Did you notice that your baby rocked on all fours before he crawled? Your toddler loves to spin and your preschooler loves to swing? Children swing, not only on the playground swings but on the rail at the post office, or the crowd control poles while waiting in line and even with each other! ‘Riding in the Buggy’ (or laundry basket or towel!) and bouncing up and down on adults’ laps are always popular activities in our Kindermusik classes – and there are always plenty of smiles and giggles as we stop and start, go up and down or round and round together!
Spinning, twirling and rocking all stimulate the vestibular system, the centre of balance in the brain. It is important to encourage this kind of movement, particularly in the early years when your child is in such a tremendous growth-spurt, as it helps develop your child’s balance and coordination skills, strengthens eye muscles and upgrades the vestibular system ready for new physical accomplishments such as crawling, walking, hopping and skipping.
“When the body and head move, the vestibular system is activated and the eye-muscles strengthen as they move in response. The more the eyes move, the more the muscles of both eyes work together. Later on this ‘eye-teaming’ will enable your child to focus as well as to track and concentrate, as he learns to read at school.” (Carla Hannaford, “Smart Moves”)
Okay, so swinging on the dividers at the supermarket may be frowned upon, but there are plenty of ways you can encourage rocking, spinning and twirling (safely!) at home. Here are some ideas –
Babies – hammocking is great vestibular stimulation for babies. If you don’t own a hammock, you can create your own by folding a sturdy blanket in two. Dance together! Hold your baby securely as you sway, bend, dip, twist and rock to your favourite tune, changing your hold occasionally so he gets a new view of the world.
Toddlers – hold your child under his arm pits and swing him. Be sure to include swinging in different directions (forward/back and side to side). Have your toddler stand on your feet, hold hands and sway together.
Preschoolers – love to rock with their favourite stuffed toy. Encourage your child to sit on the floor and rock as the tailbone is the centre of stimulation for your child’s vestibular system.
The whole family – gather your family together, cuddle-up and rock to your favourite piece of music.