It’s all about balance.
When babies are born, they have no sense of balance – it must be learned. And there’s only one way to learn balance – through movement. When the body moves, the brain records that information and forms its own understanding of what it feels like to be in, and out, of balance. As such, when children do get to their feet, the brain and body are working double-time, managing balance and complex movements simultaneously. And of course, that takes some getting used to… actually years of getting used to, in order to perfect the highly sophisticated act of moving at a slow, controlled pace!
Now, most whole-body movements contribute to learning balance. But in particular, there are three types that work harder than most in this regard: spinning, rolling, and hanging upside down. Have you ever noticed how kids will do these things spontaneously? The reason is the brain is craving these kinds of movements in order to stimulate what’s called the vestibular system, and establish its sense of balance!
The vestibular system and what it does…
Our vestibular system is one of the sensory systems that provides our brain with information about balance, motion, and the location of our head and body in relation to our surroundings.
The importance of fast & slow
Often we hear parents say, “look how good his balance is, he can whip over that beam so fast…” That’s because when the human body moves fast, the physics of forward momentum take over part of the job our sense of balance normally does for us. When we move slow, we rely more on our balance to keep us steady, stable, and upright. And that’s where the challenge comes in for children.
Now, going fast is perfectly natural and great for kids. But it’s important to try to slow them down, too… at least sometimes. You see, going fast doesn’t give the brain time to think. Going slow engages the brain, giving it the time it needs to receive, analyse, and store all that sensory information. This helps build the brain’s sense of balance while refining movement. And when that happens, children are on the road to more deliberate control of their bodies… and yes, they might even slow down a bit!
Watch your partner while they watch TV… notice how often they change position. Look at a room full of people in any meeting, they will be constantly changing position. Highest form of yoga… to sit completely still. Our bodies are meant to move and need to change position frequently, it’s really hard as an adult to stay balanced for long, and even more difficult when you have only been on the earth for a few short years! Building our vestibular system is why our children like to go upside down (on the couch, on the bars, anywhere they can!) spin, and be in a constant state of movement.