Learning Through Movement
By Barbara Greenspan, OT
In the last newsletter Shari Harpaz, eBeanstalk’s resident Speech Pathologist, introduced the concept of how children learn by using their senses. Everyone is familiar with the 5 senses including Touch (Tactile), Sight (Visual), Smell (Olfactory), Taste (Oral) and Hearing (Auditory). But there are actually two more senses (or systems) that we don’t hear much about and they are crucial for movement and learning; they are the vestibular and proprioceptive systems (sound complicated? It’s not). These two movement systems give us information about our bodies and how we move relative to the world around us.
Where’s my head? The vestibular system sits in the inner ear and tells us where our head is in relation to the ground.
Where’s my body? The proprioceptive receptors are located in our muscles, joints and ligaments and this system tells us where our body is in space.
For example, if your arms are up straight in the air and your eyes are closed, the proprioceptive system tells us where our body parts are located without using our eyes. This system also tells us how much strength is needed to do a task such as how hard to throw a ball or how much pressure to apply to a pencil to write on paper. Think about that the next time you walk in the dark feeling for the light-switch.
So, as parents, how do we give input to these important systems that help our children learn about their bodies in relation to the world around them? Keep reading and we will give you some great ideas that you can do at home and at the playground to stimulate these “movement” systems!
1. It’s time to move: In our first eBeanTALK newsletter, our Physical Therapist, Deanie Barth, wrote about the importance of having infants spend time on their tummies. However it is also critical for them to spend time putting their bodies and especially their heads in different positions (other than just straight upright). One good way to accomplish this is to lay on your back and lift your baby up in the air in front of your body and tilt them from side-to-side. Play games and sing songs while you bring their face close to yours and then back up in the air again. This is a great bonding activity (and your arms will get a workout as well!) and an excellent way to teach your baby about movement.
2. Get creative: When your baby starts to crawl, use tunnels and forts to encourage movement on all fours and again put their head in different positions as they use these objects.
3. Keep it simple: Another great tool for children this age are exercise balls. Place your child on his or her stomach on a large exercise ball then carefully tip them forward until they touch the floor in front of them with their hands, then roll the ball back until they touch the ground with their feet. Sing songs while you do this and they will giggle as they go down and back up while learning how the rolling ball makes their body move.
4. Gravity is fun: After they have learned how to walk, help your toddler feel how gravity effects their movement by helping them try to walk up a slide and then hold them as they slide back down headfirst. Another fun playground activity it to carefully push them on a swing while they are seated and then on their stomachs. Or, take them on a wheelbarrow walk -- let your child walk on his or her hands while you hold them up by their feet. Not only are all of these playtime activities helpful in developing a child’s vestibular system they will also help to build strong muscles at the same time!
5. The bottom line: By being creative you can play an almost limitless number games that place your child’s body and head in a variety of positions that stimulate their vestibular and proprioceptive systems. All these ideas are building blocks that prepare a child to direct their bodies in the way they want them to move, and prepare them for carrying out their important jobs as preschoolers and future students.
So remember, provide your children with many sensory rich experiences throughout their day because learning doesn’t only happen in your brain!
Learning is a two-way street
If you liked this article, you may also want to read our other developmental articles: