Activities to support the Vestibular and Proprioceptive System

Back in April, we shared a post that further explained our vestibular and proprioceptive system (you can check that out HERE). This post will be a continuation of that explanation that includes activity suggestions for both types of input. Please speak with your child’s occupational therapist to discuss the best times of day for the input and to discuss which activities make the most sense for your child. The best part about these activities is that many of them incorporate more than just one type of input and they also frequently include a strengthening component as well!

As a quick review the vestibular system is comprised of receptors in our inner ears that detect our movement, position against gravity and changes in our head position. The vestibular system is so important because not only of what it tells us about where out body is in space, but also because of how much connection it has with other areas of our brains. It can impact our attention, our emotional response, our posture, and our entire experience of the world around us. Vestibular input and movement are a very potent form of sensory input, and activities must always be used with caution and careful monitoring. Many childhood games have vestibular (and proprioceptive) input “built in” which is why kids like them so much! Some examples of these games are jumping, playing tag, swings, and spinning in circles. When a child is spinning you need to be careful to watch for bumping/falling, feeling nausea which can lead to throwing up, and/or appearing more disorganized and “revved up”. The following is a list of some simple “vestibular” activities you can incorporate with your child’s routine at home.

VESTIBULAR TOOL BOX

  • Tumbling and somersaults, cartwheels
  • Slow rocking in hammock or rocking chair
  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Hippity Hop
  • Sit and Spin
  • Slides, swings, and merry-go-rounds on playground
  • Ask your child a series of questions and have him or her answer by vigorously shaking their head yes or no
  • Come to hand and knees and rock back and forth, pretending to be a horse or pony
  • Use a therapy ball to bounce up and down, lie on back or belly and rock. You can incorporate picking up items overhead and doing a sit-up or doing a puzzle while lying on the ball.
  • Rolling like a pencil or log rolling. To encourage your child to roll in a straight line you can use tape on the floor or another marker for them to keep their eyes focused on. To make things more interesting you can have your child log roll into bowling pins to make this activity “body bowling”. You can also have your child roll back and forth to pick up puzzle or game pieces versus sitting still while playing
  • Scooterboard! Have your child go back and forth to pick up puzzle pieces on their belly. If propelling with their hands is challenging they can hold on to a rope as you pull them. You can also try this with your child on their back. Your child can use their hands and feet to push themselves off of the wall while on the scooterboard. Your child can also spin themselves while on the scooterboard (remember to watch for signs of overstimulation here!)
  • Stand and twirl. You can have your child spin until they feel like they are too dizzy and then jump up and down until their dizziness goes away.
  • Hanging upside down. This can be done over a yoga ball, off the side of a bed/couch, on the monkey bars or in the form of a handstand/headstand against the wall. If doing handstand or headstands provide supervision to ensure the safety of your child and the stability of their neck.
  • Drag or swing your child around in a sturdy sheet, blanket, or heavy duty laundry basket
  • Sit on a therapy ball, T-stool (balance stool), and/or sit and move cushion to play a game, watch TV, eat dinner, or do homework.
  • For younger children play “airplane”. Lift your child up in the air with your feet on their belly (you will be laying on your back). Once in the air bounce your child up and down and move quickly and slowly when bringing them back to the ground.
  • Have your child sit on your back as you crawl around on hands and knees. Bounce your child lightly on your knees and you can even let them hang upside down here.

Again as a quick review our proprioceptive system provides information about our body from the inside out. It tells us where our muscles, joints and ligaments are positioned and how hard (or not hard) we are using our body. We use this internal awareness of our body parts to coordinate our movements in the environment around us. Heavy work is a popular and often effective way to provide proprioceptive input. Again always check with your child’s therapist to discuss the particular activities that would benefit your child the most.

PROPRIOCEPTIVE TOOL BOX

  • Push chairs into table.
  • Punch or slam body into a blown up punching bag.
  • Wear weights on ankles or wrists to walk around or play a movement game.
  • Having your child collect weighted items from around the house or backyard. You can disguise this a “scavenger hunt”.
  • Any type of climbing on playground equipment.
  • Pushing or pulling heavy items around the house (you can use household items like a laundry basket, wagon, soup cans, bags of rice, etc.).
  • Animal Walks (bear, crab, frog jump, wheelbarrow walk, duck walk, snake/seal crawl). Make a rule that you can’t walk anywhere for a period of time, so every time your child wants to move they have to do an animal walk!
  • Go online or ask your OT for kid’s yoga sequences.
  • Make a sandwich by squeezing your child in between couch cushions or pillows. Have him/her collect the materials and put them back before and after the sandwich.
  • Make a burrito by rolling your child up tight in a yoga mat, blanket, etc. You can add “toppings” by pushing down on your child with couch cushions, pillows, yoga ball, etc.
  • Obstacle courses (we will have an entire blog post discussing obstacle courses, their importance and how to make them in the future!)
  • Play tug of War
  • Catch and throw with large therapy ball or weighted ball.
  • Go for a walk with a weighted backpack.
  • Lying on their back (on carpet, floor, grass, snow, sand) have your child make snow angels.
  • Wall pushups or have your child push against the wall pretending to “knock it down” for 10 -20 seconds.
  • Pushing hands into each other, clasping your own hands and trying to pull apart, give yourself a hug, pretend to put “lotion” all over your body.
  • Deep pressure massage with lotion.
  • Make a “mummy” by wrapping towel around your child’s body after a bath/shower.
  • Have your child jump on a mini trampoline or jump into a crash pad of cushions and pillows from a stable chair or the couch.
  • Hopscotch
  • Wrestling or gentle rough-housing (you may need to use a timer to indicate how long this activity will last and when it is over).
  • Sports like swimming, biking, skating, martial arts, and skiing
  • Housework: help wash windows and tabletops, push the vacuum, load or unload the dishwasher or washing machine (full of heavy and wet clothes) or take out the trash
  • Theraband activities and exercises. You can do upper extremity exercises or pulling theraband in different arm positions.
  • Crawl through a tunnel (nylon or lycra)

When doing these activities (and really any activities) please watch out for signs of sensory overload. Your child may be able to tell you when they are over-loaded or they may not be able to sense this feeling themselves. You can use a clock or timer to help keep activities to a length that works for your child without overwhelming their nervous system. This is a great conversation to have with your child’s OT as they can guide you on what to look for in each specific case. In general be on the lookout for any of the following symptoms: higher level of activity or sensitivity, more distraction, nausea, paleness or flushing, rapid breathing, excessive sweating, and drowsiness. If your child does become over-loaded have him or her stop the activity and offer them comfort as their system tries to recalibrate. Comfort could be in the form of a hug and deep pressure, a drink of water, or lying down in a quiet, dark room. Discuss the incident with your therapist so you can be prepared the next time you do sensory activities at home. Sensory-overload happens to everyone at some time or another. It is something our bodies can learn to recover from; however, the purpose of sensory home programs is to get better regulated not overloaded.

Please post below any activities you have tried at home that were helpful and how things go once  you start working on this list!

References:

Biel, L., & Peske, N. (2009). Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping  Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Fink, Barbara. (1989). Sensory-Motor Integration Activities. San Antonio, TX: Therapy Skill Builders

Kranowitz, C. (2003). The Out of Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing  Disorder. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

 

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