I know trampolines have inherent risks, and I even know the American Academy of Pediatricians discourages their use. But as an Occupational Therapist and a mom with “sensational kids”, I also know I would never be without one.
Of my three daughters, one is a sensory-avoider and one is a sensory-seeker (the third is fairly typical from a sensory standpoint!). Both of my sensory kids LOVE playing on the trampoline and it is an important self-regulation tool for all three of my daughters.
Definitely, all safety precautions need to be followed and an enclosure net is a must-have. We recently upgraded to a “double-bounce” trampoline that boasts the highest safety rating on the market. We are big on safety at our house and I certainly do not mean to undermine the dangers of trampolines.
I will go on, however, to say that I feel that for many of our kids with sensory needs, the benefits of trampolines outweigh the risks in my mind. Many sensory-seekers are risk takers who overlook their own safety in an attempt to meet their need for intense sensory input. Some of their ideas for how to get that input are likely to be less safe than trampolines (“sledding” down a flight of stairs on a sleeping bag and antagonizing our bucking pony are two things I’ve witnessed at my house recently!).
Therapeutic Benefits of Trampolines
According to a study by NASA, jumping on a trampoline for 10 minutes is equivalent to 33 minutes of running from a cardiovascular standpoint. (1)
Proprioception is our sense of where our body parts are in relationship to each other. This is the sense that allows us to touch our nose with our eyes closed. We get this type of input through physical effort and deep pressure to our muscles and joints. The trampoline is an excellent source of proprioceptive input. This type of sensory input is organizing to our brains and usually helps both sensory over- and under-responders get to that “just right” level of alertness and focus.
Exercise physiology research has shown that intense movement activities increase the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, all of which contribute to positive feelings and stress reduction. (2)
Try it for yourself for 10 minutes and you’ll know what I’m talking about!
Our vestibular system basically tells us where we are in relationship to gravity. Many sensory-seekers have a high threshold for this form of input (they need a LOT of movement). Once this need has been met, they are more likely to be able to focus on other things (homework, fine motor tasks, etc.).
My children fight less and laugh more while on the trampoline together than anywhere else! Trampoline play also requires some turn-taking and rule-following which are important social skills.
Motor Skill Development
Even kids who aren’t very coordinated and who shy away from other sports seem to enjoy trampolines. They are great for facilitating motor planning and because it’s fun to “crash,” kids are more likely to try challenging skills on the trampoline than when they are on the ground (cartwheels, forward rolls, hand-stands).
Add On Multi-Sensory Input
Besides jumping, here are a few other things to do on a trampoline to increase the multi-sensory input:
- Attach a water hose to a pole on the trampoline or set up a sprinkler nearby
- Allow the kids to use chalk to draw on the trampoline mat then use a hose to wash it off
- Play catch with your child while he or she is jumping
- Encourage your child to jump with eyes closed while you shout out directions (jog in place, spin around, run in a circle, etc.)
- Use chalk to draw a hopscotch board on the trampoline
- Play Follow-the-Leader or Simon Says on the trampoline
1) Bhattacharya, A., E. P. McCutcheon, E. Shvartz, and J.E. Greenleaf. “Body Acceleration Distribution and O2 Uptake in Humans during Running and Jumping.” Journal of Applied Physiology. 1 Nov. 1980. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.
2) Craft, Lynette L., and Frank M. Perna. “The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed.” Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Physicians Postgraduate Press, Inc., n.d. Web. 29 June 2015.