Sensory Saturday!!! In an effort to get a bit more regular content out to you guys, I’m going to try to make this a thing. A Sensory Saturday thing. I was inspired by watching my newly three-year-old daughter rock climbing earlier today and thinking about all the cool work her brain and body was doing together to get up that wall. I know, I’m a nerd right? I am also always pumped with how calm, regulated and content she is for most of the day after she gets to participate in activities like this. I can hear her happily playing in her room with her doll house for ‘quiet time’ as we speak (she’s ditched the afternoon nap sadly, so I institute some quiet time while the babies nap so I can sit down!). So, I thought I would share more about the magical sensory system that not only helped her motor plan and move her way up that wall, but also has helped calm and regulate her nervous system for the next few hours. Mamas curious about how to have a positive impact on your child’s self-regulation, listen up!
So, the magical sensory system of the day is- PROPRIOCEPTION. Most of us are familiar with the common senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, hearing), but often occupational therapists take a look at and think about a few more internal body senses that you may not have heard about yet. Today, I’ll tell you a bit about proprioception. Similar to how your taste sensory system has its sensory receptors in your mouth/on your tongue, and your sense of hearing has receptors in your ears for sound- your proprioceptive system houses it’s receptors in your muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments etc. It is your unconcscious awareness of your body’s position in space. It tells our brain where our limbs are in relation to one another, as well as their relation to other people and objects. It also tells us how much force is required to perform certain movements (i.e. to lift up a feather vs. a dumbbell). But one of my favourite functions of the proprioceptive system is it’s ability to regulate our nervous system. Ever feel like you are getting sleepy in a boring meeting or while trying to study? Do you instinctively know that getting up, having a big stretch, or moving your body will help increase your alertness? Or how about you are really nervous about something and you find yourself pacing, twitching, stretching to calm yourself down? This system works magic! It can have alerting and calming effects.
When our muscles stretch and work hard (like during rock climbing), it can have a significant impact on self-regulation by providing the nervous system with proprioceptive input. One of my first recommendations for parents and teachers when they have a child who is more active, a bit more impulsive, dysregulated, etc is to build more opportunities for heavy work into their day. I know that whenever we are cooped up for the day inside without enough opportunities for movement, Emma is a little bit more… let’s say “harder to manage”- she starts looking for movement in unsafe and inappropriate ways or she starts loving a little hard on her sisters. Toddler bodies NEED to move especially. Next week I’ll feature some simple ideas for building in heavy work and movement into your day to keep those little nervous systems regulated.
If you want to learn a bit more about the magical proprioceptive system, Brain Highways has an awesome you tube video on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2iOliN3fAE