I had a parent talk to me about how they are frequently told it is important for children to swing, slide and spin around, but have not been told why this was important.
Children learn and develop through engaging their senses in novel and interesting ways. They have an innate drive to seek sensation through movement, as it provides their body with the rich input needed to form new motor actions and a new understanding of the world and how it works.
A particularly important sense in this process is the vestibular system. The vestibular system gets feedback through movement of the head and is responsible for knowing where the head is in space. This sense strongly contributes to foundational sensory development from the time a child is in utero. In fact, the vestibular system starts to develop at two weeks’ gestation and is well developed by five months gestation. As a child figures out what is up, down, and sideways, they can determine where they are in relation to other things around them. Effective vestibular processing forms the basis for balance, posture, coordinated movement, reading, learning and many other skills. Vestibular sensation is also very alerting and can support attention and regulation for some children when accessed in a controlled way. This is where swings can come in.
Swinging provides vestibular input through forward and backwards movement in space. This pattern provides rhythmical and predictable movement which can support regulation. Swings can also provide fast, accelerated and novel movements (like spinning in a circle) which ultimately provides more intense vestibular sensation to support attention.
Furthermore, it challenges coordination as a child needs to pump their arms and legs in rhythm to get the swing to move. Additionally, it supports motor planning as a child adjusts their movements to increase or decrease the swinging speed. When a parent or friend is supporting through pushing the swing, it provides a moment of connection and co-regulation.
And most of all…. It is fun!
So, what’s the deal with swinging? It is a great way to get important vestibular input to support balance, posture, coordinated movement, attention and knowing where you are in space. It can allow self-driven exploration of movement, while also allowing moments for connection and co-regulation with others. It is not the only method of obtaining vestibular sensation but is certainly fun and easily accessible as swings are often available at local parks or play areas.
If you want further guidance around how to assist your child to access effective vestibular input, speak to your Occupational Therapist for further advice.
Author: Caitlin Venn – Occupational Therapist