Let’s talk body awareness activities using proprioception, or heavy work to bring awareness to where the body is, how the body moves, and awareness of self. Proprioception is one of the senses that is involved with everything we do. This sensory system plays a major role in body awareness. Below you’ll find body awareness occupational therapy activities to support this motor concept.
Be sure to check out a related resource, our self awareness games blog post for activities to support overall awareness of self.
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?
What is Body Awareness?
The definition of body awareness is this…
Body awareness refers to being aware of the body’s position in space at rest and during movement. This concept can be broken down into having an awareness of body parts by name, movement, discrimination of sides of the body, and movement throughout space.
How does body awareness work?
Let’s break it down:
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.
Examples of Body awareness
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.
Body awareness navigating bleachers- 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.
Body awareness sitting at a classroom desk- 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.
Body Awareness Goals in Occupational Therapy
When children or adults struggle with awareness of body positioning or movement patterns during activities, functional tasks can be a struggle. Every day tasks are difficult or impaired.
Occupational therapists work with individuals of all ages on functional tasks that occur in all aspects of daily living. Movement is part of the daily task completion, so it is likely that if body awareness is an issue, there are functional impairments at play.
Occupational therapy professionals will focus body awareness goals on the functional task that is impaired.
OT goals for body awareness can be specifically focused on improving body awareness during those functional tasks. Activities that address those goals can include heavy work, attention to task, motor planning, fine or gross motor skills, sensory input in the way of organizing proprioceptive input or vestibular input, visual cues and prompts. There are many ways this skill area can be addressed and these goals will be individualized for the child or adult.
Additionally, OT goals for body awareness may focus on motor planning. Proprioception is very closely aligned with body awareness and motor planning.
Need more information on proprioception and the other sensory systems and how they impact independence? Grab this free sensory processing disorder information booklet and free email series on sensory processing.
Body Awareness Activities
In this blog post, we are specifically discussing 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 at home, in the classroom, or in play.
Proprioception activities at home
- Carry full laundry baskets to the laundry area
- Empty wet clothes into the dryer
- Change sheets
- Pull weeds
- Pull garbage cans to and from the curve
- Carry in grocery bags
- Carry donations to the car
- Wash windows
- Scrub carpets
- Shovel snow
- Rake leaves
- Mop floors
- Rearrange furniture
Proprioception activities in the classroom
- Carry piles of books
- Rearrange furniture
- Help gym teacher move mats
- Carry bin of lunchboxes to/from the lunch room
- Wall push-ups
- Chair push-ups
- Clap erasers
- 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 jacks
- Jumping rope
- Climbing trees
- Jumping on a trampoline
- Jumping in piles of leaves
- Make a snowman
- Try dinosaur themed proprioception activities
- Pull a wagon
- Clapping games
- Play dough
- 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.
- Use the Heavy Work Activity Cards in games like Simon Says. Here are more Simon Says commands to build heavy work.
Looking for more ways to add proprioception activities into play and therapy? Try the ideas below. Just click on the images to read more.
In the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, we cover motor planning and body awareness concepts as they are deeply related to sensory processing. Much like the body awareness activities listed in this blog post, the book discusses how to integrate functional tasks within the day that offer organizing and regulating input through functional activities.
Not only are these activities regulation tools, they are also activities that support development of body position in space and awareness of the body’s movements.
Click here to get your copy of the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.
The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.
The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.
Body Scheme and Body Awareness
Another way that you may have heard body awareness phrased is “body scheme”. This is just another way to explain the awareness one has of their body and the various parts of the body. Body scheme allows us to be aware of the spatial relationships of where the body is in space in a given activity.
Body scheme involves proprioceptive awareness so that we can move and interact in the world around us.
We can define body scheme as the awareness of body parts and the position of the body and it’s parts in relation to themselves and to the objects in the environment.
When there are deficits in body scheme, we may see certain difficulties:
- challenges with apraxia, or difficulty with purposeful movement in relation to sensory input, movement, and coordination.
- The individual might not recognize body parts or the relationship between them. This is especially observed in neuromuscular disturbances such as a CVA (stroke)
- Movements may be considered unsafe. We might see difficulties with intentional movement and problems navigating busy hallways, stadium steps, bleachers, etc.
There are typically related deficits related to body scheme or body awareness difficulties. These may include:
- Body awareness challenges like moving and utilizing the body without looking at or thinking about how the body needs to move. This awareness of the body in space results in functional and efficient movements with coordination.
- Right/left disorientation or poor left/right discrimination in activities
- Trouble identifying body parts. Try this body part identification activity to support this awareness.
Challenges with body scheme may be a cause of brain damage or brain injury such as a neuromuscular impairment. However, difficulties with body scheme may be a result of other deficits as well, including visual-spatial deficits, sensory processing challenges, verbal, or conceptual considerations.
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to email@example.com.