Thursday, February 26, 2009

Belly Swinging and Spinning is Good Brain Food!

I was visiting a preschool recently. The young children were outside playing and I found myself standing and observing the children on the swings. A four-year-old child was draped over a swing seat on his stomach while swinging back and forth. At the same time he was spinning around and around as the swing chain twisted high above him. Soon he could twist it no more and then, propelling himself in the opposite direction, he spun around and around as the chain untwisted-- his small arms extended as if flying in space, a great big smile on his face. I smiled back, happy that he was stimulating the mind/body connections. He was in the process of repeating the action, when from across the playground came a loud voice commanding him to stop belly swinging and informing him it was against school rules.
Children are innately programmed to spin, swing and be upside-down. When children are spinning and swinging, special receptors in the little “vestibule” of the inner ear are stimulated and communicate a sense of where the body is in space. This vestibular system controls the sense of movement and balance.
I often mention "brain food" in my workshops. Physical activity is good brain food for young children. When a child is swinging and spinning, they're having fun, but their little body and brain is also unconsciously telling them that they need this kind of movement for a healthy sensory "diet." Swinging and spinning helps kids regulate their bodies. It helps them focus and increase their body awareness. Young children do not get dizzy as easily as adults do because connections between balance and other systems are still being formed in the first eight years of life. We, as adults, take our sense of balance and our fundamental understanding of our place in space around us for granted. For children, those abilities are still developing, becoming more complete and connected. We need to give children opportunities for movement and physical activity so they can develop these crucial abilities (and so they won’t be bouncing off the walls when the teacher needs the child to sit down and be attentive.) Remember that teacher who was shouting at that child to stop belly swinging? I wished that early education teacher could have instead celebrated the child’s movements and his need to feed his body and brain-- one belly swing, one belly spin at a time.