Merry-Go-Rounds, the circular metal ones that children used to jump on and off as they pushed each other around and around, are rare attractions on playgrounds today. While I may not remember the last time I’ve seen one, I certainly remember the thrill of jumping onto the spinning merry-go-round at my school’s playground and laughing hysterically. Those childhood thrills are hard to replace now that this type of play equipment has been mostly eliminated from school and neighborhood parks.
Beyond the fun, children actually gained a lo t from those experiences developmentally . Nowadays, playgrounds are very linear. Slides go in one direction, swings go back and forth, and wobble bridges provide an off-balance base as kids run straight across. Opportunities for spinning have become so limited, but this motion is actually extremely important for the vestibular sense to develop properly.
Why exactly is spinning so important?
Rotary (spinning) motion plays a very important part in the development of body awareness, balance, and a strong vestibular sense. Kids need to move their bodies in all planes for the sensory system to develop an understanding of the body in relation to surrounding space. When spinning, the body learns about gravity, cause and effect of motion, and how to stay balanced in response to this motion; all of which are important for kids to walk in line without touching peers and sit properly at school without falling out of their chairs.
By running around the merry-go-round and jumping on, kids learned about timing, momentum, and how to use their muscles. It was exciting, challenging, and even a little risky. Experiential growth is what childhood is all about and helping our kids develop confidence to take risks can begin on the playground with all of their senses working simultaneously.
What are the consequences of these changes?
When children do not engage in enough rotational movement, they can develop issues with spacial awareness and bump into friends or objects in their paths unintentionally. They may struggle to sit still in class or appear uncoordinated. Because much of the risky playground equipment no longer exists, we may have to actually seek out these types of experiences for our kids more than ever before.
BOTTOM LINE: Children need rotational or spinning motion for the development of body awareness, spacial awareness, and balance. The opportunity for this type of activity has practically been eliminated from most playgrounds today in the name of safety. Encourage your kids to spin on swivel chairs and roll down hills to encourage more rotational movement!