The vestibular system is the first sensory system to develop. It becomes amazingly well developed when the foetus is just five months old. While still in the womb, the baby’s brain is provided with a deluge of sensory information as the birth parent moves about during the day.
The vestibular system relays sensory information from various sensory organs to the appropriate regions of the brain. Receptors in the inner ear are collated with input from the eyes, muscle and joint receptors. This enables children to make sense of where they are in relation to other people and objects. Because of this, children can: tell if they are upright, leaning back or upside down, etc.; stay balanced; feel safe and secure while running around; and coordinate head and eye movements, as well as both sides of the body.
For newborns and young babies, simply holding them while moving around the room will stimulate their vestibular system. Rocking, dancing around with or even just bouncing babies on your lap will all provide the sensory input needed. Studies have shown that children who have been given regular vestibular stimulation show improved development in both their brains and bodies.
Vestibular activities for babies have multiple benefits. These range from developing balance to improving muscle tone and coordination to even speech and language skills! Improved muscle tone also encourages the development of good posture. Additionally, the more babies move their heads and coordinate their eye movements, the more they learn to understand where they are in space. This forms a strong basis for skills later in life such as direction and spatial measurement, setting them up for maths and writing when they’re older.
Four vestibular activities for your younger Early Years:
- Spin! Holding the baby facing either towards or away from you, spin slowly in a circle in one direction, then back the opposite way (be careful where you step, and don’t spin too fast, you don’t want to become dizzy!).
- Fly! Holding the baby horizontally, with their face towards the ground, slowly ‘fly’ them around the room, giving them time to look at what objects they may be passing.
- Roll! Lie the baby face-down over an exercise ball and gently rock them backwards and forwards.
- Dance! Holding the baby, move about to some music. Vary the movements to include swooping, spinning and bouncing, making sure you don’t go too fast.
An important thing to remember is to start slowly and briefly. Some babies may love being swooped around the room for ages but, to begin, only try it a few times to make sure they’re completely comfortable. You want it to be fun, but some babies can easily become over-stimulated and therefore will not enjoy the experience.
Investing time into stimulating the vestibular sensory process will ensure your Early Years have a solid basis for reflexes, bodily control and coordination as they grow.