Saturday, August 10, 2013

Teeter-Totter Blues

I love the comics section of the Sunday newspaper, and Baby Blues is one of my favorite strips. This one, from June 9, 2013, really got my attention.

What could be so significant about a fruitless search for teeter-totters? 

This is a topic I care a lot about, and one I discuss in my book, Educate Your Brain.  For this blog entry, I’m going to quote from Chapter 7, “Move Into Learning.” You’ll see what I mean about teeter-totters, and more. It’s all about the vestibular system (part of the inner ear), and its direct link to eye-teaming (without which we will be unable to easily read). New to these concepts? Read on:

Movement and reading

Every moment of the day, as we move, sit, lie down, or stand, the experience of gravity activates a special sensory apparatus in our inner ear: the vestibular system. This body-balance mechanism helps us to always know where up is, so we can maintain equilibrium as we shift from one position to the next.

An important aspect of the vestibular system is that it’s always communicating with our eyes, sending the information they need to maintain a steady view of the world even when we’re moving. When our vestibular system is well developed, our eyes are happy to track across a line of print as we read and work together for other tasks. Without good vestibular development, eye-teaming and tracking, and therefore reading, can be challenging—or exhausting.

Effective vestibular training comes from the kinds of whole- body movement that should be common in childhood: running, hopping, dancing, tumbling. If children aren’t inclined (or allowed) to do those things, next best would be playing on merry- go-rounds and teeter-totters—except for the fact that this equipment has vanished from our playgrounds. Children who are uncoordinated, overweight, or otherwise disinclined to run and play have lost these more passive means of vestibular training.
The only remaining opportunity for passive vestibular stimulation on most playgrounds today is on the swings. Children with the very natural desire to tightly twist up the swing so they can experience the vestibular activation of rapid untwisting are often reprimanded: “That’s not what swings are for! Swing straight!” Maybe we should be lining kids up to twist on the swings.

Vestibular activation is one of the reasons we encourage people to Cross Crawl slowly (s-l-o-w-l-y!), because it leaves them balancing on one foot so much of the time. Doing Hook-ups while standing is another vestibular challenge, with big benefits:

A teacher I know invited her first-grade students to decide when they were ready to “graduate” from doing Hook-ups sitting to doing it standing—and then to standing with their eyes closed. They loved the vestibular challenge, and she was astounded at the difference it made in their learning. She said, “As soon as a child could stand in Hook-ups with eyes closed, he or she made rapid growth in reading and overall ability to focus and attend. I never knew a healthy body-balance system was so necessary for learning.”1

This chapter goes on to describe movements that can improve body-balance, and much, much more about the relationship between movement and learning. 

In the meantime – want to read more easily? Get moving, and see what a difference it makes!

With warm regards,


P.S. Ok -- you may say that the playgrounds in the comic strip do indeed show some more modern balance-oriented equipment. I'm using this comic strip as a conversation starter about the whole topic of playgrounds offering less and less equipment that promotes vestibular activation (teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds were fabulous for this). Plus -- some playgrounds I see have nothing on them at all that moves. I understand the liability issues behind these decisions -- but still -- Oh, for the 1960s! 

1 - Educate Your Brain - p. 50-51. Copyright © Kathy Brown, 2012. All rights reserved. 

• I submitted the appropriate email asking for permission to use this Baby Blues strip in my blog, and never heard back. I’m taking the chance that it’s OK, copyright-wise.
• Photo of girl standing in Hook-ups: Copyright © Laird Brown Photography. All rights reserved. 

Copyright 2013 by Kathy Brown. All rights reserved. 

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