Why is our sense of balance (Vestibular system) so important in learning?
Balance is used for much more than might be assumed.
Balance enables us to keep the head upright and still while reading, orient eyes on a page to discern letters and words, catch a football in the hand, remain upright throughout a throwing motion, or hold food on a fork or spoon.
Without balance, an athlete would be unable to travel through space to get to the basket or the goal line.
Since the 1960s, NASA has funded basic research looking at how balance affects brain processing and sensory integration (Graybiel et al., 1967; Miller & Graybiel, 1973; Stone & Letko, 1965). Belgau (2002) has analyzed much of that research and found that activities having a strong balance component significantly affect vision, reading, learning difficulties, and overall academic achievement.
That is because balance activities use the same neural networks responsible for visual, auditory, motor, and sensory processes that influence efficiency of the brain’s neural networks.
In children not able to integrate the senses in an efficient way, learning problems are a common result.
So Belgau’s findings support Dennison’s theory that balance activities, eye teaming, and hemisphere integration contribute to the integration process and subsequently led to the development of the Belgau Balance Board and the Learning Breakthrough Programme.
The same activities provide stimulation to other sensory input areas that enhance attentional focus and, ultimately, learning ability by providing the feedback necessary for sensory integration (Belgau, 2002).
Palmer (1980) has demonstrated significant gains in attention and reading ability with children who were exposed to spinning, crawling, rolling, rocking, and tumbling. Twenty-two kindergarten children did rolling, spinning, crawling, and somersaulting activities for a minimum of 20 minutes per day for five months. Every child was subsequently able to perform a single flip (forward roll), completed the kindergarten year with only five months of instruction, and had reading scores significantly above normal expectations.
Palmer argues that these were all the result of vestibular stimulation and sensory integration activities. A quick summary of other research related to balance activities shows that children
Improve academic achievement (CDE News Release, 2002; Hannaford, 1995; Hubert, 2001; Kearney, 1996; Pollatschek & Hagan, 1996): Children who perform poor academically also have poor motor skill development because the same brain processes are involved.
Enhance reading and visual processing (Ayers, 1972; Blaydes & Hess, 2002; Gilbert, 1977; Houston, 1982): Reading and visual processing problems are caused by inefficient coordination and integration between the brain and sensory systems. Balance activities increase integration between the brain hemispheres.
Improve writing skills (Ayers, 1991; Dennison & Dennison, 1994; Hannaford, 1995): Writing is a fine motor activity that requires good hand-eye coordination; poor handwriting is caused by poor sensory integration.
Enhance athletic performance (Jenson, 2000; Kramer, 1999; Shepherd, 1996): Athletes need to be able to make quick decisions and evaluate information in the field, all of which depend on the brain’s ability to integrate information from all senses, especially the vestibular system. 5. Decrease learning disabilities (Hannaford, 1995; Hubert, 2001): Balance activities effectively increase brain processing. Activities that improve brain processing improve performance in both academics and athletics.