Making Light of ‘Heavy Work’: 4 simpler ways to incorporate special exercises

August 20, 2018
By admin

Does your occupational therapist (OT) recommend heavy work activities?

If your child has seen an OT and problems with body awareness, paying attention or sensory processing difficulties have been flagged then chances are the terms proprioception, heavy work activities or weight-bearing have been pitched your way. These are the wheelbarrow walks or tug of war games you may be familiar with.

Perhaps you have been encouraged to do resistance-based activities to help improve your child’s coordination, help them relax or support their attention during table-based tasks? And maybe in the midst of commando crawling under the dining table, you stop and find yourself asking, “yes, why are we pretending to be in the army again?”

Life is hectic for many and families often tell me they are time poor. It’s a juggling act trying to fit in the speech therapy, OT sessions and the homework that goes along with it.

And are heavy work activities guaranteed to improve your child’s attention and support their school participation, social or daily activities?


What the research says:

Recent academic studies examining the use of sensory supports like heavy work within the natural environment (such as school and home) have shown little evidence of positive effects on children’s behaviour  (including increasing attention, staying ‘on task’ and reducing repetitive behaviours).  That doesn’t mean that homes and schools don’t report positive outcomes such as improved mood, reduced repetitive behaviour and increased time spent on a task. I know many teachers and therapists who stand by the functional benefits of regular proprioceptive input – me included! In my experience, trial and error works best and it’s important to think about the child’s interests and needs as a whole.  For example, doing some heavy work after ball bouncing and listening to music may be an effective combination for a child rather than heavy work alone.


Here are 4 ideas to get your child’s muscles and joints more involved during the day without having to ‘schedule in’ extra time:

1. If your child attends swimming, gymnastics or enjoys cycling or climbing at the playground, then keep up the good work! Continue with these current activities knowing they are getting loads of proprioceptive input, as well as building strength and endurance.

2. Place photos or line drawings of heavy work ideas on a wall at home. This may be between the bathroom and bedroom to prompt your child to do some movement on their way to bed to help them get in a calm state. Or first thing in the morning when they wake up and need to switch their body on. Ideas include: 8 x wall push offs, bear walks (straight arms and legs and wide stance, bearing weight through arms), crab walks (walking on arms and legs, bottom raised off floor) or commando crawling (arms do the work, legs stay passive).

3. Encourage your child to participate in your housework routine with an added incentive of a reward  for helping if need be. If developmentally appropriate, ask them to do tasks you are too busy to do like cleaning a window or watering plants outside (input felt from weight of watering can) while you hang washing. Use a timer for reluctant helpers! Other ideas include sweeping, vacuuming (for those ok with noise), mopping with a slightly damp mop (avoid slips) as well as pushing the washing basket along the ground. Wash the car together with heavy sponges!

4. Keep a box handy with items like balls, putty, plasticine, lycra tubes, spandex and latex that are good for squeezing or pulling and pushing with their hands and feet.


I hope you found some useful tips here for your child, student or client!

Enjoy your week,

Kids Develop Store




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