Have you ever heard of the vestibular system? It’s not as well-known as the five senses, but it’s just as important for your child’s development. The vestibular system plays a crucial role in regulating balance, coordination, and spatial orientation, and is essential for many physical and cognitive activities.
Did you know that we have EIGHT sensory systems?! Most people only know the top five. This blog post is part of a series in which we delve into all eight sensory systems.
In addition to the vestibular system we have seven other sensory systems. They are:
What is the Importance of the Vestibular System in Childhood?
The vestibular system is a complex network of structures located in the inner ear, responsible for providing the brain with information about our body’s position and movement in space. This system plays a crucial role in maintaining balance, coordination, and spatial orientation.
In children, the development of the vestibular system is particularly important for the acquisition of fundamental motor skills and cognitive functions.
One of the primary functions of the vestibular system in children is to aid in the development of balance and coordination. As children begin to move and explore their surroundings, their vestibular system is activated, providing them with important sensory input about their body’s position in space. Through this feedback, children begin to develop the skills necessary to maintain balance and coordinate their movements.
As children continue to grow and develop, their vestibular system continues to play an essential role in the development of motor skills. This includes gross motor skills, such as walking, running, and jumping, fine motor skills, such as handwriting and manipulating objects, as well as visual tracking skills such as hand-eye coordination.
Children who have difficulties with their vestibular system may experience delays in the development of these skills, which can affect their overall growth and development. If you suspect that your child has delays with balance, coordination, and spatial orientation it is important to discuss this with your child’s pediatrician for further guidance.
Is Vestibular Sensory or Motor?
The vestibular system is primarily a sensory system. It is responsible for detecting movement and changes in head position, as well as providing information about the body’s orientation in space. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and includes the semicircular canals and the otolith organs, which contain specialized sensory cells that respond to changes in acceleration and gravity.
The vestibular system works in conjunction with other sensory systems, such as vision and proprioception, to provide the brain with a complete picture of the body’s position and movement in space. The vestibular system’s sensory input helps to regulate balance, coordination, and spatial orientation, which are critical for many activities, including walking, running, and playing sports.
While the vestibular system is primarily a sensory system, it also has some motor functions as we discussed above.
Research has also shown that the vestibular system plays a crucial role in cognitive skills such as attention and memory. By providing the brain with sensory input about movement and spatial orientation and reasoning, the vestibular system helps children form a more comprehensive understanding of their environment. This can aid in the development of attention, focus, and memory, as children are better able to process and retain information about their surroundings.
There are also links between the vestibular system and emotional regulation in children. The vestibular system has been shown to play a role in the regulation of emotions, particularly in relation to stress and anxiety. By providing sensory input that helps children feel more secure in their environment, the vestibular system may help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety in children.
Activities that promote vestibular development are essential for children as they help to stimulate and develop the vestibular system which helps to promote healthy physical and cognitive development.
What Activities Support Vestibular Development?
There are various activities that can support the development of the vestibular system. Some of these activities include:
Swinging: Swinging is an excellent activity to support vestibular development in children. Swinging back and forth provides the vestibular system with the necessary sensory input to develop balance and coordination. Find our Ultimate Guide on Sensory Swings here.
Spinning: Spinning is another activity that supports vestibular development. Children can spin themselves or be spun by an adult. The movement of spinning provides the vestibular system with a unique sensory input that aids in the development of spatial orientation and balance.
Tumbling: Tumbling activities, such as somersaults and cartwheels, are great for developing vestibular skills. These activities require children to move their bodies in different directions, which provides the vestibular system with essential sensory input.
Balance Beams: Balance beam activities require children to walk on a narrow surface, providing the vestibular system with necessary sensory input to develop balance and coordination.
Balance Boards: Using a balance board can be a fun way to support vestibular development. Children can stand on the board and shift their weight back and forth, providing the necessary sensory input to develop balance and coordination. A balance board can also be used in the classroom during activities to provide a sensory break and support attention and focus.
Rocking: Rocking activities, such as rocking horses or rocking chairs, are great for developing vestibular skills in young children. The back-and-forth motion provides the necessary sensory input to develop balance and coordination.
Climbing: Climbing activities, such as climbing a jungle gym or rock wall, require children to move their bodies in different directions, providing the vestibular system with essential sensory input.
Dancing: Dancing is a fun and engaging activity that supports vestibular development. Dancing requires children to move their bodies in different directions, providing the necessary sensory input to develop balance and coordination.
Yoga: Incorporating yoga can be a great way to support vestibular development. Yoga poses, such as tree pose, warrior pose, and downward dog, require children to move their bodies in different directions, providing the necessary sensory input to develop balance and coordination. You can find all the Yoga ideas we have shared on site here.
Sensory Path: Creating a sensory path can also support vestibular development. A sensory path is a series of floor decals or mats of different textures that create a pathway for children to walk, jump, and balance on. This can provide the necessary sensory input to develop balance and coordination.
Floor Games: Floor games can be a great way to provide vestibular input for kids. These games involve activities that encourage movement and physical activity, which can help to stimulate and develop the vestibular system. Some popular floor games that provide vestibular input include “Twister”, Unplugged Coding Games, and “Tangled”.
Vestibular Toys: We have discussed our favorite vestibular tools and toys in depth here.
Incorporating vestibular activities into your child’s daily life is a critical component of a child’s development. From the development of motor skills to academic performance to the regulation of emotions, the vestibular system plays a critical role in many aspects of a child’s growth and development.
As caregivers and educators, it is important to be aware of the importance of the vestibular system and to support its development through activities that encourage movement, exploration, and sensory input.
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