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During the Covid-19 pandemic, life had changed dramatically for our little people.
Playground equipment was off limits. Until recently, we could only head out for 1 hour of activity outside the home. Nurseries, child-care facilities and activity events shut their doors for the time being.
The focus shifted to the home setting for all the play, activity, learning and fun.
It was certainly a challenge for parents and children to adjust to this ‘new normal’
The aim of this blog is to give you a few suggestions of activities that can be done at home or in any green space around your local area to boost one very important sensory area for your child.
We are all familiar with the 5 senses of sight, sound, hearing, smell and taste. But this 6th sense sometimes called The Movement Sense, is equally as important. It is vital that this system be developed within the early years of a child’s life as co-ordinated movement is fundamental for all life’s activities.
This Movement Sense involves the Vestibular System and proprioception. The Vestibular System is a sensory system that is responsible for providing our brain with information about motion, head position, and helping to know where our body is in space. It’s actually one of the oldest of the sensory systems, thought to have evolved about 0.6 billion years ago! The sensing ‘machinery’ is found in the inner ear and is essential for normal movement and balance.
Here’s a 2 minute clip that tells you more about this Vestibular System if you’re interested.
Balance is not something we automatically have; it is something that we do. And it needs practice, lots of it! This means that our vestibular systems needs regular stimulation to build up those neural pathways which help our children in their day to day lives.
Sadly, children sitting still for long periods of time without moving their heads in a range of movements does nothing to stimulate this vital sensory system.
The vestibular machinery in the inner ear responds to three different types of movement and it’s vital to allow your children to do activities that stimulate all three types.
Activities like spinning on a roundabout or spinner at a local playground are perfect for simulating this part of the inner ear.
Log rolling down a gentle grassy slope is another fun easy activity for this. You can do it on a flat surface too, but it’s a little harder that way. Just make sure you check the grassy area for any unwanted items before they roll along the area.
Want to make it more challenging? Can they roll one way, then back the way they came? Or can they roll with their arms stretched out high above their heads, making a peak with their hands together. I call these ‘rocket ship arms’.
Of course, if your child loves dancing, spinning round during a dance routine is a perfect motion to practice this movement too
Activities like rocking and swinging give this part of the inner ear a fabulous workout.
Initially, the passive gentle rocking of a cradle or being rocked in a parent’s arms helps to stimulate this system.
As the child develops, and when there is a level of muscle strength and postural control, rocking toys can feature in the play mix.
Or a swing. This snap is of our Solvej Baby and Toddler swings that can be set up inside the house or outside on a verandah or under a tree. What child doesn’t love to spend hours swinging backward and forwards – it’s a gorgeous feeling!
This is the least stimulated vestibular movement in everyday life. When a boat tilts in a strong wind or seas or an aeroplane banks from side to side, this part of the inner ear is stimulated.
Wobble Boards are the perfect toy to practice this movement safely. First they can sit, cross legged on the board and wobble side to side. When they get better with balancing, they can try to stand up.
If you don’t want to buy a wobble board, you can easily make something at home that practices the same movement. I’ve created one here with a short plank of wood, sitting on a half round log from the log pile. Make sure that the wood is smooth as you don’t want to get splinters in feet.
Want to make it more challenging?
Use a larger log underneath or use a completely round log which will have much less stability.
You’ll notice that young children don’t get dizzy doing any of these movements where adults certainly do! I go weak at the knees at the thought of getting on a Waltzer these days! This is just because the connections between balance and other centres are still being formed in our children.
With any of these activities, it’s essential that you fully supervise your child when at play.
So, the tiny Vestibular System, tucked away in the inner ear, is a vital cog in the heathy development of your child.
Not only is it king in developing your child’s balance and co-ordinated movement. This system has also been shown to have a profound effect on emotions, and is essential in higher cognitive skills such as reading and writing, which require directional awareness coupled with the improved integration with the other sensory systems and benefits in stabilising eye movements.
Easter egg hunts are such a tradition at this time of year and you can’t beat watching the anticipation and joy on the kid’s faces as they race around the garden or house searching out the elusive Easter eggs.
This year, why don’t you try a variation on that theme?
I’ve created 8 Easter themed movement cards for you to download. Print out the two pages and cut them into the 8 cards.
Place them around the garden or within the home. Start at one card and get your little ones to do that movement until they find the next card. Then do the movement on the 2nd card until they find the 3rd one and so on. Hide some eggs close to each card for them to discover when they get there.
That way, they’re building their motor skills and burning off some energy before they scoff their Easter treats.
I’d love to hear how the activity went with your kids. Drop me a line, video or picture.
Happy Easter to all those Whizz Kids out there!
We’re rolling on into the summer months and there are loads of large scale sports events to inspire you and your kids to get active. We’ve got the Cricket World Cup and FIFA Women’s Football World Cup happening at the moment and Wimbledon tennis just around the corner. We’ve put together a collection of toddler sports themed games for you to try at home.
You’ll probably have most of this equipment lurking around at home so they’ll be no need to buy anything more.
You can play these toddler games indoors or outdoors although don’t pick a windy day for the outdoors choice or you’ll loose your balloon props!
Equipment you will need:
This is a good team game where everyone stands in a circle and tries to keep a balloon in the air using football skills.
Your toddler can use the cardboard tube like a cricket bat with it touching the ground. Or in a baseball bat position (like in the image above).
This type of hitting across the midline is a great activity for boosting brain connections between the left and right side of the brain. This helps get the two sides of your toddler’s body ‘talking’ to each other to make more co-ordinated movements.
See my post about Motor Skills and the importance of activities like this if you want to find out more behind the science of this.
Have you heard about All Stars Cricket? If your toddler loves this game, you might like to think about signing up at your local cricket club when they’re a bit older. This is for boys and girls aged 5 to 8 years old. It’s a great program to learn the basics of batting and catching and it’s loads of fun.
Grab your plastic kitchen spatulas or fly swatters to use as tennis racquets.
See how you go with these 3 activities, my 10 year old still loves playing these games so you don’t have to just restrict them to your toddlers!
In a previous post, I’ve talked about a reduction in the development of gross and fine motor skills that can cause learning problems at school.
And this worrying trend was one of the main reasons for starting up my business.
Have you heard about the Movement for Learning project? Probably not. But this project directly addresses these issues.
The FREE program, available to primary schools, is the brain child of Professor Pat Preedy. Pat is passionate about early childhood education and has led international research contributing greatly to our knowledge and understanding of the development and needs of babies and young children.
She teamed up with researchers at Loughborough University to develop a simple daily 15 minute program for 4 -6 year olds that has been shown to improve physical development levels as well as benefits in learning and behaviour. Take a look at the video below to find out more.
The daily program gives children opportunities to move, improve movement (motor) skills and inhibit baby reflexes that should no longer be present.
The children carry out really simple tasks like throwing, catching, balancing, drawing large letters in the air, articulating sounds and skipping.
If you’re an Early Years educator, Primary School teacher or a concerned parent, take a look at their Movement for Learning website and contact the team to sign up. You’ll get plenty of support to set the program up in your school and the effects will make a massive difference to the children under your care.
Listen to what some of the schools that already do the program have to say in the short video below:
Any questions about the project? I’m happy to chat more about it. Just get in touch.