Winter is in full force up here in the Northern Hemisphere. With the newest research showing increased sensory and motor issues in children related to two major changes in our environment: increased use of technology and decreased time outdoors; how do we cater to the outdoor needs of our children when it's impossible to go outdoors without depending on screen time? It's quite a conundrum for parents. While many therapists embrace technology and screen time for various reasons, the cumulative effects of decreased outdoor play and screen time can be detrimental to learning, behavior, coordination, attention, and communication. All issues related to the vestibular system.
The Vestibular System is located within the inner ear and responds to movement and gravity contributing to the development of balance, equilibrium, postural control, muscle tone, maintaining a stable visual field while moving, and bilateral coordination. With longer school days with less outdoor time, more time spent sitting in front of the tv, and adults trying to protect their children by saying "don't spin", "get down from that tree", and "be careful", we're actually making children more unsafe because our intents to safeguard them result in an underdeveloped vestibular system.
On snowy, freezing cold days where outdoor play is not appropriate, we can encourage the vestibular system's development in a variety of ways. Here is a list of great activities to work on developing the vestibular system to encourage better sensory integration and organization, resulting in better behavior, muscle strength, coordination, attention, and learning:
1) Get on your belly. Tummy time isn’t just important for babies. Draw, do puzzles, play with cars, etc on the belly or in side-lying. A scooter board is great fun on the belly. Set up an obstacle course or a friendly relay race game.
2) Play in the dark. Removing vision requires greater use of our vestibular systems.
Flashlight limbo. Hold a flashlight beam horizontally and have players take turns to limbo under it without getting hit by the beam of light. Lower the beam with each turn. The last person to be hit by the beam of light as they go under the limbo beam is the winner.
Glow in the dark ring toss. Using glow-in-the-dark necklaces, have kids stand at a set distance (closer for the littler players) and have them try to throw their necklaces around filled water bottles or other rigid targets.
Flashlight Scavenger Hunt: Turn off the lights and hide some objects around the house for preschoolers to go find with a flashlight.
3) Crawling. Also not just for babies! Enjoy “wheelbarrow” racing and "crab-walking". Set up obstacle courses that require kids to crawling through a tunnel. Use couch pillows or a tunnel tube if you have one. Have friendly relay races or timed races. Walk like various four-legged animals: “bear walking” “lion walking” what would these animals look like?
4) Yoga. Kids actually love yoga. There are many online kids yoga videos and DVDs (yes it's screen time-but screen time that makes you move!). Switch it up by having them teach you by giving them these amazing yoga cards: Yoga Pretzels
5) Jumping. Give them some time to jump on the bed/couch cushions with supervision. You can also let them bounce on a yoga or therapy ball.
6) Rolling. play “burrito” with your child. Wrap them up in a blanket, putting on your “toppings” as you go. Have them roll around from point a to b, or make them unroll their burrito. Have a rolling race. Try rolling with hands and legs completely straight, then with knees tucked in. Which is easier? Harder?
7) Spinning. Spin them on an office chair in either direction. Not too long or hard, but let them get a good spin on. A great option is to have them play on a twist and spin ride.
8) Go upside down. Let your children practice inverting themselves. Help them out. Try flat on palms and on forearms. Avoid pressure only on the head.
10) Read. Reading is more of a sedentary activity, but one that you can never do enough of. Read with your children near the window to help activate the rods in the eyes. Studies show time spent outdoors is essential for normal eye development and they believe it’s from the UV rays. Let the light shine and opt to read by the rays of sunny winter.