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If children incessantly spin in circles, it is because their bodies crave that stimulation.
The vestibular, proprioceptive, auditory, and visual senses work in concert. These fancy words are labels for sensory systems in humans that often work behind the scenes, taking in information and shaping the brain’s network.
Spinning in circles is one of the best activities to help children gain a good sense of body awareness. Through spinning they figure out where their “center” is and then are more able to coordinate movement on the two sides of the body.
Rather than making children susceptible to falls, spinning actually improves a child’s surefootedness, and it also improves their ability to concentrate in the classroom.
The vestibular system controls a person’s balance, posture, gaze stabilization, and spatial orientation. It also impacts impulse control (Angelaki and Dickman 2017). This nerve development is necessary for future tasks like following lines of text across a page (White 2013).
Studies show that spinning and other physical movement through space helps children’s brain development and their ability to pay attention, by stimulating the vestibular (inner ear) system. Believe it or not, when we get lots of motion through space (like spinning) it actually helps our senses work better.
So here’s the deal with vestibular stimulation: you want to offer your baby or child lots of it. As long as she looks content, just keep rocking and/or spinning.
After a while, you’ll either have a sleepy child, or an awake, alert child.
When babies and children are in the “awake-alert” state, they’re most open to learning new information. So, in a way, vestibular stimulation helps the brain decide whether it’s ready for more learning, or needs sleep to help process what’s already been learned.
Research reveals that the very same regions in the brain that are responsible for movement are the regions that are involved in higher level thinking. This suggests that there is a link between giving a child plenty of free play outside involving whole body movement and balancing activities, and their ability to perform higher level thinking such as problem-solving, creating and designing, anticipating outcomes, curbing impulses, and delaying gratification.
“Cross lateral movements (like spinning)…activate both hemispheres in a balanced way. These activities work both sides of the body evenly and involve coordinated movements of both eyes, both ears, both hands and both feet as well as balanced core muscles. When [this occurs] the corpus callosum orchestrating these processes between the two hemispheres becomes more fully developed. Because both hemispheres and all four lobes are activated, cognitive function is heightened and ease of learning increases.” Carla Hannaford, Smart Moves p. 81
One of the most foundational requirements for good functioning in life and ‘school readiness’ is having a strong sense of equilibrium in relation to space and gravity. Strongly developed balance allows you to feel good in your body and able to control and manage it well. It operates automatically and unconsciously so that attention is fully available for other things. When it is not working well, however, we feel very unwell and it is difficult to think or ¬operate in daily life. This can be a common component of many special needs conditions, such as ADHD, dyspraxia, and autism.
“A vast amount of movement is required for the brain to fully develop and then fine-tune its ability to interpret all the motion possibilities. This also needs to be matched with vision, hearing, and sensory information coming from inside the body (proprioception). Rather than actually balancing and staying still, it is movement in gravity that makes this sensory system wire up in the brain and body. It is perhaps not surprising to find that these are the very things that young ¬children most want to do and find such pleasure in!”
When our founder, Chuck Knerr, has shown Whirly•Go•Round in public, he has often been approached by parents and grandparents who have shared how good this would be for their child or grandchild who is on the spectrum. Seeking to learn more, Chuck has been exploring the topic online. Here are some video links and video he found helpful.