I really loved learning about this sense because it immediately explained why kids are drawn to certain activities. Children love to swing. They love to twist the ropes of the swing and then spin as fast as they can. Kids will roll down hills over and over again. They love to play rough and tumble, hang upside down on monkey bars, dance, do somersaults, play leap frog and wheelbarrow race. I loved doing the crab walk as a kid. Youngsters love thrill rides at amusement parks and they even love to spin just for fun.
Our brains are wired for our bodies to be active. The Vestibular Sense in the connection between many of the other ways in which our brains perceive the environment around us. It is also the reason why it is so much fun teaching Gymnastrix Programs; kids are always happy when they are swinging, jumping, crab walking and rolling. Each one of these activities is strengthening the balance sense and helping children learn where their body is in space.
In an ideal world, we would be doing all of these things outdoors, on trees, playgrounds, in parks or in water. Many parents are fearful of children injuring themselves that they stand in the way of their children’s physical, intellectual and social development and well being. In the contrived world of education, no lessons are given on the school play equipment; only a set of agreed rules on dos and don’ts. In part this is because teachers understand the importance of self-discovery within a movement context.
As infants move through pre-walking phases in their first 15 months they are developing the balance sense. Better balance is achieved by those children who practice these skills on all different types of surfaces and terrain. These movements need to be multi-directional. For example: moving on flat smooth surfaces, up and down slopes, around the side of sloping terrain. Where movement is only on flat surfaces a lack of vestibular stimulation which their bodies need, occurs. Different shoes, barefeet and different hardness of surfaces expands the range of stimulation and the strength of the vestibular sense, proprioception.
It is easy to activate vestibular sense. Just move your head in different patterns. To ‘mess with’ the vestibular sense, try drawing a figure 8 with your nose in a smooth pattern with your eyes closed. With each side receiving different directional stimulus, after just 3 – 8 repetitions of this activity, your brain somehow feels calm and clear. What has happened is you have arrived in a state of equilibrium or balance. Activities which twist, spin or turn your body around different axis cause the opposite: a sensation of not being balanced. This is the reason a child becomes scared when they are spun in circles on the long axis (backbone) until they are dizzy for the first time. They do not know what has happened to them or why. Upon getting used to this feeling, it becomes one they want to repeat, enjoying the sensation.
Watching my kids play, roll, dance climb, bounce and spin is a lesson in human development. From clumsy youngsters, they have become sure-footed, resilient and confident. As an adult perspective, although it is ok to just want to watch, but honestly, it is more fun when I get amongst it. During puberty the fluid in the ear canals will thicken, lengthening the amount of time it takes for the little ear hairs to return to their original position. This is why teens and adults tend to get motion sick more often than children.
Although I love doing all the things my kids do, most adults do not need to spin even if their children do. There is a great benefit to them to when they get dizzy. In time, as they get used to all that fluid moving around in their inner ears, they will become more adept at navigating their surroundings. Spinning activities lead to increased alertness, increased attention, and increased calmness.
Childhood is when children develop the vestibular sense. Although our schools have vast amounts of seated work time, sitting in circles in libraries and computer lab sessions, this time doesn’t help the 6th Sense development. On the other hand, recess play and lunchtime / afterschool games help with brain development. It wakes the brain up so that the student is ready to learn more in class.
In recent decades the largest negative in childhood development is the increase of “Screen Time”. My toddlers could never sit through a movie, they always preferred to be moving. Was their brain telling them it needed movement stimulation from the 6th Sense? Researchers who have compared body and head movement between an outside child in a nature and a child who is inside in front of a television screen, showed vast developmental between the two groups.
Any time you increase movement during childhood, especially movements that stimulate balancing, you will assist your child’s ability to pay attention. Balancing activities are directly linked to learning to read.
The ground-breaking research into our 6th Sense, the Vestibular Sense is a cornerstone in how Gymnastrix Programs improve children’s academic performance. Whether it is the ability to bounce back after a poor test score, (resilience) the willingness to tackle new challenges (adventure) the development of unusual solutions to problems (creativity) or leading the class in reading ability (balance), our schools need more, not less movement based activities.