Heavy Work Activities (Proprioceptive Input)... They Need Them, They Crave Them!

Heavy work activities (i.e., proprioceptive input) are used for children with sensory processing difficulties to help increase attention, decrease defensiveness,  and modulate arousal.

Proprioceptive input is the performance of tasks that involves heavy resistance and input to the muscles and joints, and is essential in helping our bodies assimilate and process both movement (vestibular) and touch (tactile) information.

Heavy work activities include:

  • Whole body actions involving pushing, pulling, lifting, playing, and moving
  • Oral actions such as chewing, sucking, and blowing
  • Use of hands for squeezing, pinching, or "fidgeting"
  • This resistive input obtained through heavy work activities is generally organizing and can improve attention, arousal level, body awareness and muscle tone, as well as decreasing defensiveness.

    Proprioception is a form of sensory input to the muscles and joints which makes us aware of our "position in space" (i.e., where we are in relation to other objects or people). Children who have difficulty interpreting proprioceptive input have trouble grading and planning their movements and regulating their level of arousal.

    You may see a child who accidentally breaks things often, appears clumsy and uncoordinated and may have an excessive need to crash and bump into objects, walls and people.

    If they are seeking out excessive proprioceptive input, they are looking for a way to calm and organize their nervous system. They may seem disruptive, full of excessive energy, or even unsafe. These are the crashers, jumpers, movers, and shakers! These are the children we ABSOLUTELY want to target with heavy work activities. It WILL make a difference in them!

    The following is an extensive list of heavy work activities and proprioceptive activities that may help regulate a child's arousal level, concentration, ability to fall asleep or sit still and attend to a task.

    Keep in mind, the type of heavy work activities, timing and duration is most effective when directed by a professional (such as an Occupational Therapist) knowledgeable about this type of proprioceptive input.

    It is also important to note which activities calm your child, arouse them, or over arouse them. This is very unique to each individual and must be observed and treated as such!

    You want to choose activities THEY are interested in and that IMPROVE their state of arousal to its most functional point.

    Gross Motor Activities

    Carrying objects, such as...

    Wearing a weighted vest, weighted hat, or weighted shorts.

    Wearing wrist or ankle weights

    Using a weighted lap pad or weighted blanket

    Swimming with or without swim weights

    Pushing or pulling objects and activities, such as...

    Jumping and bouncing on/with items, such as...

    Wheelbarrow walk relays

    Potato sac/ jumping bag races

    Lizard crawl (belly on floor, push self with elbows)

    Climbing/hanging on things, such as...

    Body Sox (TM) or a Super Shape Changer

    Walking/running/playing in the sand

    "Sandwich"/ Squishing activities...

    Crabwalk (hands and feet on floor, belly up) games, such as...

    Fine Motor/Upper Extremity Activities

    Working at vertical surfaces (at/above eye level), such as...

    Resistive tools or toys, such as...

    (Click Here For Tons Of Fine Motor Skills Activity Ideas And Products!)

    Fidget or play with stretchy/squishy items, such as...

    Resistive surfaces, such as...

    • sidewalk chalk on driveway/sidewalk/playground
    • color pictures taped over sandpaper
    • use sanding blockto sand wood project
    • brush the family dog

    Use weighted pens, pencils or utensils

    Multi-person parachute games and activities

    Cooking activities, such as...

    • stirring
    • pressing
    • kneading

    Etch-a-Sketch with resistive knobs (shaking with both arms to clear screen)

    Dig and play in the sand toy backhoe, or with some cool beach and sandbox toys using sand and water tables or, wooden covered sandboxes

    Oral Motor Activities:

    Chewy foods such as...

    • dried fruit
    • gummi bears/worms etc.
    • licorice
    • beef jerky
    • bagels
    • cheese
    • granola bars
    • gum
    • raisins
    • taffy
    • soft pretzels
    • popcorn

    Resistive sucking using items such as...

    • through thin curly straws krazy straws
    • sports bottle with long straw
    • lollipops
    • popsicles
    • drink milkshake with a straw
    • hard candies
    • peanut butter

    Blowing activities, such as...

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    Related Resources

    Sensory Diet Behavior and Body Awareness Flash Card Deck - Super Duper Educational Learning Toy for Kids Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist - comprehensive SPD Checklist; signs and symptoms of tactile, auditory, olfactory and oral defensiveness, as well as proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.

    The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (The Out-of-Sync Child Series)

    Everyday Games for Sensory Processing Disorder: 100 Playful Activities to Empower Children with Sensory Differences

    Check out more great products, heavy work activities, and ideas within these two articles... Sensory Integration Activities and Sensory Integration Products

    Childrens Playground Equipment - A comprehensive article on the benefits, and a great selection of, children's playground equipment. This includes; outdoor, indoor, wooden or plastic playground equipment, AND climbers or swing sets.

    Oral Sensitivities - A great resource for the signs of oral sensitivities (hypersensitive or hyposensitive) as it relates to Sensory Processing Disorders, as well as great treatment ideas!

     Proprioception And Proprioceptive Dysfunction - An in-depth article defining proprioceptive dysfunction; signs and symptoms to help you understand the REAL reason your child may not be able to learn new motor tasks or has a high energy level.

    Sensory Room - extremely therapeutic for both children and adults with, or without, sensory processing/sensory integration disorders.

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