What is proprioception, and what does it mean for my child?
Proprioception refers to our body awareness in space, such as how we move through our environments or even the position of our bodies in one place. Lifting, pushing, and pulling weight are all methods of receiving proprioceptive input. These activities tend to be “centering” or “grounding” for all of us, and can bring awareness to our bodies and our surroundings.
As we engage in activities that require us to lift, push, and pull–whether it is our own body weight or additional weight–we are more aware of our bodies and are able to move with greater coordination through our everyday environments. In turn, this allows children to be more independent and more confident in completing daily tasks, engaging in play with peers, and feeling successful in various situations. Our proprioceptive systems help us detect and control the pressure that we feel and exert, in a variety of daily activities. With more control, we are able to be more intentional with our movements, our interactions with others, and the way we function throughout the day.
By completing activities that involve proprioceptive input, including deep pressure, heavy work or resistance training, and cardiovascular exercise, we gain an awareness of ourselves and, in turn, our spaces and others within them. For instance, if your child often bumps into objects or trips, appears to be overly energetic, or plays rough, he/she could benefit from bringing more awareness and control to his/her movement, through proprioceptive input. However, additional proprioceptive input is helpful for everyone!
Benefits of Proprioceptive Input
The benefits of proprioceptive input extend far beyond controlling the movement of our bodies. In addition, with more control over our bodies, we:
- Have greater body awareness and self-awareness, which is crucial for self-regulation
- Can focus better and maintain attention longer, which is beneficial for learning
- Can communicate better, which allows us to build social skills and relationships
- Feel more organized and balanced, for overall well-being
Proprioceptive Activities to Do at Home
With the comprehensive benefits of engaging in proprioceptive activities, there is no reason why they should be limited to a few times a week during therapy sessions! There are several easy ways to enrich your child’s proprioceptive system at home, with items you already have. In fact, you might be doing some of these activities already – and just didn’t realize the proprioceptive benefits!
1. Have a Car Wash (and Other Various Household Chores)!
Help your child open his/her own “car wash” for your vehicle. Your child will have fun carrying the heavy hose, squeezing the soap, and pressing hard against the car to ensure that it is completely dry! He/she will also feel appreciated and accomplished when they realize how thankful you are to have a sparkling clean car.
In addition to a car wash, there are tons of ways to have your child help around the house to receive the proprioceptive input that he/she needs. These might include:
- Washing windows and tables
- Carrying groceries in from the car
- Carrying loads of laundry to and from the washer and dryer
These are all activities that require pulling, pushing, or carrying additional weight. They are easy to incorporate into everyday living, and will help your child self-regulate as well!
2. Do a Scavenger Hunt!
Hide different items around your house, inside or out, and have your child search to find them while wearing a backpack or pulling a wagon. As he/she finds each item, put it in the backpack or wagon, adding weight as the search continues. Pulling a wagon or wearing a weighted backpack will add resistance and bring awareness to all of his/her muscles and joints, while still having fun!
You can increase the challenge by expanding the perimeter of the scavenger hunt zone and adding other objects. You can also have your child run from one item to the next, keep track of how long it takes to find all of the items, or race against another person — adding another challenge!
3. Plant a Garden, or Play in the Snow!
In the summer, gardening is a great option. From planting to tending to the plants to harvesting, gardening is a long process that involves several opportunities for proprioceptive input. For instance, when planting, your child can dig holes, carry buckets of soil, move gardening tools from one side of the yard to the other, or sweep the stray soil back into the plant beds. To tend to the plants, your child will consistently drag the heavy hose to water the plants and can help pull weeds. When it is time to harvest, the child can pick flowers, fruits, and vegetables from your family’s garden!
The gardening process is an extreme exercise for the proprioceptive system as it involves heavy lifting, pulling and pushing, but also requires the child to detect and control his/her pressure when handling plants. For instance, your child can gently remove the plants from their starter pots, rather than pulling with too much or too little force.
In an ideal scenario, after a few weeks, your child will have plenty to harvest and will see the rewards of his/her efforts. Regardless, he/she will have valuable experience planting and tending to a garden. Not to mention, research shows that time spent in nature is directly linked to improving your child’s focus, mood, and flexible thinking — and yours, too!
However, in the winter months, there are other activities that are much more feasible. Shoveling snow, making snowballs and snowmen, and making snow angels are all activities that are full of proprioceptive input, and can accommodate the cold weather. If you have access to a hill, sledding and pulling the sled back up the hill is another great option. These activities require heavy lifting and pulling, and the additional clothing alone adds more deep pressure to your child’s proprioceptive system.
4. Make a “Sandwich” or a “Burrito”!
Other times, your child might already appear to be dysregulated or they might not have the energy to attend to and coordinate a full proprioceptive activity — that’s okay! We all feel that way sometimes, and even if you are actively providing the proprioceptive input, it can still be just as effective for your child.
To make these times more fun, make a “sandwich” by having your child lie between two couch cushions or pillows, and press through the pillows with your body weight. You can also do this with one pillow, working across your child’s trunk, arms, and legs as tolerated. In addition, you can make a “burrito” with your child by wrapping them tightly in a blanket, and hugging them. This can be playful as well!
These activities can be particularly regulating because of the deep pressure they provide. Use these activities when your child needs additional help calming his/her body, such as when appearing to have more energy than normal, or before bed.
5. Super Strength Challenge!
The more excited you are about this activity, the more excited your child will be! For the super strength challenge, set up several stations and have your child progress through them (similar to an obstacle course). You can start with two or three stations, and work your way up to as many as you’d like!
Some ideas for “stations” include:
- Push-ups, on the floor or against the wall (“push the wall down for 10 seconds”)
- Jump, with one or two feet
- Do animal walks (bear walks, crab walks, frog jumps)
- Run, skip, or gallop (can add a backpack for additional weight, if needed)
- Lie on your stomach and pull your body on a scooter board (only using your arms, if possible)
- Pick up weighted objects and put them in a different location, such as putting toys in a bucket on the other side of the room
- Use a rope, rolled blanket, or bed sheet to play tug of war with your child
- Hold yoga poses (downward dog, cobra, bridge, etc.) for a certain amount of time (typically between 5-20 seconds)
- Blow bubbles, then run and jump to pop them all before they hit the floor!
- Or, anything else you can think of that requires pushing, pulling, or lifting!
The goal for this challenge is “show your super strength,” either by completing the full challenge (or multiple rounds of the stations), beating your best time, or racing your opponent. Set something up, and let your child show off his/her super strength!
These five activities are just the beginning of what you can do at home, with little to no additional equipment. While your child might think you are simply playing when participating in these activities, the proprioceptive input that your child receives will help him/her feel organized, focused, and ready to take on the day!
Contact Chicago Occupational Therapy or call (773) 980-0300 to learn more about our services and how we can help your child flourish and grow.