October 6, 2014
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One of our very favorite topics here at TEIS is Sensory Play! What do you think of when you hear the word “sensory”? Most people think of the Five Senses: Sight, Touch, Smell, Taste and Sound, but did you realize that there are actually two more senses? Yes, that’s correct! Proprioceptive and Vestibular are two more senses that we just love to chat about with families! Pro-pree-oh-what??? Let’s jump right in!

Without getting too technical just yet, PROPRIOCEPTION is your sense of body awareness, or where your body is in space. It involves proprioceptors in muscles, joints and ligaments…and the COOL part is, when we stimulate these proprioceptors, all kinds of cool chemicals are released in to the body system! We also like to talk about “deep pressure input” or BIG SQUEEZES! This all falls in to the same category.

Have you ever heard of a runner getting a “runner’s high”… or hit the gym and use the treadmill and feel GREAT after? Neither have I…just kidding! I am forever dragging my behind in to the gym and then feeling really great, and really glad that I did, once I am done. Running and many other types of exercise stimulate that proprioceptive sense!

Our feet hitting the floor repeatedly, actually provides TONS of input to the joints and ligaments in the ankles, knees, hips and more! Every time we stimulate those joints, SERATONIN is released! And our bodies just can’t get enough serotonin! It’s a calming, masterfully organizing chemical that regulates the body! There is also dopamine released. Once these chemicals are flowing through your system, you will feel the results for up to 2 hours!

So, how does this affect our little ones? I had a little guy in my preschool class a few years back. He woke up in the morning and SAT to eat breakfast. He got on the little school van and SAT in his car seat for at least a half an hour! Then he came in to my classroom, and we SAT at the table for puzzles, before we SAT down for circle time…do you see the common factor here? SAT SAT SAT SAT SAT! This little guy was a wired bunch of nerves by the time circle was over! I was starting to take it personally! (What? You don’t like my singing?!) So, I explained the situation to our classroom Occupational Therapist. And if you didn’t know, OT’s are the gurus for sensory information…and she was able to change his entire school experience! Here’s what we did…and what you can try, too!

  1. We added a bag of small items to his back pack that he could squeeze on his bus ride, including a few toys that he could even bite on, which makes those jaw muscles work!
  2. We weighed down the backpack with just a bag of rice at the bottom…not too heavy, just enough to provide some deep pressure through the shoulders, so that when he carried his bag, he was getting some release of chemicals!
  3. Once he got in to school, he had about 10 minutes to jump on a mini trampoline…every jump, gave him input!
  4. We filled a clean adult sock with dry beans and secured it closed. He used it as a lap pad. Just enough pressure on the lap helped him to be more aware of his body in space, and calm down.
  5. Then he was able to make it through the circle! See, it wasn’t me after all! LOL

Why do you think people like to get a good hug when they are sad or feeling down? A big bear hug will give you that deep pressure, releasing those calming chemicals!

Some other ways to get that deep pressure with your children to help them feel calm, organized and focused…

  • Have them push or pull a box or laundry basket filled with toys or a sibling inside! Make it a “choo choo” game!
  • If you don’t have access to a trampoline, a couch cushion or jumping on the bed with supervision works quite well. Hold hands with your child, and let them jump!
  • Crawl through a box or through a tunnel! Make a blanket fort and crawl through that!
  • Wheel-barrow walking!
  • Massage with lotion after a bath

There are of course, many more details that we can go in to, but this gives you a little bit of an intro! So, if you are having a “day” (like I do so often…) get up and get moving! If your child is fussing about homework time after sitting at school all day, and sitting on the bus, try some proprioceptive activities before homework starts! Even offer a hard crunchy or chewy snack (pretzel rod or twizzlers?) Make those jaws work while they are thinking!

What other ways do you find yourself getting proprioceptive input? Heavy blanket? Tight sleeves? Bouncing your knee during a meeting at work as you sit at the table? How about your child? Share with us!