Have you ever wondered why some kids hang, lean, and climb on EVERYTHING?
Well, when kids hang, lean, climb, push, and pull, they gain access to a certain type of sensory input called proprioception.
Proprioception is related to the idea of body awareness.
Our body unconsciously senses proprioception through messages sent to our brain from sensory receptors all over our body in our muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments. The proprioceptive system is activated any time we push or pull on objects (such as playing tug-of-war), as well as any time the joints are compressed together or stretched apart (such as jumping up and down or hanging on monkey bars). Our proprioceptive system helps us understand how much force we are using and whether we need to use more or less force in order to successfully complete tasks, such as when coloring, cutting our food with a fork and knife, or opening a door.
Proprioceptive input tends to have a calming and organizing effect on the body, particularly when feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed. Proprioception is also especially organizing for individuals who have difficulty with sensory integration in general (what’s that?).
Children with poor proprioceptive processing may appear to be unaware of where their body parts are in relation to each other (such as constantly tripping over their own feet despite not being pigeon toed), as well as appearing to be unaware of where their entire body is in relation to objects in the environment (such as constantly bumping into or leaning on doorways, furniture, or other people).
Some kiddos who struggle with processing proprioceptive input are under-responsive to it, and they do not actively work to meet that sensory need. This is often referred to as having “low registration” of proprioceptive input. Basically, the brain is not “registering” the incoming proprioceptive input accurately, which means it is missing the intensity of the sensory signals coming from the muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments all over the body. Individuals with low registration of proprioception thus require a greater intensity of proprioceptive input in order for it to “click” with the brain. Some red flags related to an under-responsive proprioceptive system can include constantly appearing sluggish, preferring sedentary activities over physical play, generally demonstrating a lack of body and spatial awareness, and/or appearing passive, lethargic, and uncoordinated. Now I’m not talking about the kid who occasionally trips, bumps into people, or leans on the nearest grown-up because they’re tired. I’m talking about the kid who is consistently demonstrating these characteristics, despite being rested and familiar with their environment.
Other kiddos who struggle with processing proprioceptive input appear to be on the opposite end of the spectrum – they actively crave and seek access to proprioceptive input. They are not passive, and they are not necessarily uncoordinated. These are the ones who hang, climb, push, pull, and actively crash into EV.RY.THING! Some red flags related to a sensory system that actively craves and seeks proprioception can include excessive movement, fidgeting, wiggling, jumping, stomping, hanging, climbing, pushing, pulling, and crashing. Can you see how kids who crave proprioceptive input could easily be labeled as impulsive, hyperactive, disobedient, or just plain “naughty”? Much like kids with proprioceptive systems that are under-responsive and passive, those who are seekers need a greater intensity of proprioceptive input in order to meet their sensory needs (just for a different reason).
So, back to our original question:
Why do some kids hang, climb, push, and lean on EVERYTHING?
So what can we do to provide kids with opportunities for proprioceptive input during their day, especially if they are under-responsive or a seeker?
One buzz word you will hear is the concept of “heavy work”. Heavy work activities are activities that activate the proprioceptive system through active use of the joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Occupational therapists love heavy work activities because, as mentioned earlier, they provide proprioceptive input which is known to be organizing and calming for kiddos who struggle with sensory processing.
Here are several ways you can incorporate proprioceptive input and heavy work into a child’s day to help meet those sensory needs (affiliate links provided for your convenience, see full disclosure here):
PLAY (supervise for safety but do your best to keep it fun!)
- Animal walks – Bear walks, crab walks, snake crawls (on belly), frog jumps
- Marching or stomping
- Jumping rope
- Wheelbarrow walks – Make sure child’s fingers face forward. You may also need to support the child above the knees or at the hips instead of at their ankles if they have difficulty with core or upper body strength
- Jumping and crashing into a mattress, large pillows, or couch cushions
- Scooping and pouring items such as sand, beans, or water while playing in a water/sensory table (found online HERE)
- Tearing paper grocery bags to create lots of “leaves” for a “leaf pile”
- Playing catch with a large pillow or ball
- Playing on a scooter board (found online HERE) – 10 awesome scooter activities for kids HERE
- Pulling a friend, sibling, or heavy items in a wagon (found online HERE) – Be sure can be done safely
- Going for a bike/trike ride
- Playing and climbing at the park
- Bear hugs – Given to self or from a loved one
- Wrestling – Stay safe!
- Building a fort
- Jumping on a trampoline (found online HERE)
- Yoga poses – Check out these Yoga Pretzels cards for kids
- Jogging in place
- Jogging around
- Horseback riding
- Playing sports such as tennis, basketball, or going to the batting cages
- Push-ups – Either flat on ground, against wall, or with hands on elevated surface such as edge of table)
- Working with weighted medicine balls these ones
- Working with therapy bands such as the Handee Band (you can read my review of the fantastic Handee Band HERE)
HOUSEHOLD CHORES AND ACTIVITES (select based on age and level of responsibility):
- Taking out the trash
- Raking leaves
- Shoveling snow
- Helping with gardening (digging with hands or shovel, watering with bucket)
- Loading or unloading the dishwasher
- Carrying or pushing full laundry basket
- Loading the dryer with wet clothes from the washer
- Washing mirrors or windows
- Mowing the lawn
- Helping carry groceries into the house (make sure bags contain unbreakable items)
- Helping in the kitchen – Stirring food, kneading and rolling dough, peeling veggies, mashing potatoes
If this post helped you better understand your own child, family member, or student, then you will be excited to know this post was just ONE in a series of over 30 sensory-related blog posts called “Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors”! The series has addressed issues such as why some kids touch everything, chew on everything, can’t sit still, are overly sensitive to certain types of clothing or foods, and more. Visit “Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors” to see a list of (and find links to) all posts in the series.
It’s so important to remember that ALL children (and adults, for that matter) have sensory needs, and there are many simple solutions to supporting those sensory needs!
Project Sensory’s mission is to provide parents, educators, and caregivers with the resources, support and tools they need to help their children succeed at home and school. The goal is to spread awareness of the importance of the sensory needs of ALL children.
The Sensory Fix™ toolkit is a handpicked kit filled to the brim with over 15 sensory tools to help your child organize his or her sensory systems. It includes a simple-to-use companion guide that visually shows how each item in the kit can support your child’s sensory needs, and a chart that matches everyday kid behaviors to tools in the kit.
The kit comes with a 1-year membership to Project Sensory’s exclusive printables club. As part of the Printables Club, members will receive a monthly newsletter with exclusive printables only available to them, one video, and a sensory tip they can use NOW. In addition, all printables added during the duration of the 1-year membership will be free to you (excluding any ebooks).
And you know what else? One Sensory Fix™ kit will be donated to a classroom in need for every 20 kits purchased. How awesome is that?!
So pop over to Project Sensory to find out more about how to meet the sensory needs of the kid(s) in your life!