What are our Inner Senses?
When we think of the senses, the classic five usually come to mind: Touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing. Aside from the classic five senses, there are two less famous but equally important ones: the proprioceptive system and the vestibular system. The classic five are external senses, processing information from outside the body. Proprioception and the vestibular system are internal senses, and process information from inside the body.
What is the Vestibular System?
- The vestibular system is one of our internal senses that controls our balance and motion.
- This system helps us remain balanced, feel safe when moving, coordinate eye and head movements, and coordinate both sides of the body
- The vestibular system begins to develop in the womb. Once a baby is born, it’s strengthened and stimulated through movement and changes in position.
- Throughout baby and toddlerhood, movements like being rocked, gently swung, rolling, crawling, walking, and running all provide input for a healthy vestibular system
- Gymboree Celbridge’s developmental classes are great for activities that stimulate children’s vestibular systems
The vestibular system is our sense of balance and motion. It uses information from fluid in the inner ear to let us know the overall position of our body, whether or not we are moving, and if we are moving how quickly and in what direction.
What does our Vestibular System do?
The vestibular system helps us to:
- Orient ourselves in space — The vestibular system tells us the position of our head, so we know if we are upright, leaning back, lying down, upside-down, etc.
- Remain balanced — Every time we change position, the fluid in our inner ear moves. The brain tracks that movement and tells our body how to shift in order to maintain balance. This is how we’re able to tilt our head back in the shower, lean to reach something, jump over a puddle, etc. without falling down.
- Feel safe while moving — The vestibular system helps us feel secure while running, swinging, or simply stepping out of bed in the morning.
- Coordinate eye and head movements — We rely on our vestibular system for activities like copying from a white board, watching a movie, or reading.
- Coordinate both sides of the body — When we do things like walk, drive a car, cut with scissors or ride a bike, our vestibular system maintains equilibrium while our proprioceptive sense tells us how to use our body parts.
How your child’s Vestibular System Develops
The vestibular system begins to develop in the womb. Once a baby is born, any movement that changes his position or gently rocks, rolls, bounces, swings or spins him stimulates and strengthens his vestibular system. This sets him up for healthy vestibular development.
Stimulating the vestibular system also develops muscle tone, because it teaches a baby which muscles to stabilize to keep his body balanced in different positions. Throughout baby and toddlerhood, movement including being rocked or gently swung around, rolling, crawling, walking, running, and climbing provides input for a healthy vestibular system.
Some children have trouble processing vestibular input. Signs of this in baby and toddlerhood include intense negative reactions to changes in body position or having the head tilted back, lagging behind on milestones, being afraid to crawl, walk, climb stairs and so on without help from an adult, constant fidgeting, trouble concentrating, or difficulty with fine motor tasks (including tracking with the eyes). If you notice any of these consistently, your Public Health Nurse or GP can offer guidance.
Supporting Your Child’s Vestibular Development
A strong vestibular system develops through movement, so keep your little one moving! Give your newborn tummy time and your older infant time to practice rolling and sitting. Rock your baby, dance with her, bounce her on your lap, and gently swing her around. Follow your crawler around the house, or chase your wobbly new runner through the park. The sensory and gross motor activities in the classes at Gymboree Celbridge are great resources for actives that stimulate the vestibular system.
What is the PROPRIOCEPTIVE SYSTEM?
- Our proprioceptive sense is internal and helps us understand where our body parts are in relation to each other, what each body part is doing, and how much effort is required to do things.
- This sense is responsible for coordinated movements like using a fork to eat, walking across a crowded room, or typing without looking at the keys.
- It also helps us use the correct amount of force for different things like lifting a heavy glass, opening a bag of crisps, or pushing buttons through button holes.
- Proprioception begins to develop in the womb. Once a baby is born, their movement and sense touch help them form a mental map of their body.
- This sense is activated through things like massage, kicking their feet against their car seat, and playing on their tummy.
- All Gymboree Celbridge classes involve proprioceptive learning.
The proprioceptive sense uses information primarily from the skin, muscles and joints to help us understand where our body parts are in relation to each other, what our body parts are doing, and how much effort is required to do different things. Let’s take a closer look at these roles, and then we’ll explore how your little one’s proprioceptive sense develops.
What does our Proprioceptive Sense do?
This sense is responsible for:
Coordinated movement — When you scratch an elbow, use a fork to eat, or walk across a room, proprioception is the reason you know where your elbow is without having to look at your body, can put the fork in your mouth without stabbing your face, and walk without tripping over your own feet. We even rely on proprioception to tell us how to move our jaws and tongue to eat, or how to use our fingers to type without looking at the keys.
Using the correct amount of force for different things — Proprioception allows us to use just the right amount of effort for countless tasks, like lifting a heavy glass without dropping it, grasping a paper cup without crushing it, throwing a basketball hard enough to reach the basket, writing with a pencil without breaking the tip, and pushing buttons through button holes.
Proprioception and Development
Proprioceptive development is driven by movement, and works with a baby’s sense of touch as she interacts with her surroundings. It starts with her first movements in the womb: When her arm presses against the uterine wall, her proprioceptive and tactile receptors are activated and she learns about her body parts and how they move.
Once she’s born, every one of her movements helps her form a map of her body. Whether it’s being tickled, kicking her feet against her car seat, playing on her tummy, or exploring her face with her hands, she continuously adds information to her body map about the relative position on her body parts and how to use them.
Because we love tummy time, let’s use it to paint a picture of proprioception: Spending time on her belly, she learns how to lift her head and turn it from side to side to look around. She learns how to position her limbs and how hard to push against the floor to do mini push-ups, shift her weight, and eventually roll over. Enticed by objects around her, she learns to stretch her arms to reach them, coordinate her hands to grasp them, and squeeze hard enough to pick them up.
This learning continues as she practices using her body in increasingly complex ways to move and accomplish tasks.
Sometimes children have difficulty processing proprioceptive input. They may constantly trip, bump into things, or appear uncoordinated or lethargic. They may consistently play too rough, crave intense physical activity, or use too much force. It can be difficult to spot proprioceptive dysfunction in toddlerhood, because little ones often appear very active or uncoordinated. If you have questions about your child’s sensory development, check in with your Public Health Nurse or GP for guidance.
Supporting Your Child’s Proprioceptive Development
The key to nurturing proprioceptive development is providing your little one with lots of opportunities to move her body and interact with her surroundings, unrestricted by baby equipment. Virtually any of our Gymboree Celbridge class activities involve proprioceptive learning.