Heavy Work Activities Prevent Proprioceptive Dysfunction and Fosters Proprioceptive Success
This article provides heavy work activities for proprioceptive input to enhance learning and attention in the classroom. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
Proprioception is the strange sense that is overall an unconscious understanding of where our bodies are in relation to the world around us. The information stems from muscles, joints and other connective tissue. The proprioceptive information sent to the central nervous system is what kind of pressure or weight our bodies are experiencing at any given moment. Each of us must have this awareness to know what space we occupy and how to move our bodies in order to maintain balance and to perform certain tasks. Our proprioceptive input can directly affect our attention, behavior, focus, balance, coordination and sensory integration.
As you may remember, in Sensory Integration and the Child, Jean Ayres, Ph.D. says, “If the proprioception from your hands were not sufficient to tell you what your hands were doing, it would be very difficult to button clothes, take something out of a pocket, screw a lid on a jar, or remember which way to turn a water faucet. Without adequate proprioception from the trunk and legs, you would have a very hard time getting in or out of an automobile, walking down steep stairs, or playing a sport.
Proprioceptive messages are primarily connected with our own movements and not outside environmental stimuli (touch, sound, light). These messages tell us the force of movements, and the timing and speed. The pressure of the weight of an object in our hand is necessary to comprehend so we can anticipate the amount of muscle force needed to hold the object and move it.
For example, if your child has poor proprioceptive input or proprioceptive dysfunction, they may hold their pencil too tightly or apply so much pressure to their pencil that the lead often breaks when they write. We often see this in sports as well when children don’t know how much force to use as they pass or throw a ball to their teammates. Many times, these types of children get error messages with all the numerous distinctions of touch, movement, pressure and force.
Some kids do not get enough information from the proprioceptive system to unconsciously maintain body awareness, which can lead to sensory seeking behavior. Others seem to receive too much information from this system and avoid any further stimulation from outside sources, which can lead to sensory avoiding behavior.
When the proprioceptive system is working inefficiently, the best way to help your child is to use specific proprioceptive input that can be overwhelmingly helpful to the development of this system. This specific proprioceptive input is what we call heavy work activities.
Heavy Work for Proprioception Success
Heavy work activities that focus on working against gravity or resistance usually involve deep muscle contraction in little bodies. Short spurts of heavy work does help the proprioceptive system, but sustained heavy work activities are even better. This is because the lighter muscles fatigue after a short while and the larger muscles take over. These muscles are usually the core muscles that are responsible for posture. When the core muscles are weak, kids often attempt to find stability by lounging in their chairs, or laying their heads and arms on their desk. This creates another cycle of inactive proprioceptive input and postural control, and could also be a sign of a retained Primitive Reflex. When a student uses the furniture to hold him or herself up, there is limited information coming from the proprioceptive system. When you don’t exercise a muscle, it weakens. This is exactly what happens with the proprioceptive sense. If you don’t use it, it grows sluggish.
In The Out-of-Sync Child, Carol Kranowitz says, “Proprioception provides information necessary to coordinate basic motor and fine motor movements. The child with poor proprioception has difficulty controlling large-motor movements, such as getting from one position into another, and fine-motor movements, such as grasping objects.”
Heavy Work Activities
In our previous article, Proprioceptive Dysfunction Causes Sensory Seeking and Sensory Avoiding Behavior, there are two types of proprioceptive dysfunctions that seem to affect some children. One is sensory seeking behavior and the other is sensory avoiding behavior. For sensory avoiding behavior, heavy work exercises help stimulate the proprioceptive system and organize the brain. However, these activities are also helpful for sensory seeking children because heavy work can calm and organize overactive and aggressive behavior.
To get your child’s proprioceptive system working, we have compiled an extensive list of heavy work exercises that may help the proprioceptive system further develop. These exercises will also assist your child in regulating behaviors and they can help improve concentration and focus.
- Load a backpack with books or other heavy objects like rocks (let the child carry a backpack while doing chores, it will motivate them to get done quickly!)
- Take out trash
- Carrying the groceries in from the car
- Let the child carry the diaper bag or other objects for you
Pushing or Pulling Objects
- Use Resistance Stretchy Bands
- Push a small grocery cart at the store
- Pull and push a wagon
- Help sweep with a push broom outside
- Use a mop on the floor
- Shovel snow
- Rearrange chairs and small tables by pushing or pulling them
- Vacuum floors
Jumping and Bouncing
- Jumping on a trampoline / mini-trampoline
- Playing leapfrog
- Pogo stick
- Jumping small distance onto a bean bag
- Jump rope
- Climb on playground equipment frequently
- Monkey bars
- Pull-ups on a bar
- Rock wall climbing
- Climbing rope
Using Weighted Items
- Have the child wear light wrist or ankle weights during any activity
- Weighted lap pad
- Weighted blanket
- Swimming with water weights
Alternatives to Studying
- For a child that needs body support during academic work, allow him to lie on floor or lean against a wall.
- Use a lap desk so child can sit or lie anywhere
Working at Vertical Surfaces (at or above child’s eye level)
- Painting at an easel
- Writing / erasing on a chalkboard
- Paint with water on side of house or shed
- Wash windows
- Clean mirrors
- Clean doors / walls
When having your child do these activities, it is important to watch which tasks calm, arouse or over stimulate them. These reactions are very unique to each individual. Knowing and directing your child will further help their development and proprioceptive input.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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