If you have ever watched or participated in gymnastics classes at Twisters you have probably noticed that rolling is included in recreational gymnastics lessons from Tinies upward, every single week. Yes, rolling is a foundation skill for some of the high-level tumbling skills, but it is also a very important developmental tool all on its own.
Rolling is one of the best ways to stimulate the vestibular system. The vestibular system is located in your inner ear and is activated with movement of the head. It is often referred to as the sixth sense.
A well-developed vestibular system is crucial for good balance, visual tracking and hand-eye coordination, normal muscle tone, language development (by integrating auditory and visual senses), and self-regulation (quick movements can be used to stimulate or slow movements can be used to calm down as appropriate). Encouraging children to roll is a great way to provide the input that they need in order to develop their vestibular system. This is referred to as vestibular sensory input. There are many different activities that can provide this input and providing such opportunities from an early age is beneficial. Rolling is one such activity that is simple, highly effective, and a necessary developmental milestone!
From early on, very young infants can be safely rocked on their carer’s body and receive vestibular input. Once they have neck control, babies can be rolled from side to side by a carer holding them by their hands and feet. As their strength develops, the infant can be encouraged to roll over independently through repeated rolling from stomach to back and back to stomach modeling. Once they have rolling mastered one way, placing an object just out of reach above their shoulder will encourage rolling back the other way. Rolling should continue to be encouraged, even (and perhaps especially) once crawling and walking skills have been mastered. Getting down on the floor and playing rolling games with your child is fun and modeling is by far the best way to encourage your child to do almost anything.
In a gymnastics setting, rolling is one of the most popular skills. Most children love the feeling of rolling (if they don’t like rolling in any form, there is usually an underlying reason) and will happily roll all day long. Forward and backward rolls can be a little bit scary at first but once mastered quickly become a favourite activity. But the other benefits emanating from a well-developed vestibular system – balance, visual tracking, self-regulation, and so on – all help with all aspects of gymnastics. Being able to balance on a beam or a bar, knowing how far to jump or reach, or where to make a landing, are all crucial, and all influenced by a well-developed vestibular system. Our high-level gymnasts certainly need a well-developed vestibular system in order to perform their skills!
So, although rolling is a gymnastics skill that requires time to perfect and progress, all of that practice gives our gymnasts vestibular input that improves their skills across all areas of the gym, and in life. Let’s encourage those rolls!
**Some fun ways to roll your way through lockdown!**
Why not try some of these fun rolling activities to roll through lockdown and stimulate your vestibular system?
Rolling Teddy Bowling
Set up a bunch of teddies so that they are sitting upright. Then, take turns to log roll into them and see how many you can knock down. Need to make it more of a challenge? Try egg rolling into the teddies! Remember to keep your chin tucked to roll in a straight line.
Choose a few different objects and put them in a pile. Designate a space on the other side of the room that the objects need to get to (could be just a particular spot or you might like to put out a container/cushion to place the objects in or on). One at a time, pick an object and hold it above your head in log/rocket shape. Roll all the way to your designated spot, place the object down and roll back to the beginning. Repeat until all objects have been transferred.
On a nice day, find a park with some hills and log roll down them. Make sure that the hill is not too steep as you want to stay in full control of the roll. Challenge your family members to a race or time your rolls and try to beat them (tip: keep a straight line and a tight body from fingers to toes to go faster!). Be sure to check your path before rolling – you don’t want any ‘surprises’ during your roll.