Knowing Your Senses

Knowing your Senses…

Most of us are familiar with the 5 senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

But did you know that we have two other important senses??

Our VESTIBULAR sense is what helps our body stay balanced and know how fast it is moving. The inner ear is mainly responsible for this sense. You may have felt your vestibular sense get overwhelmed on a roller coaster.

Our sense of PROPRIOCEPTION is what tells our brain about our body position and helps us feel where our arms and legs are in space without looking at them. It also helps us to know how much force to use when picking up an object or pouring a liquid.

In order to make sense of our world, coordinate our movements, and stay balanced when walking, running and climbing we need to have all senses calibrated.

When children are having difficulty organizing or integrating their senses, they may have difficulty with routines, may seem over-responsive or under-responsive to sounds, textures, heights, etc. They may seem clumsy or have difficulty learning new motor tasks.

When all of our senses are working well together, our bodies feel comfortable, we feel in control, and we have fun learning and growing.

As a pediatric physical therapist, I work with many children helping their bodies to integrate their senses in order to improve their strength, coordination and balance. Here are some things you can do at home to help your child maximize the coordination of all his senses.

1. Make time to be active as a family.

Take an evening walk after dinner. Have jumping, pushups, crab walking, jogging in place, jumping jacks, standing on one foot, etc. challenges at commercial breaks during your favorite family TV show – instead of channel surfing, mute the TV and watch your child get stronger every day…or join in! Add a park visit to your weekend grocery shopping trip – even use it as a reward for good behavior or helpfulness at the store. Watch one fewer TV show each day and use that time to run, walk, jump, kick a ball, throw and catch, or ride a bicycle with your child.

2. Make the environment challenging.

Help your child to walk along the rim of the playground or lines on a basketball court with one foot in front of the other, as if it were a balance beam. Put the couch cushions down on the floor and challenge your child to crawl across or between them on hands and knees – add to the game by placing puzzle pieces at one end of the row of cushions and the puzzle board at the other. Walk or run up and down the hills in your neighborhood or at the park. When heading to put on pajamas or brush teeth each night, have your child choose an animal and then “walk” or move like that animal to the bedroom or bathroom.

3. Schedule a few minutes of quiet time every evening for finger practice.

Give your child a specific time and place every day to do projects like coloring, cutting shapes out of paper, practicing handwriting, stringing beads or dry noodles, playing with stickers, squeezing playdough, completing puzzles, stacking blocks, etc.


4. Encourage your child’s sensory integration, dexterity and coordination.

Allow your child to have a small sample of whatever you are cooking for dinner, to practice stirring, pouring, tasting, mixing, touching with hands, etc. Make sure it is sanitary and safe, but you would be surprised what your child can learn and do just by experimenting with water, sauces, dough, rice, beans, etc. Let your child help you open and close Ziploc bags. Push your child around the house in a cardboard box or laundry basket. Put on some old clothes and let your child play in the mud, jump in the puddles and roll around in the grass.


5. Show your child the world from a different angle.

Tipping your child upside-down, showing her how to lie upside down with her head hanging off the edge of the bed for a few seconds, dancing with your child, piggyback rides, holding hands and walking in a circle, and jumping or walking backwards will not only help your child improve her coordination, but it might even teach her to approach a problem from a variety of angles to find the best solution.

6. Consider extracurricular activities like martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, and swimming to help improve strength, balance and coordination.

Jennifer Spiric, PT, DPT

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