Remember playing 4-Square, jumping rope, or bouncing from one object to another across a playground? Remember how great it felt to crash into the ground? How great you felt when you finally mastered the huge climber at the playground? All these activities help develop a child's sense of proprioception.
Proprioception is a hidden sense that we use everyday. It gages your body's position in space. The receptors for this sense are found in your muscles, tendons, and joints. These receptors tell your body where its various parts are in relation to each other, as well as the amount of pressure being placed on your body from the outside environment. This sense provides children with very important information that they need to be successful in all types of motor activities. Playspaces are great places for children to develop their proprioceptive senses.
Children with learning and sensory disorders might also struggle with their proprioceptive senses. They might avoid or have difficulty playing on structures that seem to be simple for other children to master. They might even seem clumsy when they are playing. Some may seek activities that apply pressure to the joints or skin, such as hanging from the monkey bars or being buried waist-deep in the sandbox.
It is important to have a variety of structures in your playspace to help children develop their proprioceptive skills. This variety should provide simple to complex play movement activities so that each child can find their just right challenge. One structure that provides multiple levels of play in a safe way can be a great way for children with different abilities to play together.
Lee, Shannon. (2002). Proprioception: How and why? Serendip, Bryn Mawr. https://serendipstudio.org/exchange/node/1699
Wikipedia. (2006). Proprioception. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception
(Photo courtesy of TFH U.S.A.)