We are all familiar with the 5 common senses: sight, listening, touch, taste and smell. Did you know there are two others that are just as essential to everyday life? Let’s take a look at those with a few excepts from Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom.
Proprioception comprises sensory receptors in the joints, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues that tell you where your body are without you having to look at them. The receptors sense when muscles and other connective tissues are stretched or at rest (Biel and Peske 2009). Our brain analyzes the information from the receptors and gives us a sense of body position and motion. Proprioception regulates how much force you need to use when completing tasks, such as peeling a boiled egg without crushing it, holding a baby chick without squeezing too hard, and writing with a pen without ripping the paper.
Children develop proprioception through a series of pushes and pulls that happens when they interact with their environment, such as by picking up heavy sticks and putting them back down again to build a fort, raking leaves, and shoveling snow. This push and pull creates new gravitational loads and adaptations that strengthen the bones and muscular tissue over time, offering increased awareness of the different muscles’ capabilities and positioning for better body awareness.
Children with poor proprioceptive sense are generally more susceptible to fractures, falls, dislocations, and injuries. They tend to be clumsy and have been know to walk in a robot-like fashion. . . . Without proper proprioceptive feedback, children may fall out of seats, fall frequently, and trip while walking up stairs.
To maintain or strengthen the proprioceptive system, encourage your child to have play experiences that offer resistance to the joints, muscles and connective tissues. This can also be referred to as doing “heavy work,” which basically consists of activities that require pushing, pulling, and carrying heavy objects.
We have a previous post that talks further about “heavy work” which we sometimes call Calming Work. You can find it HERE
Of all the senses, the vestibular sense is often the most over-looked. Yet it is the most pwerful and arguably one of the most essential of our senses. It is also known as our balance sense. There are little hairs inside our inner ear. When we move our body and head in all different directions, the fluid in the inner ear moves back and forth, stimulating these little hairs. This stimulation provides us with awareness of where our body is in space and helps us effectively navigate and move around our environment with ease and control.
The late A. Jean Ayres, PhD . . . stated “The vestibular system (network of senses) is the unifying system. All other types of sensations are processed in reference to this basic vestibular information . . . When the vestibular system does not function in a consistent and accurate way, the interpretation of other sensations will be inconsistent and inaccurate, and the nervous system will have trouble ‘getting started'” (Ayres 2000, 37).
Due to the lack of efficient movement opportunities today, many children walk around with an underdeveloped vestibular sense. The results; fidgeting, tears of frustration, more falls, aggression, and trouble with attention.
Children develop a strong vestibular sense by having frequent opportunities to move – especially activities that go against gravity. Walking and running offer some vestibular input, but activities that encourage children out of an upright position provide rapid input to the inner ear. In other words, children will benefit immensely by going upside down on the monkey bars, rolling down hills, and dancing until their little hearts are content.