The Vestibular System and Playgrounds

3408338573_073fda353e_oThe link between physical activity and healthy human development cannot be overemphasized.  There are reasons young people jump, swing, spin, leap, move, dance, climb and roll.  For one it’s how they develop what’s called their vestibular system.  This system organizes our sense of balance, spatial orientation and coordinates our body movement.  Young people are literally educating their vestibular systems by spinning in circles.

Lack of movement results in an underdeveloped vestibular system which has been linked to ADHD.  The restlessness and inability to pay attention associated with ADHD might actually be a plea for more time to run around.  A 2006 study showed that exercise produced lasting gains in motor skill, speech/language fluency, and working memory as well as a “highly significant reduction in the incidence of symptoms of inattention.”

It’s a tragic irony that the more research reveals about the importance of movement to healthy development the more we limit it at school and beyond.  Common core imposes so much academic rigor on kindergarten students that some schools have eliminated recess in order to keep up with the training.  Yet parents get the blame for not taking their kids outside enough.

The Washington Post published an article today that explains why the brightly colored plastic equipment that is the hallmark of today’s playgrounds actually limits development.  The author, Angela Hanscom, is doing a wonderful job spreading the message that young people need to move more through her website and multiple books.

One thing to keep in mind is that studies are meant to be questioned and science is always searching.  Ultimately as a parent or teacher (or young person) you should trust your own observations and experience first.  If there is one thing everyone can agree on it’s that young people LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to play.  We don’t need a double-blind study in a peer reviewed journal to tell us that.  Birds fly.  Fish swim.  Children play.  That right there should tell us something of its importance that research may never reveal.  A Sudbury student is free to play to their heart’s content. The boundless mirth and sheer activity of young people at play is all the evidence we may need.


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