Proprioception is one of the senses that is involved with everything we do. Take a quick moment to stop and consider the position you are in right now. Are you lounging back on a couch? Sitting at a desk? Bouncing on a city bus as you glance at your mobile device? Are you perched in an office chair with your legs folded under you? Are you hanging out at the playground and glancing at your phone while your kids run in circles?
Being aware of our body position is something that happens automatically and naturally. That body awareness occurs naturally. The proprioceptive sense allows us to position our bodies just so in order to enable our hands, eyes, ears, and other parts to perform actions or jobs at any given moment. Proprioception activities help with body awareness.
The proprioceptive sense sends information about our body’s position to the brain so that we inherently know that our foot is tapping the ground as we wait on the bus or that our leg is curled under the other on the couch even while we do other actions or tasks.
This awareness allows us to walk around objects in our path, to move a spoon to our mouth without looking at it, and to stand far enough away from others while waiting in a line at the grocery store. It enables a student to write without pressing too hard or too lightly on their pencil when writing, and it helps us to brush our hair with just the right amount of pressure.
Proprioception is essential for everything we do!
Sometimes, the proprioceptive system does not do it’s job.
When the proprioceptive system isn’t functioning properly, body awareness and motor planning can be a problem.
When a child needs to pay attention to where their body is in space at all times, they can not attend to other important information like what is happening in their world around them. He or she can not automatically adjust to environmental changes. The child then needs to visually compensate in order to adjust his or her body. This can result in a child being clumsy, fearful, are even scared in certain situations.
Below are two situations that describe a child with proprioception challenges. In both, imagine a child who struggles to know where their body is in space.
Imagine you are sitting on a set of bleachers in a crowd of wiggly, moving, and LOUD students. There is a lot going on around you, whether you are at a sporting event or in a gymnasium. But, you also notice the bleachers don’t have a bottom to the steps; that is, you can see directly down to the ground below you. Kids are standing up, sitting down, jumping, roughhousing, and you are SCARED. Your body doesn’t know how to position itself in a safe manner. You don’t know what action will come next and you don’t know where to look. You don’t know where your feet are or if your hands are supporting you. Climbing up and down the bleachers is downright terrifying! For the child with proprioceptive struggles, just sitting on a set of bleachers can be challenging and overwhelming.
Now think about the child who is sitting at their desk and is required to write a journal entry. For the child with proprioceptive challenges, this can be a task with many “self-checks”. They need to look at their feet to make sure they are under their desk so they don’t get in trouble for almost tripping someone between the desk aisles. They need to make sure they are sitting upright in their chair and that their back is touching the chair’s backrest. They need to hold the paper and the pencil like they were taught. They need to align the paper and the words and then think about how hard to press on the paper, how to make the lines for individual letters, and how to string together letters to make words. What a workout it is just to get settled in and started on a writing task! By now they might have lost several minutes of the writing time and they still don’t know what they are even writing about!
Both of these situations happen on an every day basis. For the child with proprioception difficulties, the ability to be aware of their body in space and plan out motor actions is very much a struggle. These kids might appear fidgety, unsure, overwhelmed, clumsy, awkward, uncoordinated, or lazy.
Body awareness is related to visual spatial relations.
Proprioception is very closely aligned with body awareness and motor planning.
How to use proprioception activities to help with body awareness
The proprioceptive system is alerted through heavy work activities that involve heavy pressure, firm sensations, large, forceful motor movements, and pushing or pulling activities. These actions can be calming and organizing.
Try these proprioception activities to help with body awareness
Proprioception activities at home
Carry full laundry baskets to the laundry area
Empty wet clothes into the dryer
Pull garbage cans to and from the curve
Carry in grocery bags
Carry donations to the car
Proprioception activities in the classroom
Carry piles of books
Help gym teacher move mats
Carry bin of lunchboxes to/from the lunch room
Stack books in the library
Place chairs on desks at the end of the day, pull them down again in the morning
Proprioception games and actions
Jumping on a trampoline
Jumping in piles of leaves
Make a snowman
Try dinosaur themed proprioception activities
Pull a wagon
Bounce a ball against a wall (Vary the size and weight: Use heavier/bigger and lighter/smaller balls to experience differing amounts of feedback.)
Try these llama-themed proprioception activities based on a popular children’s book, Llama Llama Red Pajama.
Looking for more ways to add proprioception activities into play and therapy? Try the ideas below. Just click on the images to read more.