Why Children Are Falling Out of Their Chairs: A Lesson in Proprioception & Vestibular Senses by Rae Pica
When I read that children are falling out of their seats in school, I thought there must be a mistake. But, no, it was true. One first grade teacher reported that it happened 44 times in one week! She likened it to 23 penguins trying to stay upright on chairs. Since then, many other teachers have reported similar stories to me.
Honestly, I should have realized it would come to this. The reason? Children are getting so few opportunities to move these days that their proprioceptive and vestibular senses aren't developing as they should.
What are these senses we seldom hear about? Proprioception is awareness of the location of one’s body and body parts in relation to the environment. And the vestibular sense detects gravity and motion to create an internal sense of balance. It coordinates with the other senses to help a person get upright and stay that way.
With properly developed proprioception, children are able to perform such tasks as feeding themselves without having to watch the fork travel to their mouth, or climb a staircase without looking at their feet. With a properly developed vestibular sense, children will have, among other things, better balance and visual tracking. When both the proprioceptive and vestibular senses are well developed, sitting is much easier for children.
The critical period for development of these senses is before the age of 7. And the activities nature intended to develop them are among those we often warn children against:
- hanging upside down
- changing directions
- rolling down hills
We say "Don't run" when children put on a burst of speed. "Be careful" is often the phrase children hear when they climb and hang. We shout "Don't do that, you'll get dizzy" when they spin.
But it's not just parents exercising caution. Swings, monkey bars and those wonderful, dizzying merry-go-rounds have been removed from school and public playgrounds. And tag, running, and cartwheels have been banned at many schools.
That means children are missing out on the very movements that are part of nature’s plan to prepare them to be able to sit still. Many adults seem to believe that if we simply insist the little ones sit still, those who are “well behaved” will comply. But the truth is, complying requires all the concentration they could be using to complete a more important task. Being still is actually a very challenging form of balance requiring mature proprioceptive and vestibular senses.
So, let the children swing and spin. Find the perfect hill for them to roll down. And the next time there's a gathering of children, encourage a game of Freeze Tag, where a tagged player must remain frozen until touched by another player, or Statues, where children move in any way they want while music plays and freeze into statues when it stops. Games like these make the children want to be still. Combined with the movements they involve, the kids will develop self-regulation skills as they improve their proprioceptive and vestibular senses.
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