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35 Simple Vestibular Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Here is a quick guide to the vestibular system, as well as some fun and simple vestibular activities to try with young children.

The Seven Senses

The five basic senses of taste, touch, hearing, sight and smell are each related to sense organs that communicate information to the brain.

The human body has two other sensory systems that are not so obvious but are equally important for a child’s sensory development.

The proprioceptive system relates to sensory input through joints and muscles, which helps the body adjust effectively while making various types of movements.

Proprioceptive activities include jumping, carrying, pushing, pulling, colouring, and writing.

But there is one other important sensory system in the body that is also related to movement and helps all the other senses work effectively. That is the vestibular system.

What is the Vestibular System?

The inner ear has tiny sensory organs that communicate with the brain to control balance and eye movement. 

The sensations detected by even slight changes in the head’s position are considered vestibular input.

This important system helps with balance, eye-hand coordination, and many aspects of self-care.

Children with overly sensitive vestibular systems seem clumsy, often avoid movement like swinging, and have trouble learning to climb. 

On the other hand, some kids seek out vestibular sensory input through intense movements like whirling and spinning, in order to stimulate an underactive system.

Examples of Using the Vestibular System

How do you stimulate the vestibular system?

All types of activities that move the head in different positions are helpful and often suggested by occupational therapists.

Vertical movements like jumping and bouncing are commonly used. Swinging on playground swings or hanging and swinging from a monkey bar can be calming for the vestibular system.

35 Vestibular Activities for Children

Here are some vestibular activity movements to try at home and at school, both indoors and outside.

35 easy vestibular activities pin image

1. Simon Says

Play an old-fashioned game of Simon Says with actions that involve plenty of position changes.

2. Spinning

Allow kids to spin in your office-style chairs.

For helicopter spinning, they hold their arms out and spin in place.

“Sit n Spin” and tire swings are other options.

3. Obstacle Course

Set up cones or form a figure 8 on the surface for children to run in and out of, changing directions often.

4. Plan a Parade

Instead of parading on cement, children march on an uneven surface to stimulate their balance.

5. Balance Beams

Walk on balance beams or just strips of tape on the floor as a tightrope.

6. Log Roll

Lying on the floor or ground, children pretend to be logs while rolling around or down a hill.

7. Exercise Ball

Lie on the tummy to rock back and forth or bounce on the ball.

children lying on yoga ball

8. Movement to Music

Kids move along with some favourite tunes, such as rocking to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or following all the motions for “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”

9. Running Games

Play games that promote running, such as tag, relay races, or hide and seek.

10. Jumping

Jump on trampolines or furniture, with parent permission, of course!

11. Novelty Walking

Challenge kids to walk like various animals or to partner up for wheelbarrow walking.

12. Playground

Equipment on the playground offers a wealth of opportunities for vestibular activity.

Little girl having fun on a playground

13. Floor Play

Perfection is not the goal when kids try out cartwheels and somersaults for upside-down experiences.

14. Classroom

Call for regular movement breaks, allow kids to stand instead of sitting at tables, offer alternative seating like therapy balls, and try an indoor crawling obstacle course.

15. Yoga

Downwards dog, horse and monkey pose offer stimulation; use the mouse pose for calming.

16. Varied Locomotion

Challenge kids to skip, gallop, and run from one point to another.

17. Aerobics

Lead organized exercise for kids, such as jumping jacks and jogging in place.

children jumping at the park

18. Jump Rope

Children jump rope individually or over a rope held by other children at both ends.

19. “Rough-Housing”

Controlled rough play is beneficial to encourage plenty of bodily movement.

20. Vehicle Riding

Kids ride sleds, bikes, or scooters down a hill or along a curved pathway.

Slide down a hill in a cardboard box.

21. Floor Games

Play games like “Twister” and “Twangled” that require bending and leaning.

22. Hop Like a Frog

Kids act as frogs, hopping around and catching various objects as “flies.”

23. Skating

Provide roller skates/rollerblades or ice skates for movement benefits.

24. Put on a Circus

Kids move like the animals and the people who perform in a circus.

25. Build a Road

Challenge children to move like construction machines for building roads: pavers, jackhammers, wrecking balls and bulldozers.

Pillows come in handy as materials to be moved.

26. Water Play

Splashing around in a lake, pool, or even safely in the tub offers a fun sensory water play activity.

little girl in the swimming pool

27. Drawing it Large

Offer coloured chalk for children to make large drawings on sidewalks, patios or driveways.

28. Swinging Beyond the Playground

Kids swing in a hammock or in a blanket with adults holding the ends.

29. Hopscotch

Play hopscotch on a grid drawn with chalk outdoors or made indoors with tape on the floor.

little girl playing hopscotch

30. Navigating the Stairs

Walking up the stairs is good, and crawling up the stairs could be even better!

31. Tippy Toes

Challenge kids to walk a certain route on tiptoes or to stand still on tiptoes for a set amount of time.

32. Dancing

Play different types of music to encourage varied types and speeds of movement.

33. Catch It

Encourage throwing and catching various items, such as balls, flying discs, pillows and bean bags.

34. Organized Sport

Try lessons in gymnastics, dancing, horseback riding and karate.

35. Monkey on My Back!

Invite your child to climb on your back, while you crawl, rock back and forth, change directions and gently try to get that monkey off your back.

Similar to proprioceptive activities, you can expect various responses from different kids, depending on their sensory needs.

Watch out for any signs of distress and call a halt to any activity that causes a negative reaction.

Children can have fun while exercising their vestibular systems!

Sources:

https://www.ssdmo.org/cool_tools/inclusive/Resources/trying_to_make_sense_resources.pdf

https://www.pat.nhs.uk/community-services/PC-leaflets/Occ-therapy/vestibular-activities.pdf

https://wsascd.org/downloads/annual_conference/Sensory_Accomm_for_the_Classroom.pdf

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