The vestibular system helps us to control our balance, eye movements, and spatial orientation, allowing us to know where we are within the world around us. The vestibular system tells us if we are stationary or moving, how fast we are moving, and in which direction. When there is difficulty processing vestibular input, we can feel off balance and out of control. Some children will avoid movement experiences as the movement is confusing and scary. These children may experience frequent motion sickness or dizziness and prefer sedentary activities. On the other hand, some children will seek out movement in an attempt to get more information to their bodies about their position in the world. These children may appear to be in constant motion and may seem to be clumsy or uncoordinated. Children with challenges with vestibular processing can also appear lost in their environment and have trouble locating objects and people around them.
In order to help children with vestibular processing challenges understand their position in the world, we need to provide them with a variety of movement experiences. The trick is to provide opportunities where your child places their head in a variety of positions – upside down leaning forward, upside down leaning backwards, laying to the left, laying to the right – while stationary and in motion at different speeds and in different directions.
Here are some play-based movement experiences to add to your child’s sensory lifestyle to help stimulate vestibular processing.
Move like construction machines
Pretend you are construction equipment that needs to work on various projects.
- Pretend to pave roads and use your body as the paver, rolling back and forth over pillows.
- Pretend to be a jackhammer and jump up and down. Be silly with it and make the sound of a jackhammer as you jump.
- Use blocks or items around the room to build a “house”. Be a bulldozer and use your head to push the blocks around the room as you crawl across the floor. Then pretend you are a wrecking ball and use your body in different ways to knock it down! (rolling, running, jumping, etc.)
Put on a circus act
Create circus acts to perform for the family. Below are a few act ideas:
- Pretend you are a lion jumping through a fire hoop. Use a hula hoop to jump through and have him/her jump through it in different ways (arms first, feet first, forward roll).
- Pretend you are a tightrope walker and try to balance on a string laid out on the floor. You could also up the challenge by using the curb outside or a pool noodle on the ground.
- If you are at a park or have a swing-set you could pretend to be a trapeze artist swinging through the air.
- Pretend to be an acrobat and tumble around the room. Do rolls, spins, jumps and more!
Do dolphin tricks
Pretend you are a dolphin performing in a water show. Do lots of tricks that involve jumping, spinning, and going upside down! The more tricks you can encourage your child to do that can get their head off center, the more vestibular input your child will receive! Place pillows on the floor to jump and roll into like water.
Turn into a butterfly
Pretend you are a butterfly hatching from its cocoon. If your child is small enough, create a hammock out of a sheet. Have two adults hold either end of the sheet to lift the child up and gently rock them back and forth as if they are swaying from a branch. When the hatching is occurring begin to bump the child up and down within the sheet. Then let the child out and have them move around as a butterfly showing off their new wings! Encourage them to spin, twirl, jump, and more!
Balance across the river
Pretend that the floor is a river. Use items around your home to create a way to travel from shore to shore. Try to incorporate uneven surfaces, jumping/skipping, and opportunities to roll or crawl across the floor. You can take turns adding items.
Go scuba diving
Pretend you are a scuba diver searching for treasure or animals under the sea. Have your child try different ways to dive down into the water.
- They could sit on the arm of the couch with their back towards the seat and slowly sink backwards until their back hits the couch – falling into the “water” like scuba divers do. (You could also do this onto the floor if you place pillows/cushions where they will land)
- Have them lay on their bellies on the couch and slide down arms and head first onto the floor.
Hide items around the room and have them “swim” to search for them. Put the items in places that will require them to bend, crawl, roll, etc. Have them come back up to get more air (change oxygen tank) then dive back into the water.
Hop around the room to catch “flies” for dinner. Place things around the room that can represent flies, such as stuffed animals, or use pictures of flies. Place the items at different levels and places to encourage greater body movement and the need to go upside down and spin around.
Move through yoga stories
Yoga is a great way to have your child move in a variety of ways and explore head positions that are not typically explored in day to day activities. There are several yoga videos and books available that are story based. The story brings the playfulness into yoga practice. While your child focuses on the story and moves through each pose that goes along with the story they become characters in the play.
Twister can be a fun family game that siblings can get involved in too! This game results in moving our bodies in many different ways and at many different angles. It also helps work on posture/core strength, which is a common weakness that co-occurs with vestibular processing challenges.
In this game, players hold bands of different colors and spin a wheel that tells them to move over or under certain colors. Eventually players are twisted up among each other and the bands. They then need to move their bodies in various ways to get untangled. This game is best for children over the age of 6.