Improving Balance and Motor Skills Through Motion

June 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm 1 comment

Mom Spinning DaughterOne of the more unusual research findings that I’ve come across relates to the sensitive period for the vestibular system which regulates our perception of our balance and motion.   According to at least one study, spinning infants (thereby stimulating the vestibular system) may help improve their sense of balance and coordination many months and potentially years later.

If you read our post on baby brain development, you’ll recall that various areas in a child’s brain have sensitive periods during which they undergo tremendous growth.   The vestibular senses emerge quite early in the womb and develop through infancy, with peak sensitivity between 6 and 12 months, and then declining in their rate of development.   In her book, What’s Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, Dr. Lise Eliot explains that this sensitivity is why babies particularly love to be bounced and rocked.

Eliot describes the spinning study:

These researchers exposed babies, who ranged in age from three to thirteen months, to sixteen sessions of chair spinning: Four times a week for four weeks, the infants were seated on a researcher’s lap and spun around ten times in a swivel chair, each spin followed by an abrupt stop…

The spinning included one or two rotations in each direction with the babies held in each of three positions: sitting, with head tilted forward about 30 degrees, and side-lying on both left and right sides…[with a] thirty-second rest period between spins…

The results were striking.  Compared with both control groups, the babies who were spun showed more advanced development of both their reflexes and their motor skills…like sitting, crawling, standing, and walking.

Eliot describes the participation of a set of fraternal twins in the study: one in the “stimulated” group and one in the control group.  The twin who was given the vestibular stimulation through spinning had mastered head control and independent sitting by four months, whereas the twin in the control group just began to hold up his head.

I followed the study instructions with my own two boys when they were three and four months old and while they are of course a tiny sample, they were both walking at 9 months old.  I should warn that the spinning made me and my husband (we took turns) somewhat nauseous, but the boys seemed to enjoy it.  It remains to be seen whether this extra stimulation during the sensitive critical period for the vestibular system will result in a professional athletic career for either of them (not that this is something we’d expect!), but for the small amount of time it required, it seemed worth a try.  I also take heart when my brother hurls his young nephews in the air that he may also be improving their long-term motor skills, balance, and reflexes.


What’s Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Eliot, PhD published in 2000.

Entry filed under: Physical Development. Tags: , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Your Baby’s Brain Development « whizbit  |  July 20, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    […] more about sensitive periods (e.g. months six through twelve for the sense of balance and motion) to ensure that you’re providing the best stimulation opportunities in those […]


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