Why Motor Skills Matter

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The Proprioceptive System

By Yi Chen, PT, DPT

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“A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions he has acquired.”

~Vygotsky

The proprioceptive system is a system that is in charge of unconscious awareness of body position. There are receptors in muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which tell us about the position of our body parts, their relation to each other and their relation to other people and objects. These receptors send messages to the brain to help coordinate movement.

The proprioceptive system allows us to know how much force is necessary for the muscle to exert and allows us to grade our movement for various tasks such as holding a cup and writing with a pen.

The proprioceptive system works closely with the vestibular system, (check our previous article on vestibular system.) A healthy proprioceptive system helps children to develop motor planning skills and move in a smooth, coordinated, and efficient way.

Some examples of things you may notice if a child has difficulties with proprioception:

  • Bumps and crashes into objects and people (children who appear as clumsy)

  • Appears weak and is resistant to participating in heavy work activities

  • Messy handwriting (i.e. writing/coloring with heavy pressure or barely visible writing /coloring on paper)

  • Demonstrates poor body awareness and motor planning skills (i.e. playing with a ball, riding a bicycle etc.)

Activities that can help promote a healthy proprioceptive system:

  • Pulling or pushing a shopping cart

  • Playing tug of war

  • Jumping rope or on a trampoline

  • Wheelbarrow relay

  • Monkey bar

  • Climbing activities such as climbing walls, ladders and ropes

  • Sandwich games with pillows

  • Moving/lifting heavy laundry baskets

  • Playing with theraband /rubber band and stress balls

  • Animal walks (check our previous article)

  • Kids yoga (check our previous article)

Tara Liddle