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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.