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Early Years Series: The Vestibular System

In the previous blog, I mentioned the vestibular system.  Until 18 months ago, I had never heard of this term, but the more I read on it the more fascinating it becomes!

The vestibular system provides our sense of balance and spatial awareness and is located in the inner ear.  It’s an internal guide that communicates between your body and your brain – it tells you where you are in the space around you in relation to gravitational pull.

This system is responsible for

  • Hand-eye co-ordination – writing and reading
  • Balance and orientation
  • Attention
  • Ability to sit still

This image from Integrated Learning Strategies: Learning Corner [1] brilliantly explains just how critical the vestibular system is:


Unfortunately, children today are more likely to have an under-developed vestibular system.  According to Angela Hansom of Timbernook, this problem is in large part due to children’s restricted movement:

“children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling

down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-

totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational

demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the

hectic schedules of modern-day society. Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough,

and it is really starting to become a problem.” [2]

Symptoms of an under-developed system include

  • Fidgeting
  • Balance issues
  • Co-ordination problems
  • Clumsiness

Children may also have poor depth perception and may have difficulty tracking movement or text with their eyes.

So what can be done to improve children’s vestibular systems?  Hanscom offers the following advice:

“children NEED to experience what we call “rapid vestibular (balance) input” on a daily basis.

In other words, they need to go upside down, spin in circles, and roll down hills. They need

authentic play experiences that get them moving in all different directions in order to

stimulate the little hair cells found in the vestibular complex (located in the inner ear). If

children do this on a regular basis and for a significant amount of time, then (and only then)

will they experience the necessary changes needed to effectively develop the balance

system–leading to better attention and learning in the classroom.” [3]

With that knowledge in mind, the dance artists here at JumpStart are incorporating these ideas within our own practice.  We ensure that opportunities to spin in circles, hang upside down over a partner, or roll along the floor (for example) are fully embedded within all of our sessions.

Would you like a dance practitioner to train your teachers on how to incorporate rapid vestibular movement within your early years setting?  JumpStart specialists can visit your school to provide clear guidance on how to support your children in developing their physical literacy (and therefore their readiness to learn) through easy to learn dance activities.  Contact Louise on 07738042089 or email [email protected] to find out more.



[2] Angela Hanscom: ‘Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today’ . Article featured in the Washington Post July 8th 2014.

[3] Angela Hanscom: ‘The Right – and surprisingly wrong – ways to get kids to sit still in class’. Article featured in the Washington Post 7th October 2014

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