Advances in Physical Education
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 49-53
Published Online May 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/ape) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ape.2012.22009
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 49
The Effects of Obstacles and Age on Walking Time within a
Course and on a Balance Beam in Preschool Boys
Kosho Kas uga1, Shin-ichi Demura2, Hiroki Aoki3, Toshiro Sato4, Sohee Shin1, Haruka Kawabata2
1Gifu University, Gifu, Japan
2Graduate School of Natural Science & Technology, Kanazawa Uni ver sity, Kanazawa, Japan
3Kanazawa College of Art, Kanazawa, Japan
4Niigata University of Health and Welfare, Niigata, Japan
Received March 26th, 2012; revised April 27th, 2012 ; accepted May 7th, 2012
This study aimed to examine the effect of obstacles and age on walking time within a course (10 cm width)
and on a balance beam in 158 preschool boys, aged 4 (47), 5 (50), and 6 (61) years. An obstacle 5 or 10
cm in height (depth, 11.5 cm and width, 23.5 cm) was placed at the halfway point of the course drawn on
the floor and on the balance beam (200 cm in length, 10 cm in width and 30 cm in height). Children
walked to the end and returned to the original position as fast as possible within the above course and on
the balance beam under three conditions: low, and high, and no obstacle. Walking time was measured for
each condition. Subjects in all age groups were able to walk within a course significantly faster than on
the balance beam; in the former test, boys aged 4 to 4.5 years were slower than boys aged 5.5 to 6 years as
well as the 6-year-olds, and boys aged 4.5 to 5 years were slower than 6-year-olds; in the latter test, the
boys aged 4 to 4.5 years were slower than boys aged 4.5 to 5 years, 5 years and 6 years, the boys aged 4.5
to 5 years were slower than 5-year-olds and 6-year-old boys, and the 5-year-old boys were slower than the
6-year-olds. Walking times under all obstacle conditions were longer in 4-year-old boys than in the 5 and
6-year-old boys, longer in boys aged 5 to 5.5 years than in the 6-year-olds, and longer in boys aged 5.5 to
6 years than in the 6-year-olds. Walking times within the course was shorter than those on the balance
beam under all obstacle conditions. In addition, walking times both in the course and on the balance beam
were shorter in the following order: no obstacle (shortest); low obstacle; high obstacle (longest). In con-
clusion, in-course walking is faster than balance beam walking regardless of age or the presence of an ob-
stacle. Furthermore, improvements in the ability to complete both of these walking tasks may differ with age.
Keywords: Dynamic Balance; Boys; Balance Beam
It is important to adequately evaluate the developmental process
of nerve function because the neurological system develops
significantly during the preschool period. Nerve function is
related to coordination, and balance ability is an important
component of coordination. Balance ability is divided largely
into static balance and dynamic balance abilities, with the latter
being the ability to maintain postural stability during various
movements (Aoki et al., 2011). Preschool children learn to per-
form various locomotive movements with age. Dynamic bal-
ance contributes greatly to achievement of these movements.
Hence, it is vital to adequately evaluate the development of
dynamic balance in the preschool period.
Line and balance beam walking tests have been designed to
evaluate the dynamic balance of preschool children (Demura,
1995; Chandler et al., 1996; Bürgi et al., 2011). Since the for-
mer test is very easy, most older children can achieve it within
a certain time (ceiling effect). Meanwhile, the latter test creates
problems where younger children can fall off the beam and be
injured, or are unable to perform according to true ability due to
fear of falling (Kasuga et al., in press). In a recent attempt to
evaluate the dynamic balance characteristics of preschool chil-
dren, the ability to walk on a balance beam in the presence of
an obstacle was examined. As stepping over the obstacle while
walking requires compound movements, this task is more dif-
ficult to perform than merely walking in a straight line or walk-
ing on a balance beam. Additionally, stepping over an obstacle
while walking on the balance beam is more difficult than sim-
ply walking on a level surface. In short, it is assumed that al-
though both in-course and balance beam walking become more
difficult when an obstacle is included, the delayed time is larger
in the latter.
Many researchers have studied the development of dynamic
balance of preschool children (Demura, 1993; Demura, 1995;
Chandler et al., 1996; Bürgi et al., 2011). Demura et al., (1994)
reported that line walking time did differ with respect to age in
3 to 5-year-old children, but was shorter for 6-year-old children
in comparison to 5-year-old children. According to Kasuga et
al., (in press), children aged 6.5 to 7 years showed a difference in
course walking time with obstacles as compared to children aged
5 to 5.5 years, but not compared to children aged 5.5 to 6 years.
In addition, Aoki et al. (2011) reported that, regardless of
whether or not an obstacle was present, walking time on the
balance beam was significantly longer for 5-year-old children
than for children aged 6.5 to 7 years. In short, although a dif-
ference of test methods also affects walking time, results in
previous studies are inconsistent. Developmental trends with
respect to age may differ between the within-course walking
and balance beam walking tasks, with or without the presence
K. KASUGA ET AL.
of an obstacle.
The ability to walk begins at about one year of age, and indi-
vidual differences in ability disappear at about 6 years old.
Even though it employs the same basic walking skills, walking
on a balance beam has high difficulty and even children who
have mastered level walking find it hard to complete. When
stepping over an obstacle is added, the degree of difficulty in-
creases even further (double tasks). As the difficulty of an ex-
ercise task increases, exertion of dynamic balance is also re-
quired for its achievement. In this study, beneficial insight may
be found on the development across age and gender of per-
formance of exercise tasks based on walking with different
This study aims to examine the effects of obstacle presence
and age on walking time within a course and on a balance beam.
The subjects included 158 healthy boys aged 4 to 6 years.
Table 1 shows their physical details. The experimental purpose
and methods were explained to all preschool children and their
parents, and their consent was obtained. The present protocol
was approved by the Kanazawa University Department of Edu-
Walking in-course: obstacles (depth, 11.5 cm and width, 23.5
cm) with different heights (5 cm and 10 cm) were set at the
halfway point of a course (10 cm width and 200 cm length) (see
Figure 1). The subjects walked within the course under three
conditions: no obstacle, low obstacle, and high obstacle. The
time was measured from when the subjects crossed the starting
line (line tape length, 10 cm and width, 10 cm), reached a turn
line, to when they returned to the starting line.
Walking on the balance beam: The same obstacle was set at
the halfway point of the balance beam (10 cm width, 30 cm
height, 200 cm length) (see Figure 1). The subjects walked on
the beam under three conditions: no obstacle, low obstacle, and
high obstacle. The time was measured from when the subjects
crossed the starting line, reached a turn line, to when they re-
turned to the starting line.
Children were instructed to walk as fast as possible, to
change direction quickly after reaching the turn line, and to
return to the original position. Subjects carried out three trials
for each test. We repeated the measurement if, while walking,
they fell or their foot touched the obstacle. In addition, if the
above occurred three times in succession, measurement was
judged to be impossible for the subject.
The intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC) for each test was
calculated to examine trial-to-trial reliability.
Three-way ANOVA was used to ascertain the mean differ-
ences of each test, age, and obstacle condition for each walking
time. When a significant interaction or main effect was ob-
served, a Tukey’s Honestly Significant Difference (HSD) test
was used for multiple comparisons. A linear or curve regression
was calculated to examine the relationship between each walk-
ing time and the subject’s age, and the significance of the above
Basic statistics of age, height and weight.
Age (years) Height (cm) Weight (kg)
NumberMeanSD Mean SD MeanSD
4 to 4.5 years 21 4.2 0.1 100.4 3.3 16.3 1.1
4.5 to 5 years 26 4.7 0.2 102.6 4.5 16.8 1.7
5 to 5.5 years 23 5.2 0.1 107.2 4.0 18.0 1.5
5.5 to 6 years 27 5.7 0.1 107.4 4.4 17.7 1.8
6 to 6.5 years 34 6.2 0.1 112.8 5.1 20.0 2.3
6.5 to 7 years 27 6.7 0.1 115.9 3.7 20.8 1.5
coefficients was tested. The level of significance was deter-
mined to be 0.05.
The ICC’s of walking times for each condition were 0.61 -
0.81 for 4-year-old boys, 0.64 - 0.83 for 5-year-old boys, and
0.66 - 0.79 for 6-year-old boys.
Table 2 shows the basic statistics of walking times according
to the test performed, age and obstacle condition, as well as the
results of the three-way ANOVA. A significant interaction was
found between age and test factors, between age and obstacle
factors, and between test and obstacle factors. Multiple com-
parison showed that, in all age groups, the within-course walk-
ing time was shorter than the balance beam walking time. The
former time was longer in boys aged 4 to 4.5 years than in 5
and 6-year-old boys, and longer in boys aged 4.5 to 5 years than
in boys aged 6.5 to 7 years. Balance beam walking time was
longer in boys aged 4 to 4.5 years than in boys aged 4.5 to 5
years and in 5 and 6-year-old boys, longer in boys aged 4.5 to 5
years than in 5 and 6-year-old boys, and longer in 5-year-old
boys than in 6-year-old boys. Under all conditions, the walking
time was longer for 4-year-old boys than in 5 and 6-year-old
boys, longer in boys aged 5 to 5.5 years than in 6-year-old boys,
and longer in boys aged 5.5 to 6 years than boys aged 6.5 to 7
years. In addition, the within-course walking time was shorter
than the balance beam walking time under all conditions. Both
walking times were shorter in the following order: no obstacle
(shortest), low obstacle, and high obstacle (longest).
Figure 2 shows regression coefficients of each within-course
walking time. The no obstacle and low obstacle conditions showed
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
K. KASUGA ET AL.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 51
The basic statistics of walking times according to test per formed, age, and obstacle condition, and results of the three-way ANOVA.
Mean SD MeanSD Mean SD
Course 4 to 4.5 years 5.9 2. 0 6.42.5 7.6 4.3 F1:36.81*Course 4 to 4.5 years > 5.5 to 6 years, 6 year ;
4.5 to 5 years > 6.5 to 7 years
4.5 to 5 years 5.4 1.3 5.91.2 6.7 1.9 F2:346.81*Balance beam4 to 4.5 years > 4.5 to 5 years > 5year, 6year
5 to 5.5 years 4.7 1.5 5.32. 0 5.3 0.9 F3:38.96*
Age × Test
All age Course < Balance beam
5.5 to 6 years 4.2 0.9 4.61.3 4.9 1.1 F4:27.83*No obstacle4 to 4.5 years > 4.5 to 5 y ears > 5 year, 6 year ;
5 to 5.5 ye ars > 6 year ;
5.5 to 6 ye ars > 6.5 to 7 ye ars
6 to 6.5 years 4.3 0.8 4.51.0 4.8 1.1 F5:3.58*Low obsracle4 to 4.5 years > 4.5 to 5 y ears > 5 ye ar > 6 year
6.5 to 7 years 3.7 0.6 3.90.9 4.2 1.1 F6:8.84*H igh obsracle4 to 4.5 years > 4.5 to 5 ye ars > 5 year > 6 year
beam 4 to 4.5 years 17.8 7 .3 17.07 .5 21.9 8.8 F7:1.67*
4 to 4.5 years No obstacle,
low obstacle < High obstacle ;
4.5 to 5 ye ars No obstacl e < low obstacle
< High obstacle
4.5 to 5 years 11.8 5.8 13.34.9 15.0 7. 0 5 to 5.5 years No obstacle < low obstacle、
High obstac l e ; 5.5 to 6 years No obstacle
< low obstacle < High obstacle
5 to 5.5 years 8.3 2.7 9.22.5 9.8 2.1
Age × Condition
6 to 6.5 years No obstacle < low obstacle、
High obstac l e; 6.5 to 7 years
No obstacle、low obstacle < High obstacle
5.5 to 6 years 7.9 3.9 9.34.9 10.0 4.5 All ConditionCourse < Balance bea m
6 to 6.5 years 5.6 1.7 6.92.9 7.0 3.1 Test × Conditio nBoth best No obstacle < Low obstacle < High obs t acle
6.5 to 7 years 5.8 1.7 5.71.5 6.4 2.8
*p < 0.05, Unit: sec, F1: Age; F2: Test; F3: Condition; F4: Interaction (Age × Test); F5: Interaction (Age × Condition); F6: Interaction (Test × Condition); F7 : Interaction
(Age × Test × Conditio n). F1 (5, 149) = 36.82 , F2(1, 149) = 346.79, F3 (2, 298) = 39.04, F4 (5, 149) = 27.38, F5 (10, 298) = 3.55, F6 (2, 298) = 8.87, F7 (10, 298) = 1.68.
4.0 4.5 5.0 5.5 6.0 6.5 7.0
4.0 4.5 5.0 5.5 6.0 6.5 7.0
Figure 2. Figure 3.
Regression coefficients for each course walking time. Regression coefficients for each balance beam walking time.
beam walking for all age groups. In order to complete the test
on the balance beam, a change in physical direction on a path
that is high and narrow is necessary. Because walking on a
balance beam always places the participant in an unstable pos-
ture state, preschool children may find it very difficult. It is
judged that the ability to complete the balance beam walking
test, as compared with level walking (Aoki et al., 2011), takes
more time due to the fact that it is more difficult. In addition,
a linear regression and the high obstacle condition showed a
curvilinear regression. Figure 3 shows regression coefficients
for each balance beam walking time. A curvilinear regression
was found under all conditions.
The within-course walking time was faster than the balance
K. KASUGA ET AL.
regardless of the obstacle setting, the within-course walking
time was slower for 4-year-old boys than for 5 and 6-year-old
boys, and balance beam walking was slower for 5-year-old
boys than for 6-year-old boys. Demura et al., (1994) examined
age differences in line walking time using children aged 3 to 6
years old, and reported that it shortens with age. According to
Kasuga et al., (in press), the within-course walking time was
longer for 4-year-old children than for 5 and 6-year-old chil-
dren. On the other hand, Clifton (1978) reported that the bal-
an ce beam walking test score rises with age. Demura et al., (1994)
also reported in the above-stated study that balance beam
walking time shortens with age. According to Harcherik et al.,
(1982) report, balance beam walking speed tends to become
faster with age, with 4 - 5 years old group the slowest, the 6 - 8
years old group faster, and the 9 - 11 years old group fastest,
but sho wed insi gnificant dif ference betwee n the 9 - 11 y e ars old
and 12 - 14 years old age groups. Demura (1995) reported that
dynamic balance develops steadily from about 4 years old,
since balance beam walking becomes faster between the ages of
3.5 - 6.5 years old. Children who develop early can walk at
about 1 year and run at about 2 years of age. According to Aoki
et al., (2011), children over the age of 6 can step over an obsta-
cle smoothly. It is considered that in-course and balance beam
walking can both be performed faster by 5 year olds than by 4
year olds, and faster by 6 years old than by 5 years old due to
an an increase of walking frequency in addition to development
of basic movement ability with age.
On the other hand, it was confirmed that even for within-
course walking, walking time with a low obstacle (for which
difficulty is low) decreases proportionally with age, but both
within-course walking in the presence of a high obstacle and
balance beam walking (for which difficulty is high) show little
reduction in walking time after 5 years in age. Within-course
walking is an easy movement for preschool children over 3
years who can walk smoothly. Takagi (2009) reported that even
preschool children were able to perform a few movements simu-
ltaneously (for example, throw a ball while walking) through
age 6. It is inferred that they can change from simple move-
ments i.e., walking, to compound movements with relatively
high difficulty, such as stepping over an obstacle while walking.
The mean time presented above of within-course walking (no
obstacle condition) was 5.9 seconds for boys aged 4 to 4.5 years,
and 3.7 second for boys aged 6.5 to 7 years, and their time dif-
ference was about 2.2 seconds. In contrast, the mean of bal-
ance beam walking time (no obstacle condition), a high diffi-
culty task, was 17.8 seconds for boys aged 4 to 4.5 years, and
5.8 second for boys aged 6.5 to 7 years, and their time differ-
ence was 12.0 seconds. In summary, the balance beam walk-
ing times with high difficulty were about six times longer
(12.0/2.2 = 5.5) than the in-course walking times. In addition,
differences between the within-course walking times and the
balance beam walking times for each obstacle condition ranged
10.6 - 16.0 seconds for boys aged 4 to 4.5 years, but ranged
from 3.9-5.8 seconds for 5-year-olds and ranged from 1.8 - 2.7
seconds for 6-year-olds. Essentially, the difference was large
between boys aged 4 to 4.5 years and 5 to 6 years.
From the above, it is judged that when adding a balance
beam or an obstacle to the walking path, younger children are
more greatly affected than children over 5 years old. Older
children can achieve certain walking times through improving
the ability to perform compound movements in addition to
improvements in walking ability with age, even if the difficulty
of the movement task is high. Hence, it is considered that chil-
dren aged 5.5 to 6 years can even accomplish very difficult
movements such as stepping over a 10 cm obstacle or walking
on the balance beam. On the other hand, development of dy-
namic balance with age may differ according to the type and
difficulty of the test. However, this problem has not been well
examined. This study clarifies that development of walking
time in children 4 - 6 years old differs by type of test and diffi-
culty of movement tasks. We will need use tests and movement
tasks appropriate to each age level in order to evaluate dynamic
balance of preschool children.
Both the within-course walking and balance beam walking
times were slower in the following order: no obstacle (fastest),
low obstacle, and high obstacle (slowest). When stepping over
an obstacle, children must lift one foot over the obstacle (Aoki
et al., 2011). It is necessary to maintain a stable posture by
supporting one leg to lift it over a tall object.
In addition, greater exertion of dynamic balance is required
to lift one leg very high during walking (Kasuga et al., in press).
As an obstacle set on a walking course becomes higher, it takes
more time to step over, causing the contribution of dynamic
balance to become larger. Hence, it is inferred that the effect of
stepping over an obstacle while walking becomes larger as it
becomes higher for both in-course and balance beam walking.
In this study, due to subjects’ limited walking ability, a nar-
row course (10 cm width) and balance beam or an obstacle was
used. The results of this study describe that although walking
time shortens remarkably with age until 5.5 years in both walk-
ing with high obstacle and balance beam walking, it changes
little after 5.5 years old. It is thus indicated that dynamic bal-
ance related to walking develops until age 6, when children of
this age stage are able to perform plural exercise tasks simulta-
neously with comparative ease. The findings on development of
dynamic balance obtained in this study are considered to be
very useful when considering age level in teaching exercise
tasks to preschool children.
In conclusion, preschool children can walk faster within-
course than on a balance beam regardless of the presence of an
obstacle or their age. Development of the ability to perform
both walking tasks with age may differ.
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