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The Link between Balance, Play, and Functional Vision

December 16, 2014

By Roxanne Chess MS, OTR/L

Director of Occupational Therapy

The McCarton Center for Developmental Pediatrics


The link between balance, play, and functional vision:

A Three Part Series

Installment 2 Guided Reading Questions:

–        What does it take to balance?

–        What are some great balance activities to do at home?

Welcome back informed reader! In the first installment you learned about functional vision and the 5 useful Principles of functional vision as it relates to children’s daily lives. In this installment we will delve into what is first required to actually balance. Then you will walk away with some fun balance activities to do at home.

In order to balance people typically need:

  1. Visual input
  2. Vestibular input

The previous entry discussed the visual input. In summary, visual input for balance comes as light through the eyes. This input crosses in the neurology and travels up to the brain. Visual fixation on a single point helps us balance. Where then, does vestibular input come from?

Vestibular information is derived from receptors in the inner ear.

Diagram A.


From the outer ear to the inner ear:




Diagram B.

Just the inner ear = vestibular information:








The cochlea is responsible for auditory information. The canals and otoliths are responsible for vestibular input. The utricle and saccule are called otoliths. Specifically, the semicircular canals send the brain information about rotational movements whereas the otoliths indicate linear (straight) accelerations and decelerations. Notice the nerve in diagram B above. The vestibular input is sent to the brain via the 8th cranial nerve. That nerve is formally called the vestibulocochlear nerve (auditory vestibular nerve) and is central to balance. The vestibular system also sends signals to the neural structures that control eye movements. Therefore we see the direct link between visual and vestibular processing.

Diagram C below simply displays that each of the three semicircular canals receives information about a different plane of movement. These canals inform the brain about rotational movement (spinning) in the upright position, and laying on both sides.

Diagram C.

The semicircular canal planes

planes of mvmt






Balance activities for home:

spin spot





1.Spin Spotting: Place a small picture on the wall at your child’s eye level. Your child spins clockwise 3-5 times trying to maintain visual contact with that picture. So their head turns back to keep looking at the picture while their body continues turning. Repeats counter clockwise the same number of times.

log roll





2 .Log Look: Place a puzzle board at one end of the room, and puzzle pieces at the far end. Your child will log roll (lay straight and flat on the floor and roll) to get a puzzle piece. Each time they roll your child should try to look at the puzzle piece they’re aiming for. So this means they are rolling and looking, rolling and looking, etc. Then commando crawl back to the puzzle board at the other end of the room. Repeat 5-10 times to complete the puzzle. They can get more than one puzzle piece each time.

tree pose




Gorilla and Mountain






3. Yoga: Practice poses. You and your child could begin with a forward bend including a big exhale on the way down which we call “Elephant Breath” using arms glued together like the trunk. Gorilla is the forward bend with swaying side to side. Then tree pose shown in the picture here. Modify tree by simply standing with two feet together flat on the floor. Mountain is the modified tree pose but with hands together at the lower chest. Try triangle pose, warrior 1 and 2, and Airplane. Airplane ideally balancing on 1 foot with the other leg raised and arms to the side. Modify Airplane by balancing one foot and the other toes touching for stability while arms are raised to the sides.


couch cushion






  1. Couch Cushion Crazy: Remove couch cushions and use the inner surface of the couch and the actual cushions as unstable surfaces for jumping, walking, and balancing. Encourage your children to climb over the cushions across the area to collect toys. Try standing on 1 foot on cushions versus the floor. Show your children how to reach from side to side for puzzle pieces or toys while standing on cushions.