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Rollers, success and mastery

By physiotherapist Hannah Harboe

The sheer joy of doing something for the first time is a fantastic feeling everyone will recognize. For children, the feeling is often associated with motor skills; learning to crawl, walk, clap hands, tie shoe laces, etc.

When we observe a child as he or she learns something new, the joy of succeeding in the endeavours is visible and tangible. We share the child's joy over his or her new conquest. We praise the child for his or her efforts and respond to their pleasure and enthusiasm. Some children find it difficult to make such new conquests. While success brings more success, a child is easily disheartened by failure. A single failure may set off a negative spiral, in which the child loses faith in his or her own abilities and capacity to learn.

Children who have experienced failure may be introverted and easily becom upset and hesitant to take part in activities that are new to them. If not encouraged to break the negative spiral, the child's lack of confidence can develop into low self-esteem. The child forms a self-image as "the one who can't and won't do things.

For many children, learning to roll on a Roller is a major challenge. From the outset, standing and walking on a Roller appears to require a great deal of training.

In fact, the vast majority of children who have no handicaps can learn to move on a Roller without support after only about 30 minutes of training. Roller is therefore the obvious choice if you want a child to experience mastery and boost his or her self-confidence. The child's self-image may change from "I am useless" to "I can train and master something difficult".


The parents of seven year old Christina contacted me, because Christina had withdrawn from social contexts outside the home. She only made play dates at home. At school, she never raised her hand in class and she was afraid that the teacher would ask her a question.

At home, she threw tantrums and cried when she did homework with her parents. Even before the books were removed from her satchel, she said she could not do it.
Christina‘s negative expectations and response to the challenges she was asked to face had become burdensome. The negative spiral affected her general health and well-being. She slept badly, picked at her food and refused to play and interact with classmates.

Christina‘s parents agree to motor skills training and to Christina‘s engaging in physical exercise in order to reverse the negative spiral and give her a chance to master new skills and have positive experiences of learning something new.
Christina has attended five individual training sessions with me. We have got to know each other. She is confident that I will not expose her to any activity that she cannot master. We have motor skills paths, where she has trained skills that she already mastered and I have praised her for working with me. We have laughed together.
Her parents attend the training sessions and provide physical and verbal support and encouragement. They soon found that Christina looked forward to the training sessions.
Today I suggested that we trained on a Roller – something new for Christina. She has never tried this before.
I help Christina up onto the Roller and hold her by the arm.
I promise I will not let go until she is ready. I tell her that I know she is not yet ready to stand on her own. Recognising that she is not yet capable of doing this is important. In this context, it works better than saying „I know you can“ – encouraging the child and showing that we believe in him/her.
For her first attempt, Christina is sullen and uncommunicative but she gives it a go and receives praise.
We take a break, eat biscuits and chat about the Roller, that it is difficult and seems almost like something you might see at a circus.
After the break, we try again. We practise getting on and off the Roller. After only the third attempt, Christina steps up onto the Roller unaided. She is jubilant. Her parents applaud.
I support her and suddenly Christina says: „Let me try on my own“. She rolls 50 cm entirely unaided and then jumps off. We are all enthusiastic. We share Christina‘s joy and success. Now she‘s keen to try over and over again. The distances she travels on the Roller become longer and longer. I am permitted to film her so that she can see for herself how clever she is.
The negative spiral is gradually broken and the feeling of having mastered the Roller has a knock-on effect.The parents refer to her positive experience when-ever Christina does not dare to try something new. „Remember the time you learned to roll on the Roller“ has become a mantra, reminding her how she dared to do something difficult and how she has to train before she can achieve mastery. Christina is no longer the little girl who is afraid to do new things. She is good at training difficult things and does not give up at the first hurdle.

For many children, learning to roll on a Roller is a major challenge. From the outset, standing and walking on a Roller appears to require a great deal of training. The Roller is a beautiful new conceptualisation of a fundamentally challenging motor activity object. Leave it out, and you will see both children and grown-ups tempted to test their skills by stepping up and trying to set the Roller in motion.