What is proprioception? (And probably more importantly, why should I know about this?)

Firstly; What is pro-bladi-something? 

Proprioception is often referred to as our hidden sixth sense, but for some reason one that is not known by many.

Proprioception is the sense that tells the body where it is in space. Knowing where our legs, arms and other body parts are is important for our co-ordination. We don’t need to look at our feet when we walk, or look at our sandwich when we eat lunch. The proprioceptors are sending this information about our feet or hands to our brain. 

Proprioceptive feedback comes from special receptors which can be found in our muscles and joints. It responds to movement and our body position. This is why it’s different to touch, which gets its sensory input from the skin. 

Proprioception is not just the sense that lets us know where our different body parts are, but also how they move and how much strength our muscles need to use for certain actions. When lifting that sandwich, we want to make sure we don’t squash it, or even worse, smack it in our face. Our proprioceptive sense helps us to move our hand with just enough speed and force. 

But it is not just about the physical aspect of it, proprioception is not just important for co-ordination, posture and body awareness, but it plays a large role in self- regulation, creating an optimal state for learning and maintaining focus and attention. Proprioception activities stimulate certain parts of the brain (the cortex, limbic system and cerebellum) that impact and interact with a child’s level of alertness. To be able to focus on your learning a child needs to be able to sit still and listen to a teacher or peers. If they don’t exactly know where on the chair they are, they keep moving and wriggling to get that proprioceptive feedback. These are the children that often get into trouble because they can’t sit still. 

By providing children with proprioceptive input throughout the day we help them regulate their proprioception which, in return, will help them learn to write, play sports, increase their attention span etc. Almost all movement tasks, both at home and at school, rely on proprioception for success. If a child’s body is not processing proprioceptive input well, their movements are often un-coordinated and everything takes a lot more effort. 

Some children have signs of proprioceptive dysfunction. Common signs are being clumsy and uncoordinated, they misjudge how much pressure is needed, and often school work is messy. They may break items accidentally, run into their friends and slam doors etc. They often show sensory-seeking behaviors (rough play, prefers tight clothes kicking feet when resting, stomps feet when walking etc.) If you are concerned about your child we recommend seeing an Occupational therapist to get the right diagnosis and treatment. 

Both heavy muscle work activities and activities that apply deep pressure to the muscle and joints are fantastic proprioception activities for all children. Not just for those who need extra support. These type of activities generally help a child being able to concentrate, focus and feel calm.

Heavy work activities are about pushing, pulling and carrying heavy items. Examples are: 

  • - Pushing and pulling a loaded wagon 
  • - Hop on a hopper ball
  • - Roll a heavy ball 
  • - Animal walks / Commando crawling 
  • - Dig in a sandpit
  • - Household tasks such as sweeping and washing windows 

Examples of Deep pressure activities are:

  • - Jumping on a trampoline
  • - Giving and receiving tight hugs
  • - Getting tucked tightly in a blanket 
  • - Use a ball to firmly roll over your child’s body. 

It is highly recommended for children to have multiple moments throughout the day where their play is focusing on heavy muscle work and deep pressure activities. Even while it sounds contradictive, many children sleep much better if they get a good play session with plenty of jumping and wrestling 15 minutes before bed. I hope you’ve learned something new today, and get ready for those jumping and tumbling sessions, they will help your child in the long run! Lisa

About the Author 

Lisa is a qualified teacher working at a school for students with additional needs. She is the mumma of a wonderful and wild toddler. She loves day trips, weekends away and good coffee. She enjoys setting up open-ended educational play activities. She has a ginormous drawer full of bits and pieces that ‘will come in handy one day’, which she uses to set up simple and fun toddler craft activities. You can follow her son and their adventures on Instagram at life.with.moon.and.co