Hidden Senses: Vestibular ‘Tools’ and Activities for Home

Kimberly Lindgren, OTR/L - June 24, 2020

One of the 3 “hidden” sensory systems is the vestibular system, which we access through movement--and for kids this often means through play! A developed vestibular system contributes to many skills like balance and coordination, but also emotional regulation, language, and visual skills. One of the reasons it’s so important to get our kids moving is because it provides vestibular input. 

See below some ideas to get vestibular input into your daily routine of play at home!

At-Home Activities

  • Neighborhood walks. As we are spending more time inside at home, it is so important to get those regular walks in throughout the day. Short ones (just around the block!) 3 times a day is ideal to support regulation.  
  • Jumping. No trampoline? Use your bed, pillows, or couch cushions. Pretend you are a frog jumping from lily pads, or a ninja jumping from stone to stone! 
  • Blanket swinging. Best suited for little ones and with two caregivers. Bump the blanket swing into cushions/pillows, encourage rolling side to side, or do a quick drop on the couch/bed!  
  • Basket rocking. Use a large box or low laundry basket that your child can fit inside of and place it on top of a large pillow or cushion. Assist the child with rocking in all directions and spinning. Add in play like pretending you are in a boat going down a river. Watch out for those waterfalls and whirlpools!  
  • Blanket sled. Spread a blanket out on the ground and have your child hold onto a strap while you pull them around on tile or hardwood floors! Don’t forget to have your child try seated and laying down positions--for an extra challenge try kneeling or standing on the moving blanket!  
  • Log rolls. Remember doing this as a child down a grassy hill? Create your own mini “hill” out of couch cushions and get rolling! You can also do this on a floor with pillows on the ground. 
  • Table hammock. Find a tall table and secure a blanket or sheet around the top to create a makeshift hammock! 
  • Hanging upside down. Set up a tossing game while hanging upside down on a couch or bed. We also love inverted bowling: 1) stand and assume a forward fold, 2) roll a ball between your legs to knock down a tower or plastic cups 
  • Somersaults. Just learning these? Start by building a slight incline with cushions and let gravity help your child. Don’t forget to tuck your chin in to protect your neck! 
  • Animal walks. Bear, crab, snake, inchworm to name a few! Incorporate these walks into a game of red light, green light or a freeze dance with music.  
  • Biking or scootering.  
  • Yoga. Check out Cosmic Yoga for a quick yoga guide! 

Some children need support to participate in everyday activities, and oftentimes it is linked to vestibular processing challenges. OTs recommend ‘tools’ and equipment to help a child manage their vestibular needs in common settings, such as school or home.  

Does your child have difficulty sitting still? Try a flexible seating option like the wiggle stool or a fidget that provides calming input to the nervous system. Not sure what’s best for your child during a ‘body break’? Take a look at Nugget cushions or an at-home cuddle swing. 

Check out the list below for some of our favorite vestibular tools and equipment! 

Vestibular Tools and Equipment

Wiggle Stool
Try this as a seating option for school work, watching TV, or playing a board game. This stool comes in adjustable heights, to ensure your child is seated for success--make sure their feet can touch the ground!

Yoga Ball
Try as a seating option for school work, while watching TV, or playing a board game. If your child is having difficulty keeping it one place, try these supported yoga ball chairs: Balance Ball and Ring or Classic Balance Ball Chair 

Peanut Ball
This seating option is a bit more supported than a standard yoga ball because of the contoured sides. 

Fidgets and Tools
Deep pressure or heavy work, (a.k.a proprioceptive input) helps calm the nervous system. Fidgets can be helpful tools to regulate or calm a child when they feel like they need to move or get vestibular input. They are great for the classroom, during homework, in the car, or at a restaurant. Be sure to go over with your child how to use a fidget appropriately, as a tool, and what happens when it becomes a toy (i.e. trade it out for another tool). Some of our favorite fidgets and tools include: theraputty, weighted ball, weighted stuffed animal, stretchy string, and stress balls.

Sensory Bottle for Calmness and Emotional Regulation
Create your own using these directions, or buy a pre-assembled bottle. Visually tracking the objects in the bottle is a form of vestibular input and often brings children a sense of calmness. 

We love using nuggets to inspire play and creativity while also getting vestibular input. Build a boat, cave, house or create slides and obstacle courses!

Supported Cuddle Swing or Nylon Swing
Attach to a swing stand, door frame pull-up bar or tree with this swing attachment.

Get silly with the hammock by bumping your child with a pillow as they swing back and forth; or incorporate it into your quiet time and read a book together. 

I hope you find the activities and resources that best fit your home and child! As always feel free to email us if you have questions about which tools and equipment are best for your child. Have fun getting creative, playful, and silly with these at home vestibular activities :)