The Sixth Sense
Our body has an internal sense known as “proprioception,” which is basically our sense of awareness of where our body is in space. Our body senses proprioception through messages sent to the brain from sensory receptors in our muscles and joints. These sensations from the muscles and joints tell us how our bodies are moving, what each body part is doing in relation to the others, and where they are in space.
Children who throw things, bite, walk over objects or walk into furniture frequently may need more help developing their sense of proprioception. The system of receptors found in the muscles and joints tell the brain how fast your legs are moving when you run, how heavy the spoon is in your hand and where your head is in relating to branches hanging down on nature trails. Children who appear clumsy, hang on to people and objects, chew on non-food items or bang feet on chairs may be communicating with you that they need more activities to nourish the development of their proprioceptive abilities!
Start by stretching and contracting those muscles.
- Reach up to touch the lowest branches on a tree.
- Bend over from the hip and check your plants.
- Carry buckets of water to the garden.
- Move a wheelbarrow from one side of the garden to another.
- Hop around the garden like a rabbit.
Maria Montessori assigned work to kids for a reason! We know they are too young for a work permit, but watering the plants, placing wet laundry in the dryer, picking the beans from the garden, carrying the groceries into the house from the car and sweeping up those Cheerios after breakfast help children stay calm. That’s right, calm through proprioceptive input.
Proprioceptive input tends to have a calming and organizing effect on the body, particularly when feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed. Proprioception also helps us better balance (“modulate”) the sensory input coming in from the other sensory systems so we can more accurately respond to it (such as the loud noises we hear or the feelings of certain textures on our skin or in our mouth, for example).
Add organized to that! Any activity which involves “heavy work” such as pushing or pulling provides input to the proprioceptive sensory system. When children participate in these types of activities, and in the specific amount of time and intensity their body needs, we often see them become more calm, organized in their behavior, and able to follow through with daily activities such as getting dressed, participating in meal time, and following directions.
But that’s not all, When children receive deep pressure input in their muscles and joints, their endorphin levels i.e. happy hormones rise in the brain followed by decreases in blood pressure and heart rate. So hug your children a lot and get them working!