What is proprioception?
I guess you could call it our internal GPS system! You see, children aren’t born with an understanding of their own bodies. They don’t even know their own size or shape at first. They learn it over time through interactions with the people, places, spaces, and things in their path.
Their body is always growing which means their spatial relationships are constantly changing. And that’s why they bump into objects, people… and pretty much anything!
It’s not something adults have to think about. But it’s a big idea for children. Will I fit? And that likely explains why kids love to climb in, on, around, under, over, and through things. It’s their way of exploring their place in our world.
Why is it important?
The human body has sensory touch receptors in every muscle, tendon and ligament known as proprioceptive receptors which provide the brain with important information about the dynamics of the world around us, including where the body or parts of the body are in space at any given time.
Now, for adults, a familiar space such as your own bed has been carefully mapped by your proprioceptive sensors, so you are able to sleep without having to worry about falling out. You “know” how wide your bed is, how much space you have in your bed, and how much space your body takes up which allows you to toss, turn, and roll over while staying within the edges of the bed – even in a new bed!
But children’s proprioceptive senses are still immature. And that’s not only because of their age. Remember, they are always growing and changing shape too! So mapping their body and refining their understanding of space is a constant, daily developmental need.
In the big picture of learning, why is it important?
If we use writing as an example, in terms of proprioception, if you don’t know where up or down, under or over is, then think how difficult it is to form a letter. A lower case ‘g’ for example, you need to go down (but not under the line, imaginary line or not), around, back up and then down below the line, and back up slightly! You don’t know what sort of pressure to use when writing – and just to make it more difficult the pressure you use with a pencil, is different to the pressure you use with a felt pen, a crayon, a pen…
The children who are still developing proprioception find it very hard to do things like lining up, sitting or standing at mat time/assembly at school, and tend to have lots of clumsy sorts of accidents. This is because they are still learning about their body, and where it fits into space, so tend to lean or touch the children next to them, and haven’t quite figured out how to go up, or down ‘that bit’ of the playground etc. Their bodies have a need for constant sensory input from the world around them, so they touch lots of things.