Did you ever actually stop to think about how many senses we have? Spoiler alert – the popular expression “sixth sense” can be misleading, making you think there are only five senses. Let’s cut to the chase. We have eight senses. One of those senses is called proprioception. Even though you’re hearing about it for the first time, it’s not an outside sense. In fact, proprioceptive input plays a vital role in our everyday lives.
Why is it relevant for parents? If you are dealing with a child experiencing problems with focus, attention, or being unable to sit still, proprioceptive input is the thing that you need to address.
Let’s take a closer look at proprioception so you can learn what it is, why your kids need it, and how to develop it.
What Is Proprioception?
Don’t jump straight into activities rich in proprioceptive input before realizing what proprioception is and what role it plays. This knowledge can help you connect the dots in your child’s behavior patterns and choose the best activity to help your child become more focused.
Proprioception is a sense which enables you to know exactly where your body is in space. Thanks to proprioceptive input, you are able to know your position in relation to objects in the space even after closing your eyes.
Did you ever wonder how people learn to type without having to look at the keyboard? How do athletes perform those complex movements during the Olympics? That’s proprioception at its best.
But to fully understand this sense, you need to discover what is proprioceptive input.
What is Proprioceptive Input?
Proprioceptive input encompasses all the stimuli picked up by specialized cells in your muscles, connective tissues, and joints. These cells send the information to the brain, and the brain uses it to help you perform a specific movement so that you can complete a task at hand.
To get the sensations from muscles, joints, and connective tissues, you have to move or perform another physical activity such as pulling, pushing, or lifting heavy objects. That’s why you will often see proprioceptive activities and heavy work used interchangeably.
The work doesn’t necessarily have to be hard; as long as the child stimulates the muscles and joints, the brain will receive proprioceptive input. This input has a positive effect on kids who need it. It can have an alerting or calming effect depending on the child’s needs.
Why Do They Need It?
When it comes to stimuli and children, generally speaking, there are two types of kids. Some kids need and often crave a proprioceptive input as it helps them maintain focus and function properly throughout the day. These kids are referred to as sensory seekers.
Some kids become anxious when the brain receives signals from the proprioceptors in the muscles connected to joints. In order to feel secure, they have to avoid it. The popularly used term for these kids is sensory avoiders.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t only apply to proprioceptive input. Different activities expose children to different stimuli. Since every kid is unique, it’s normal to expect to see different reactions to the same activity in kids.
To help your kid, you will have to keep a close look and look for signs that clearly tell you: this activity or sensory input are too much for your child.
Some kids get easily overloaded with sensory stimulation. These kids can benefit from proprioceptive input. Proprioceptive stimuli have a calming effect on these kids and will facilitate learning and attention.
Difference Between Proprioception and Spatial Awareness
These two perceptions are closely tied, but there’s a distinction between Proprioception and spatial awareness.
Spatial awareness is a part of the general perception we use to interpret sensory stimuli from our surroundings.
Proprioception, more specifically: is the awareness of our limbs in space.
Spatial awareness and proprioception are interdependent. Therefore, by developing proprioception, you would also develop spatial awareness.
How about an Example?
Let’s say, your child is aiming to grab a toy, they would use proprioception to gauge how much to stretch in order to reach the desired object. While, Spatial awareness allows them to estimate the distance between themselves and the toy.
How to Recognize if a Kid is Seeking Proprioceptive Input
There are certain telltale signs that a kid is seeking proprioceptive input. If you know where and when to look, you can easily see if your child needs proprioceptive activity.
1. Biting and Chewing
One of the most common indicators a kid is craving for proprioceptive stimuli is biting or chewing on objects. Whether it’s a sleeve or a pen, it doesn’t matter. If you see your child doing this, you can try to introduce physical activity slowly and see how they react.
2. Hyperextended Joints
Another common indicator is hyperextended joints. A child who needs proprioceptive stimuli often bends back fingers or locks elbow and knee joints.
3. Lots of Banging (ahem…)
Some kids express their needs by banging body parts. This behavior can come in various shapes running from frequently banging hands together to banging their jaw with their hands.
4. Excessive Force
If your kid tends to hold objects with excessive force and pressure, it may be a sign your kid is seeking proprioceptive input. Older kids often both hold a pencil with lots of pressure and write heavily on a page.
5. Rough & Tumble
When it comes to your kid playing with you or other kids, pay attention to the following. Rough and tumble play, although very useful for children’s social and emotional development, can be a sign of a child seeking proprioceptive stimuli, especially if your child craves this type of playstyle with other kids.
When you are outside walking with your little one, and you notice that they stomp while walking or go running or jumping all of a sudden, you should try introducing some of the proprioceptive activities we are about to share with you.
Other kids may sit with knees tucked below them or always engage in activities that allow them to carry heavy stuff.
In any case, these are just some of the telltale signs in kids who seek proprioceptive activity. Don’t take them for granted. If you introduce an activity and don’t see any changes in your child’s behavioral patterns, you should always seek professional help.
How to Develop Proprioception
There is one good thing about developing proprioception in kids you should know about. Your child has proprioception receptors in the muscles and joints. You just have to find the right kind of activity for your child to stimulate them and help them benefit from it. With light to mild physical activity, you can’t go wrong. There are plenty of studies that confirm the benefits physical activities have for kids.
Below you will find some ideas on how to facilitate proprioception development and a few examples of proprioceptive activities. First, let’s start with development.
1.Regularly Use Weighted Lap Padslearn more
Firm but gentle pressure has a positive effect on kids in need of proprioceptive stimuli. The receptors in muscles and joints don’t activate only when a child is moving. If a muscle is pressed or has to put some resistance, the receptors will receive the stimuli as well.
Deep pressure touch stimulation is easily achieved. The only thing you need is a weighted lap pad. Put it in your child’s lap while you are playing a social game or doing homework. A weighted lap pad will promote calm and relaxation because it delivers consistent and gentle pressure.
2.Have Fun While Wearing Body Socks
Body socks are also fun and engaging to use. Make sure to observe your child’s reaction as you put it on. Some kids absolutely love them, while others may become anxious. Anyhow, body socks are great because they also provide deep pressure. Unlike weight lap pads, body socks provide deep pressure to the whole body.
There is one more thing about using body socks. They also add resistance to every movement. A child in a body sock will get extra proprioceptive input, and there are plenty of games you can play with in a body sock. Ask your little one to make different letters of the alphabet, launch a bunny hop race, or play peek-a-boo or hide and seek.
3. Invest in a Bean Bag Chairlearn more
Bean bag chairs are excellent for developing and stimulating proprioceptors in your child’s body. First of all, bean bags are cool, and your child will be more than interested in sitting in it. You can promote various activities with a bean bag, including reading a book or studying.
A bean bag chair is good for two reasons. First of all, it provides deep pressure stimulation to the entire back of your child’s body, including their back and legs. And, secondly, bean bags can be adjusted for several seating positions.
Top Proprioceptive Input Activities
1.Swimming as a Number One Physical Activity
Swimming is an excellent activity for both kids who seek and avoid sensory activity. How come? Being in water engages the whole body and stimulates proprioceptors across many muscles and joints. This type of sensory input will help kids relax, reduce anxiety levels, and promote focus.
When it comes to kids who avoid sensory input, water can help them focus on only one thing. With limited auditory and visual stimuli, your child will relax and enjoy their time in the water.
Bear in mind that the minimum age for scuba diving is 10 years. If you have a child who’s 10 years old or older, you can go and take scuba diving lessons together. It is a perfect bonding experience, and it will satisfy your child’s craving for proprioceptive input.
2.Pursue the Benefits of Horse Riding
Spending time with animals benefits kids, especially if they are allowed to have direct contact with an animal. Horse riding brings the best of the two worlds. Your little one will be able to make a new friend and learn a great deal about horses.
You can also let your kid attend horse riding lesions. At first glance, it may appear as an activity that has nothing to do with physical work. However, it is quite the contrary. While riding, your child will have to mobilize all their muscles and activate all major joints. It will create enough proprioceptive input for your child.
3.Climbing as a Great Proprioceptive Activity
When it comes to climbing, there are several activities you can pursue. Most towns have a climbing slide and professional climbing trainers. You can let your child attend a climbing school because the activity engages the entire mind and body. Your child will have to use the strength of its muscles to hold on to the slide and activate those grey cells to find the best and most optimal route to the top.
With that much of proprioceptive input, your little buddy will come back home relaxed and ready to engage in other activities. The best thing about it is that you can both do it over weekends and holidays.
4. Gymnastics Is a Great Source of Proprioceptive Stimuli.
Kids love gymnastics. Although it is often seen as an individual activity, the training and competition part is mainly teamwork. Gymnastics training is full of bodyweight exercises. It’s a great opportunity for your child to start moving and to stimulate those receptors in the muscles and joints.
Gymnastics offer many benefits to kids of all ages. Your kid will develop better coordination and flexibility and overcome the fundamentals of movement. Besides the proprioceptive input part, your child will improve their strength and power, boost self-esteem and confidence, and develop valuable skills such as discipline, listening, and determination.
5.Chores In and Around the House
Chores are a perfect opportunity to introduce physical activity in your kid’s life. You don’t see them as hard now, but trust us, the chores will definitely have a physical impact on your child. On top of that, the number of chores is significant, and they are a regular in-house activity.
Whether you outsource sweeping, dusting, washing windows, or vacuuming to your kids, you can rest assured that they will get all the proprioceptive input they need for the day. If you feel like it, you can always lend a helping hand and turn it into a parent-child team activity.
Proprioception is a very important sense. It enables us to be aware of our position in the space around us and in relation to objects that surround us. Activating proprioception receptors in your muscles and joints promotes the feeling of relaxation and calm. It can benefit your child as well.
Go through the list of activities we shared with you and see which one your child enjoys the most. Feel free to explore other proprioceptive activities online to get the inspiration to fill your little one’s daily schedule.