Over 80 amazing proprioceptive activities that provide powerful and lasting proprioceptive input. These simple ideas can be used quickly to calm, focus, alert.
As an OT and mom, proprioceptive activities are my favorite type of sensory input because they can be used to help calm, focus, or even alert a child. Proprioceptive input is that powerful and amazing! But, this isn’t a once size fits all situation. It may surprise you to learn that there are different types of proprioceptive activities that can all have different affects, and when you learn what they are and when to offer them… well, it can be a game changer in your child’s behaviors, attention, and ability to sleep!
Part of what’s so incredible about proprioceptive activities is that some of them can be used quickly in a pinch and require no special toys or equipment. That means they can be used anywhere: the mall, school, or in the middle of a play date. Let me tell you what I mean…
A Story about the Power of Proprioceptive Activities
A few weeks ago, I was volunteering in our church’s Sunday school, the routine that morning was a bit different than what the kids were used to because of a special event. I immediately noticed a little boy (that I happened to know has some sensory processing needs) wasn’t able to sit for the story and was even pacing the room, despite requests to sit down with the other kids. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
When the class transitioned to another room to color pictures, he became quite silly, running through the doors and, well, not listening. Another teacher was trying to help him stay inside the classroom when I asked if I could try. This sweet little boy is familiar with me, but doesn’t know me that well. I immediately went to him and said, “How about we shake the silly’s out?”
He barely looked at me, but I assumed he had given me permission since he didn’t protest. I put my hands tightly around his wrists (already giving some proprioceptive input). He didn’t seem to mind so I continued to shake his arms firmly while singing a silly song, “We’re gonna shake your silly’s out!” 3 seconds later he looked up at me with big eyes and gave me the hugest smile.
At that moment, I knew the proprioceptive input was just what he needed. I then, followed up with some joint compression right to his arms (I’ll talk more about these in a few minutes). This took all of about 2 minutes, and guess what happened next?
He followed my request to go back into the room, sat on the floor with the other children, and didn’t run around for the next 30 minutes before his mom came to pick him up! That is why I LOVE proprioception, I’m not kidding when I say it is powerful.
In this post, we are going to dive into all sorts of proprioceptive activities. The ideas are endless and once you know what to look for, you will be amazed at how easy they are to offer to your child or to add to their sensory diet.
And if you’re wondering if you need to be concerned about your child’s sensory “issues”, then check out our free workshop that teaches you how to leverage sensory activities to calm and focus your child.
Now, let’s talk about what proprioception actually is…
What is Proprioception?
We need to clear this up because most people have never been taught about this 7th sense. Heck, spell check doesn’t even recognize it as a word! Understanding how it works is an important key to understanding why it helps your child or even why they seek it.
In the simplest terms, proprioception is our body’s ability to know where it is at any given time (otherwise called body awareness). And just like we see through receptors called our eyes, with proprioception, we know where our body is because of receptors that run all through our muscles and joints. Our vision is stimulated by bright lights or moving objects, and proprioception is stimulated by pressure to the receptors all throughout our body. Anytime we squeeze through a tight space, hug someone, or jump up and down, we are getting proprioceptive input.
Why Does Proprioception Matter?
Our proprioceptive system helps us walk across the room without bumping into anything or climb a jungle gym or hold a pencil to write. We have to know where each part of our body is and how to get it there quickly to be able to do just about anything. Proprioception plays a HUGE role in that and developing it is obviously important for all kids.
How Do You Know When a Child Needs Proprioceptive Activities?
Proprioception is a big deal with kids that have sensory needs because it’s the only sense that calms and helps improve focus almost across the board, when used the right way. The vast majority of kids like proprioceptive input, and many seek it out. And, even if your child doesn’t have specific “sensory needs”, proprioceptive activities can still be beneficial to help them calm down when they get upset or to relax before bedtime.
Your child may especially benefit from proprioceptive activities if they fall into one of two categories:
The first is seeking and is also the most common. Seeking means that your child is often trying to get more proprioceptive input. It’s like their bodies can’t get enough of it. Sometimes, kids that love this type of input may be labeled as hyperactive. And, they are sort of hyperactive as they are trying to get their sensory needs met. Learn more about how to handle hyperactivity in kids.
Let’s gets specific though, kids that are proprioceptive seekers may frequently:
- Chew on everything
- Hide in tight spots
- Love heavy blankets
- Play rough
- Crash into things on purpose
- Always try to jump on the couch or bed
- Be described as very physical or “wild”
- Over-step personal boundaries
- Hold onto writing utensils tightly
Proprioceptive Low Registration Signs:
The second is called low registration, which is less common, but quite possible. Low registration, or under-responsive, means that the sensory input, in this case from the proprioceptive system, isn’t registering. It’s like the brain has turned the switch off. Let’s look at some signs of low proprioceptive registration:
- Generally low energy
- May not want to get out of bed in the morning
- Bumps into walls and objects, seeming not to notice them
- Very high pain tolerance
If your child has several signs listed above, under either category, then activities that target proprioceptive input will be meeting their needs and encouraging their development completely.
Also, If you see a lot of these signs you may want to consider sensory integration therapy with an occupational therapist.
Affiliate links used below. See our full disclosure.
Powerful Proprioceptive Activities for Kids
Proprioceptive activities can be thought about and organized into different categories, some of which your child may respond to and some they may not. And, when I say “respond to”, I want you to think back to the little boy in Sunday school. His smile, eye contact, and then ability to follow directions were clear indicators that he was “responding to” the proprioceptive input. For your child, it may be that they were able to focus to finish their homework or sit through dinner easily.
Keep in mind that while most kids seek or at least enjoy proprioceptive activities in general, there may be some in particular that they do not like. You never have to force any sensory activity or input. Many of these activities give input to multiple senses, like hugging or climbing. Hugging also gives input to the tactile system and climbing also involves a lot of vestibular input. If your child doesn’t like or want either of those other types of sensory input, then they probably won’t want to participate in that activity. And, that’s okay!
First, I want to show you the most basic, and probably the simplest proprioceptive activities. These activities can be used to alert, calm down, and improve focus and attention in your child, but it’s also possible that they can make a child wild, as well. Sometimes, jumping on the bed can get really silly and out of control. This will do anything but calm, and that probably isn’t what you’re going for.
If you’re looking to calm or to improve attention, then you may want to structure the activities a little bit, although this isn’t always necessary. I would try these strategies if you notice that any of the proprioceptive activities are winding up instead of winding down:
1. Sing a rhythmic song like, “The Ants Go Marching One by One…” or some other song with a steady beat while your child jumps or stomps. Jumping, in particular, can really stimulate some kids.
2. Give the activity purpose. Instead of saying, “Go run around the house”, say, “Can you run to the swing set and back?”
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s look at these powerful proprioceptive activities:
- Trampoline (my kids love this one and I love it because it isn’t huge and is easy to move around)
- Jungle gym
- Rock wall
- Backwards up a slide
- Monkey bars
- Pull up bar
- Rope swing
- From the side of a bed
- Bouncing on top of a large ball (We use yoga ball like this one from Amazon, it’s lasted us 10 years!)
- Wheelbarrow walking
- Crab walking
- Using a pogo stick (This one is perfect because it’s safe for toddlers and kids)
- Pushing a scooter board (especially with hands while riding on belly)
- Stretch band tied around the legs of a chair (awesome for kids in school)
- Through a tunnel (I love resistance tunnels, here’s a DIY version)
- Obstacle course
- Specially designed necklaces, bracelets, and toys
- Crunchy foods (raw veggies, pretzels, etc.)
- Chewy foods (dried fruits, gummy candy, etc.)
- Drinking through a straw
- Milkshake (thicker drinks give even more input)
- Stress ball
- Play dough
- Stretching and pulling on stretchy band (like a yoga or pilates strap)
- Chair push ups
- Jumping jacks
- Push ups
- Rolling on belly over a large yoga ball and using arms to hold up
- Playing in a body sock
- Yoga poses (here are some that target proprioceptive input)
Heavy Work Activities
Heavy work activities mean exactly what the name implies, these activities require our kids to actively use their muscles to push, pull, lift, or carry objects that are heavy. When we use our muscles in this way, it creates resistance and pressure and inadvertently turns on those proprioceptive receptors in the muscles and joints.
I’ve included some of the most common activities below, many of which are chores, that occur often in family life. However, the opportunities are endless, I couldn’t possibly list them all.
Let me tell you about this unique opportunity that occurred in my house the other day…
I was going through the kid’s closets and pulling out clothes that were too small. I had a big pile of clothes in the middle of the room. As I was finishing, my 5 year old proprioceptive seeker walked into the room, perfect timing! I could’ve had him hold the large garbage bag for me as I picked up and dumped the clothes in, but instead I had him do the heavy lifting of putting the clothes into the bag while I held it open. Of course, it took a couple of minutes longer, but it was a way for him to get some quick and powerful proprioceptive input.
When you begin to think about heavy work like this, you’ll be surprised at how often the possibility presents itself! Here are some ideas to inspire you:
- Push/pull heavy objects
- Laundry basket
- Lawn mower
- Grocery cart (could be a play version for young children)
- Carry heavy objects
- Bags or items from grocery store/pantry
- Book bag
- Loaded boxes
- Medicine ball
- Garbage bins/cans to or from the curb
- Pull on a rope (a jump rope can work just fine)
- Tie it to a door knob
- Tie to a tree
- Tie to a swing set
- Tug of war
- Load/unload the dishwasher
Deep Pressure Activities
Deep pressure activities are often passive and provide lots of calming sensations. They are often used when a child has difficulty sitting still or transitioning to different activities. But, these types of activities aren’t received well by all kids. Deep pressure also provides a lot of tactile input, and if your child is sensitive to that, deep pressure may not be a good strategy for them. They’ll let you know!
If you aren’t sure that your child will like these activities, you can experiment by just putting a lot of blankets on them or try placing a heavy object on their lap. If they seem to like it, you may want to invest in (or make) some of the weighted item below. I’ve shared affiliate links to some of my favorite versions below:
- Getting or giving hugs
- Rolling up tightly in blanket like a burrito
- Sitting with a weighted lap pad or toy (Learn how and when to use a weighted lap pad with your child).
- Wearing a weighted or pressure vest (You’ll want to make sure you get the right size and if using weights, the correct amount of weight. I like using this store to order one because they have trained customer service that will help you get what’s right for your child.)
- Squeezing into tight spots
- Lying under heavy objects
- Couch cushions
- Weighted blanket (these are an investment, but for kids that respond well to them, they can be worth every penny. To learn more about if your child will respond to one, get the complete weighted blanket guide, find some DIY tutorials too!)
- Getting or giving a massage
- Joint compressions (one of my favorite quick deep pressure activities, get a full tutorial here)
- Use a large ball to “steam roll” over a child’s body (press firmly, be careful with head)
- Sit or stand on a wiggle seat or wobble cushion (great for when kids need to sit still)
*Note that weighted vests, lap pads, and toys will only be beneficial for about 20 minutes, after that, the body gets used to the weight. It is fine to use a weighted blanket throughout the night though.
Must Read Tips Before Starting Proprioceptive Activities
1. Any of the activities in the above list can be used as often or as little as your child seems to need them. If you aren’t sure when your child “needs” these activities, I’d highly recommend reading about what sensory diet’s are. Even though they don’t sound too pleasant, who likes a diet, they can be quite simple and even life changing. I also have a sensory diet template you can follow that gives you the ins and outs of when to choose what activities. There’s even a free printable template you can snag too!
2. These proprioceptive activities will work for kids of all ages, but you may need to adjust them to fit your child’s development. For instance, an 8 year old can push the cart while you’re in the grocery store, but your 2 year old could use a play cart at home with a couple of heavy cans in it.
3. About half of the activities above are actively controlled by your child. Meaning, they decide how long and hard to run, how many times to jump on the bed, or how many boxes they can pick up. This is ideal because they are determining what is the best level of input for their needs, and they know that better than anyone. However, some of these activities give passive proprioceptive input, like giving joint compressions, a hug, or a massage. That can also be a good thing, and may be necessary, just like it was for the 5 year old I helped at church, but you have to watch for cues that your child isn’t uncomfortable or disliking the input you’re offering.
Grab a Free Printable of 25 Sensory Activities
You’ve learned a lot: what proprioception is, why it matters, how to know if your child is seeking it. Plus, you have tons of inspiration in over 80 different activities that give propriocpetive input.
Want to have a bunch of those ideas and more in a free printable? We’ve got one for you.
Click here and we’ll send 25 sensory activities to your inbox!
More on Sensory Activities
100+ Awesome and Easy Sensory Diet Activities
How to Choose the Right Sensory Toy for Your Child
13 Easy Sensory Strategies for the Classroom
Sensory Strategies for Wild Kids
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.
Hi, my daughter was a sensory-seeker who was constantly requiring proprioceptive input and was lucky enough to get a really great OT who worked on brushing, therapeutic listening, a weighted vest, heavy work activities, and bilateral coordination tasks. She is now in high school and has rolled her ankles several times. Her PT has explained that she has 0 proprioceptive input and her ligaments are completely stretched out. Is there a link between these two?
Hi Alicia, there definitely could be a link between your daughter’s stretched ligaments and having no proprioceptive input. You said your daughter was a sensory seeker, which means she has a higher threshold before information (pain in this case) can be received from the brain. She might not have been noticing any pain due to her under-responsiveness as a sensory seeker.
Thank you for this article, this just confirms my suspicions that certain activities are making my sons behaviour worse, not better.
What would screen time (mainly TV, not devices) do to a proprioceptive seeking kid? Would it be beneficial to incorporate proprioceptive stimulating activities before or after screens?
Generally Proprioceptive activities are calming. So if you are looking to get your child to sit for a period of time, you’d want to do the activities prior to sitting so that they are calm and are able to focus!
thanks very much for a comprehensive guide about proprioceptive activities. my 5 year old nephew is autistic and have adhd so these list of ideas will be very helpful.
Awesome!! So happy we can help! Enjoy!
Whats your take on the sensory brushing protocol in dealing with sensory defensiveness?
I love it, and think it can be effective, but the copyright states that therapists aren’t allowed to share instructions online.
I just want to say Thank you. I am reading this with tears in my eyes, as I finally feel like I have a direction of how to help our son. I had a conversation yesterday with our son’s PT and she sent me this article. We’ve really been struggling with how to help our almost 4 year old with focusing and settling down – I hadn’t even heard the word “proprioceptive” until yesterday. I feel like you’re describing my son to a “T”. I can’t wait to try some of these techniques. Thank you again.
That’s so great Teresa! I’m so glad it was helpful!! This post on sensory red flags might be helpful for you and there’s a free printable you can grab at the end too.
Do children “grow out” of this need for proprioceptive input? Is it a life long seeking behavior? I have a 15 month old and he does lot of the seeking behaviors you listed. I’ve been trying to better understand how I can help him and I’m so glad I came across your page.
Some children do for sure and a lot of these can get integrated! Keep an open mind to possibly getting occupational therapy for him, he may or may not need that, but it can be very helpful!
Thank you for sharing this information. It explains EVERYTHING about my wild 2-year-old! I am actually tearing up I am so relieved to understand why he is doing what he is doing and how I can help him. Ever since he was born he has had an immense demand for proprioceptive input, ALWAYS needing to be held and carried and rocked and walked. Now he’s that classic cart-pushing, ball-bouncing, running and jumping and wrestling toddler 24/7! On the plus side this hyper-sense has enabled him to develop better balance and hand-eye coordination than is usual for his age (and frankly is even better than mine).
WOW Abigail I am so happy that this article was so helpful to you! It sounds like you are getting a great sense and picture of what your child needs! We do have a free workshop that dives even further into guiding and helping your child with their sensory needs!
You can save your seat here yourkidstable.com/workshop
I’ve just stumbled across your website and it’s proving a God-send! So this is just a quick note to say thank you, whole-heartedly.
Thank you Nicki! I’m so glad you found your way here!
Thanks for such a wonderful article
My 5.5 yr old son ASD is basically very lethargic but sometimes he becomes hyperactive also- running, jumping, bit in fingers, he likes hugging, holding other’s hair tightly.
Pls help what is this mixed condition and what activities I should make him do?
Heavy work activities can be super helpful in both instances, but try to find something that he’s interested in and target the energy. Have you seen our free sensory workshop? I think it would be really helpful!
Thank you so much for this! We’ve noticed our 7yo son (ADHD) loves to work on our land. He chops trees with his hatchet, drags them to the brush pile, stacks logs, digs holes, climbs, rakes leaves, and can keep up with grown men working. These are the best days we have with him. It’s incredible to watch how strong he is and how hard he works..and enjoys it! He begs to go everyday! I’ve been looking for any information to try to understand this about him and you have helped a lot!
I love that!! Wow, so incredible, it makes me so happy to hear that he’s doing what his body needs and its helping him. Heavy work activities are powerful for a lot of kids!
How do I access the book of activities for propprioception activities
I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you mean by the book of activities?
I’ve been an OTR for 40 years, so “Hello” from a fellow-O.T. Speaking of proprioception, I’m considering taking taking a weekend course called Kidding Around Yoga. It’s a course that teaches us how to do yoga activities with kids. My daughter-in-law took the course a few weeks ago and highly recommended it to me. Have you ever heard of this course and wondered if you have any opinion about the course. Thanks for your article on pinterest.
Hello! Love having other OT’s around here. I haven’t heard of it, but I love yoga for kids!
Alisha would you mind if I used just portions of your blog as resources for child care providers of heavy work activities they can use in their area? I think the entire article may be a little overwhelming and I love your variety of activities.
Hi Mishellean, all of the information Alisha puts on the blog is copyrighted and cannot be copied or distributed. You are more than welcome to share the links to the posts so parents can view the information for themselves, but we ask that you don’t print anything to hand out to anyone.
Thankyou Alisha, the enormous amount of knowledge I got from this page is overwhelming. The doctors still doesn’t know whether my son is ADHD or high functional autism since he is very hyperactive and non verbal he is 4 year old. I read so many of the big words like proprioceptors and vestibulators but never knew what they meant and neither did his doctors or OT bothered to explain. You cannot believe how happy I am to come across your page. The way you explained it and the simplicity of it, is really amazing for people like us. I cannot thankyou you enough. You are amazing!!!
You’re comment made my day, thank you for taking the time to send it! My goal is always to simplify, I’m pretty passionate about it actually. Have you been able to start trying any of the strategies or activities yet?
Wow Alisha.From one OT to another, This is a BRILLIANT ARTICLE!!! So much useful info and tips. Well done. Greetings from Namibia.
My son had sleep issues he won’t sleep at night. I make him work some heavy activities
But he wont do tht. He had tactile desensitized. I need to know to give pressure in hands activities so tht he can hold heavy items. In his hands. He is non verbal age 10yrs.also he do very much pinching how do I improve
I wouldn’t enforce any sensory activities. Instead, focus on activities he enjoys and that seem to calm him, this could take some experimenting. Check out our free workshop to learn more about, it’s all about how to set up a sensory diet that works for your child 🙂