Dr. Frank Belgau of the Visual Perception Laboratory at the University of Houston (1969), uses the Balance Board to improve vision and reading abilities. He noticed that among the children who were referred to him for vision therapy there was a high incidence of balance problems and awkward walking patterns. Realising that the sense of balance (vestibular system in the inner ear) is closely connected with the eye movements required for reading (vestibular-ocular reflex), Belgau created a series for Balance Board exercises to improve vision. As a vision specialist, he was able to extensively pre- and post-test his subjects, and he found significant gains in visual skills and reading ability.
1. Balance as the Central Component
In order to understand why we focus so much on balance stimulation activities, we must understand the central role played by the sense of balance, or the vestibular system. As a child grows in the womb, the vestibular system is the first sense to develop, and so it serves as an organisational tool for other brain processes. The vestibular system gets its raw information from the vestibular organs, which consist of three semicircular canals and the otolith organ.
As a child continues to develop in the womb, the other major brain systems—motor, tactile, auditory,and visual—also develop, but they develop in relation to the vestibular system, or sense of balance.
2. Vestibular System provide awareness of the world and affect ability to learn
A child’s center of gravity plays a huge role in their vestibular system. This sensory system, which gives us information about all of the sensory input from other senses, has a superior role in your child’s awareness of the world and their ability to learn. The first sensory system to fully develop in a child is the vestibular system when they are approximately five months old. This system controls our sense of balance and movement. Balance is obtained when our center of gravity relies on the base of our body for support. As a child grows and develops, his/her body and center of gravity also changes. The center of gravity varies greatly in each child because the head, trunk and legs do not grow proportionately, and there is a difference between males and females. Because the vestibular system plays such a key role in the foundations of perception, balance problems can cause many, seemingly unrelated problems in brain function.NASA also supported and funded the basic scientific research questioning how the vestibular or balance sense operates and how balance influences brain processes.
3. Improve Balance sharpen attention and learning skills
Research shows that although balance maturation is not fully achieved until the age of 12, working to improve coordination and balance skills in children can dramatically sharpen attention and learning skills in both children who have healthy vestibular systems and children who have challenges or weaknesses with their vestibular and proprioception(muscles and joints). (Wiener-Vacher,Hamilton &Wiener, 2013)
Motor skills are the building blocks for future learning in a child. Their engagement in physical activities aids in all aspects of their educational map set for them in the classroom. For example, if your child can’t maintain their balance to complete exercises that cross the midline of their body, your child may have disconnections between the right and left hemispheres of their brain, which connects the creative and artistic sides with organization and retention. These types of disconnections can affect your child’s ability to read, write, track, retain information, express thoughts on paper and it can hinder their ability to concentrate and comprehend. If these skills are underdeveloped in childhood, their ability to participate in activities ranging from sports, playground games and focus and attention in the classroom can diminish. When balance is developed and finally achieved, it can improve a child’s self-confidence to learn and allows them to face greater challenges in school.
Children do not demonstrate adult-like use of sensory information until they are around 12 years of age (Peterson, 2006), which means that the initial process of vestibular development extends almost into puberty. This means that there are ample opportunities available over a long period of time to help children, even those without dyslexia, ADD, ADHD and learning disabilities, improve their developmental skills. With focused efforts on improving balance and sensory processing skills, children with healthy vestibular systems can thrive and those with challenges or weaknesses in these areas can begin to improve, often dramatically.
4. Sensory Integrative Approach
Studies show that improving children's coordination and balance skills can significantly increase children's attention and learning skills, whether there are issues in the vestibular system and the proprioception of muscles and joints (Alison 2007). Dr. Belgau believes that most learning disabilities are caused by sensory integration disorders. The complexity of the task dictates the level of neural involvement required. Balance activities that incorporate increasing levels of difficulty on the Belgau Balance Board have the effect of constantly building and creating more extensive neural networks. Because the neural networks that are created in this process are the same ones that are responsible for the resolution and efficiency of the brain's visual, auditory, motor, and sensory processes, balance activities improve the efficiency of the brain. Part of brain used for language is the part of brain to pick up a rock and throw it.
Increasing the difficulties of balancing activities will stimulate and increase number of brain
neurones. Frank Belgau discovered the connection between the physical ability to walk straight and the cognitive ability to read in a very personal way. By running and organizing his own physical balance, Frank organised his brain. Hence he developed the "Space Walk" – a series of exercises that will give you observable results in improving reading – is outlined in the back of the book. Space Walk Activities develop smooth walking pattern: toe on spot, walk heel to toe, sidestep, lead right. sidestep, lead left, march, march backwards, walk and turn clockwise, walk and turn counter clockwise, pick target, close eyes, and walk to target, close eyes, walk heel to toe on line, zigzag walk. Studies based on Dr. Belgau's balance board, including throwing bean bag with careful tracking of eye showed to have effects on balance, dexterity and eye movement control as well as improve cognitive skills underlying literacy, to the reading process, and to standardized national literacy attainment tests.(Reynolds & Nicoloson, 2007).
Wiener-Vacher, S. R., Hamilton, D. A., & Wiener, S. I. (2013). Vestibular activity and cognitive development in children: perspectives. Frontiers in integrative neuroscience, 7, 92.
Hannaford, C. (1996). Smart moves. Learning Magazine 25 (3), 66-68. Greensboro, NC, p. 67-68
Peterson ML. (2006). Children achieve adult-like sensory integration during stance at 12-years-old. Gait & Posture, 23(4), 455-6
Allison CL. (2007). An optometric approach to patients with sensory integration dysfunction. Optometry- The Journal of the American Optometric Association (St. Louis, Mo.), 78(12), 644-51.
Reynolds, D., & Nicolson, R. I. (2007). Follow‐up of an exercise‐based treatment for children with reading difficulties. Dyslexia, 13(2), 78-96.
ense. Little, Brown and Company, USA: New York.