Have your children developed their sixth (and seventh!) sense?
Most of us learn about the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch from an early age. And children are masters at using them – splashing in puddles, getting muddy fingernails, picking up (and tasting?!) unfortunate worms and bugs.
But have you heard of the two other senses? They’re both linked to movement and are critical for child development.
The vestibular and proprioceptive senses
The vestibular sense is like your body’s GPS. This system enables you to process where your head is in relation to your body, and move both sides of your body at the same time, helping you stay in balance.
The proprioceptive system helps us work out where we are in relation to our environment, and how much we need to use our muscles. If someone gave us a heavy bag to carry, it’s our proprioceptive system that enables us to respond, by judging whether the bag is too heavy, and putting it down, or by contracting our muscles so we can better carry the weight.
The vestibular system is the first system foetuses develop, and like the five senses we know about, the proprioceptive and vestibular systems need the opportunity to develop.
Just as babies develop understanding about the world by being exposed to different sights, sounds, textures and smells, babies and children need opportunities to move their bodies freely to develop understanding about the way their body interacts with the world.
Signs these senses aren’t functioning typically
If children aren’t developing these senses, they may experience symptoms such as:
• Crashing into things
• Using too much or two little force with playthings – for example as pressing down too hard with a pencil)
• Difficulty co-ordinating different parts of the body, for example touching their nose, or putting on clothes.
There is some evidence to suggest that the reason many children fidget in class is because their proprioceptive sense is screaming for attention – they want and need to move!
As these senses deal with the body and movement, the best way to enable children to develop them is through lots of physical activity.
The NHS recommended physical activity guidelines for babies and young children are higher than for older age groups for just this reason. The NHS recommends babies are active throughout the day, free to move as much as possible when they are awake. And for under 5s, the guideline is for 3 hours of physical activity a day.
So here are some ways you can help babies and children to develop these critical senses:
Let them make their own judgements
Staying within the realms of safety, aim to let children be in charge of what they’re capable of. It’s by sensing height, distance and what they can manage they develop risk assessment skills as well as their vestibular and proprioceptive senses.
Let babies roam free as much as possible
Daily life means babies might be in car seats, buggies, bouncers or slings for some of the day. But aim to let them move under their own steam, unaided as much as possible. This gives them the chance to develop a sense of their own body and how it interacts with the world.
Play with weights
Experimenting with objects that have different weights and tensions, such as stones, bags of flour, sticks, play dough and stress balls helps children learn about force and their own power, critical for development of the proprioceptive sense.
But mostly we recommend getting outside and having some fun! Playground activities such as swinging, spinning on roundabouts and climbing are all fantastic for the development of these senses. So is exploring woods, beaches and rolling down hills.
So whatever the weather – get outside with your little ones. And if you want them to stay warm and dry, we’ve got everything you need in our online shop!