The Ultimate List: Vestibular Sensory Toys
Did you guys think there were only 5 Senses?? You know, sight, sound, taste, touch, & smell. Well, so did I before becoming a special educator and learning about the other two senses we have; vestibular and proprioceptive. Vestiublar is sense of balance and spatial orientation which helps coordinate movement with balance and proprioceptive; which is referred to as the sixth sense, was developed by the nervous system as a means to keep track of and control the different parts of the body. My daughter Addie does have some sensory processing issues and I am always on the hunt out for the best ways to regulate and organize herself. We have been working with two OT's over the past 1.5 years and have come up with some activities to help organize her since she seeks vestibular input. I am in the process of creating the Ultimate Guide to all my favorite sensory toys for each system and first up is vestiublar. Before you dive in, if you want to know the basics about Sensory Processing check out my article Sensory 101.
What the heck is Vestiublar System?
The Vestibular system refers to structures within the inner ear that detect movement. This sensory system allows us to maintain our sense of balance –to move smoothly and confidently. A healthy Vestibular system is central to integration of the other sensory systems. In addition to helping us relate to our bodies in space (spatial awareness) it also helps us process sounds and use our eyes effectively.
Why is it important?
Vestibular input is important for all children's development because it helps them maintain balance and trunk control and also helps them to successfully interact with their environment for fine motor, visual motor (e.g. tracking a moving object), gross motor, sports activities and self-care activities.
Vestibular Avoiding vs Vestibular Seeking
The sensory system is so complex, and what works for each kid is different. Some activities can help organize and settle down a kiddo, while other activities can really excite them. It's good to have a toolbox of toys and tricks and pay attention to how your child is reacting to the input to know what types of things you can to do. Some kids with sensory processing issues crave or seek vestiublar input, while others avoid. Kids who avoid vestibular input may be nervous on playground, fearful of certain movements, clumsy, hold really tight on stairs, etc. while kids who seek it may have difficulty staying still, constantly moving, running, takes unsafe risks inside and outside. My daughter is a seeker, and we are using vestibular sensory activities to help her organize herself, settle down. better understand her body in space.
Here are some of my favorite toys; (click to shop)
Balance Board : this is a great way to introduce kids to vestibular movement. Basically it teaches them how to shift their weight from side to side and respond appropriately to that weight shift. Eventually they will learn how to balance their weight in the center. It requires focus and can also help build the core muscles.
Swivel Scooter: kids will get the benefit of back and forth as well as forward movement with this toy. It's a self propelled ride on toy and you can also use this toy to vary speeds or suddenly start and stop.
Ring & Trapeze Swing: this is so versatile because you can swing, spin, or go upside down. This is not only good for vestibular development but also an awesome upper body strengthening activity!
Nest Swing: this toy is a favorite in our playroom, and can be used indoors or outdoors. This gives input in a variety of ways, linear swinging, spinning, starting and stopping, and a bonus is that it is a nice little spot for her to decompress, relax, read a book, etc.
Scooter: this toy is so versatile, and one of the best ways to use this toy is on the belly or in the prone position. This position forces your child to contract their neck muscles and creates movement of the eyes, which is good for posture, visual perception, tracking and focusing on the chalkboard. You can ride the scooter on your belly, knees, or bottom.
Web Swing: this is the perfect out door swing and can fit multiple children (holds up to 250 lbs). It not only will give vestibular input with linear swinging and spinning, it requires more balance and coordination.
Teeter Popper : provides vestibular input through movement of jumping, and rocking to promote balance and coordinated movement. It looks like a cross between a rocking chair and a skateboard, and it has suction cups on the bottom to keep it stable and give auditory input as your kiddo rocks back and forth.
Moluk Bilibo: this toy is bright, simple, unbreakable and can be used in a variety of ways– using them to rock in, spin in, hide under, sit on, tote with, and peek through.
Gonge River Stones: these are on my wishlist for AB and I need to get these soon! I like that these can used indoor and outdoor, you can place these on the carpet, wood and tile flooring and they're perfectly safe for the kids because they don’t slip off! You can hop, jump, explore with balance, the ridges on stones provide input, and they are easy to store, move around, etc.
Precautions for Vestibular Sensory Input
Vestibular input is extremely powerful and negative reactions to sensations may not be apparent for several hours following input. Sensory overload or sensory disorientation can occur even when the child appeared to respond well to sensations during the actual activity or therapy session. Additionally, children with impaired sensory systems may not be able to recognize when they have reached a point of "too much" input during the treatment activity. Sensory overload presents with pupil dilation, sweaty palms, changes in respiration, and disorientation.