When children are having difficulty processing proprioceptive input there are a variety of behaviours that you will see, depending on whether they are under-responsive or over-responsive and seeking this input.
Understanding the impact of the proprioceptive system on engagement and learning
When we think of the senses, we generally think of five: taste, touch, hearing, smell and sight. However there are two other internal senses that play a very important role in our everyday lives and affect both our fine and gross motor skills. The vestibular sense controls our balance and movement as the receptors are found in our inner ear, and the proprioceptive sense informs us of our body’s position. The receptors are found in our muscles so our brain receives proprioceptive input when we push, pull or provide pressure to our muscles and joints. Proprioception helps us to coordination movements and determine the amount of force require to complete a task. By chewing gum, lifting weights or going for a run, you are providing your body with this input without even realising.
When children are having difficulty processing proprioceptive input there are a variety of behaviours that you will see, depending on whether they are under-responsive or over-responsive and seeking this input. When students are under-responsive they require more input to make sense of their body in space. They may slump at their desk, lean on things, appear clumsy and have difficulty with fine motor tasks. For these students, proprioceptive input can be alerting to facilitate attention and learning within the classroom. On the other hand, children that seek this sensory input are frequently crashing into things, love rough play, climbing onto furniture to jump off, have difficulty standing still and may use too much force when completing writing tasks.
Activities which stimulate the proprioceptive sense can be embedded within the classroom, playground and home environment and are often referred to as ‘heavy work’. This input also helps to regulate, improve focus and calm our sensory system. At Giant Steps we ensure regular movement breaks are embedded into our lessons and include activities such as animal walks, wheelbarrow races and chair push ups to provide this proprioceptive input throughout the day. Children also receive proprioceptive input by jumping on the trampoline, climbing on equipment, playing hopscotch, crawling through a tunnel or going for a walk with a weighted backpack. During table top tasks, other sensory supports that provide this input include rolling play doh, squeezing theraputty, pushing against theraband attached to the legs of a desk or having a weighted toy on their lap. The use of a body sock, massage, deep pressure squeezes and brushing are other more passive strategies that can be embedded into their day in order to help them engage and participate in the task at hand while regulating and calming their sensory system.
Within the home environment, there are also many activities that can be embedded into children’s routines to receive this proprioceptive input. These include pushing/pulling heavy objects such as the vacuum cleaner, shopping trolley, wheelbarrow or furniture, carrying heavy objects such as bags, boxes, laundry basket or garbage bins, sweeping and digging. Other oral activities include blowing bubbles, drinking through a straw and blowing up a balloon. At Giant Steps we imbed these activities into the students schedules in order to be proactive and have the proprioceptive input implemented prior to them seeking it and the same can be done within the home environment. While the proprioceptive system is a hidden, internal sense it is vital for the majority of everyday tasks. The input can be both calming and regulating, and is a key factor to ensure we feel safe within our environment.
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