Your proprioceptive system.
The code name for proprioceptive input in the OT world is “heavy work“, and a common phrase we use is “heavy work always works”. Receiving input to your joints and muscles has been shown to have an overwhelmingly high success rate for reaching your optimal arousal level (not overly excited, but not too calm to the point of lethargy).
So how do you get this input?
Well, first let’s break it down into two categories. The input we receive can be either passive, or active. Examples of passive would be receiving a deep tissue massage, or lying underneath a weighted blanket. Active input would be more along the lines of jumping on a trampoline, or hanging on a trapeze. I tend to prefer using active over passive, because I feel it encourages children to become more independent in understanding their own sensory needs, and seeking it out in a purposeful and functional way. I realize not all of us have a trapeze lying around at home, so here are some simple, yet creative ways to get proprioceptive input, using everyday objects around the house:
- Carrying groceries (active): A great way to get input to your upper body…just make sure they’re not too heavy!
- Wiping tables/windows (active): Stretching your joints AND getting deep pressure. Double whammy!
- Helping with laundry (active): Carrying, loading, folding, etc. Plus, the work gets done faster when you work together!
- Cooking (active): Mixing, stirring, and chopping; all perfect ways to get some input. This goes without saying, but be careful with sharp tools and heat.
- Wheelbarrow races (active): One person holds the other by the legs, and they walk as if they’re pushing a wheelbarrow, with the person on the ground using their hands. See how fast they can make it to a finish line, take turns, or race with others. Both people are getting their share of heavy work.
- Animal walks (active): Pick different animals to walk like. A bear, a snake, and a rabbit are good starters. Let your imagination run wild!
- Tug of War (active): This game is a no-brainer if you’re looking for proprioceptive input in a fun and exciting way (bonus points if you have a dog to play with).
- Pillow fight (active): This doubles as a good opportunity to practice good sportsmanship.
- Pillow squishes (passive): Getting “squished” with pillows is great for calming. Slow, deep pressure works wonders as a cool down activity. Counting down from 10, or incorporating deep breathing are also helpful additions.
- Blanket burrito (passive): Getting rolled up into a blanket tight like a burrito is essentially getting swaddled, big-kid style, and often provides the same calming effects.
As always, figuring out and fine-tuning individual sensory needs can be a game of trial and error. Leave a comment if any of these work for you, what your favorite activity is, or leave a suggestion if you have any other creative ways to get proprioceptive input at home. I’d love to hear some feedback from you!