Now go for the record: how long can she hold both feet up? (Spot her from behind if needed.)
"One of the most important functional movements is the squat," explains Steve, "and by incorporating an exercise ball into the action, kids will be able to work through the proper range of motion with a supported back." Have your child place the ball between her lower back and a wall, then slowly squat until her knees are at 90 degrees. Keeping her core muscles tight, she should then push back to an upright position. Work up to three sets of ten repetitions.
This more advanced move will enhance your child's balance as well as strengthen her upper body and core. Starting facedown with her chest on the ball, she slowly rolls forward until her palms are flat on the floor, then continues to walk her hands forward until her feet are on top of the ball and her body is in a push-up position (to spot her, hold her hips as she moves). From there, she slowly rolls back to her starting position. Work up to three sets of five to ten repetitions.
Originally published in the November 2012 issue of FamilyFun