In the occupational therapy world, heavy work generally means using the big muscles of the body against resistance.
This is also known as proprioceptive sensory input.
We have a less commonly known internal sense called "proprioception." This sense allows us to perceive the position of our body in space from receptors in our muscles and joints. Sensations felt from the muscles and joints tell us how our bodies are moving, what each body part is doing, and where they are in space. This sense is activated any time we do "heavy work," such as lifting, pushing, or pulling, when our joints are compressed or stretched apart.
Proprioceptive input is highly regulating.
When we see kids seeking out heavy work and deep pressure, it tells us they are self-regulating and trying to meet a sensory need. This type of sensory input tends to have a calming and organizing effect on the body, particularly when feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed. This helps kids stay - or return to being - calm, alert, and focused.
Incorporating heavy work into everyday play has a number of benefits for kids.
It supports overall sensory processing, helping kids stay regulated and better able to modulate sensory input coming in from the other sensory systems.
Compression and stretching of joints and muscles through heavy work helps kids build a greater sense of body awareness, which supports gross motor coordination, balance, and fine motor skills.
Heavy work activities with resistance naturally build strength and stability. Strengthening the core/postural muscles and shoulder girdle has a huge impact on fine motor skill development!
So, what exactly do you do to provide heavy work?
Obviously I made a list of over 30 options for you. Take your pick!
Until next time, air hugs!
Hi! Austen here. Portland based Pediatric OT obsessed with leggings and all things child development. Welcome to my journal! I hope to educate and empower parents and caregivers with science inspired insights, effective strategies, and lots of air hugs.