Let’s face it, children are getting more screen time now than ever before. School is being held via online platforms and the rainy PNW weather is limiting opportunities for outdoor play. iPads, laptops, and other technological devices are not only the forefront of entertainment, but also for education. As parents or guardians, you may be noticing changes in mood, increased meltdowns, restlessness and/or new undesirable behaviors in your children and it is no coincidence.
The good news is that there are ways to help combat these difficulties. You may have already heard your occupational therapist use the term “heavy work”, or they may have given you activities that incorporate heavy work to complete at home. Heavy work is the term used to describe one of our foundational senses called ‘proprioception’. Proprioception is our ability to recognize where our body is in space and also helps us regulate the direction and amount of force to use when moving. It is detected through sensory receptors in the joints and muscles.
When a child engages in play that requires pushing, pulling, lifting, or hanging, they are stimulating the proprioceptive sense. Children with sensory processing concerns will either seek out this sort of activity, or they may completely avoid it. Kids with proprioceptive dysfunction are often “sensory-seekers” or “sensory-avoiders”. The following are signs that your child may experience proprioceptive dysfunction:
Whether your child falls into either category, there are ways to incorporate proprioceptive activities into your day. One way to ensure they are getting this input is to schedule “recess” time during the day, just as they would if they were attending school in-person. However, the purpose of recess is not for kids to do whatever they want, but to choose heavy work activities to complete. For example, when children are offered breaks by their teachers, have them choose their preferred heavy work activity from the list below and engage in that activity for 20-30 minutes. This is a structured way for kids to get the input that they need while also giving them control to choose what they want to do.
Here are ideas for heavy work activities that can be done indoors when the weather is not in your favor:
Let your therapist know if you have any specific questions regarding proprioception and ways to incorporate it at home. Together, we can identify the best ways to help your child engage in heavy work to give their body the input it is craving, especially during these uncertain times.