The Best Kinesthetic Activities to Build Better Kinesthesia in Kids
When we walk forwards, our brains know that we are walking forwards and not backwards. When we lift our arms up, our brains know that we are lifting our arms up and not to the side.
Awareness of how our bodies are moving is all thanks to kinesthesia. Whether we’re sitting, standing, jumping, or swinging, our brains are following along and understanding the what, where, when, and how of our movements.
Not only does kinesthesia help our brains understand body movements, it does so without us needing to look. We don’t need to see our feet move in order to understand that we’re walking forwards and not backwards. Overtime, we develop motor patterns for the activities we do on a daily basis. Kinesthesia is what allows our bodies to perform these motor patterns without a great deal of effort and needing to look at what we’re doing step-by-step.
How do our brains and bodies stay on the same page exactly? When kinesthesia is working properly, we’re successfully receiving sensory input from the body that is being processed and integrated by the brain, which then results in movement. When I take a step forward, my brain uses sensory input to understand that I took a step forward and to tell my body to take another step forward.
When there’s a hiccup in kinesthesia, it can be hard to perform movements smoothly. If I don’t understand that I’m walking forwards, I may lose my balance. If I can’t walk forwards without looking at my feet, walking becomes an exhausting process.
In short, it’s a sensory integration problem. Those that struggle with kinesthesia aren’t able to properly use and sort the sensory information coming in, which makes it challenging to plan and anticipate movement.
The Key to Building Kinesthesia Skills
It’s time to get MOVING!
For kiddos that struggle with kinesthesia, movement is key. The brain and body really want to function properly and optimally. Basically, your kiddo’s system is craving good kinesthesia skills and is working really hard to improve them. The more opportunities we can give our kiddos to practice movement, the more time their bodies will have to learn how to properly integrate the sensory information coming in so as to refine their kinesthetic abilities.
Kinesthesia is as Easy as Riding A Bike
Think about learning to ride a bike. While the movements were awkward at first and you couldn’t steer without looking at your handle bars, your body got used to it overtime.
Eventually, riding a bike felt natural.
You know that saying, “as easy as riding a bike”? There’s a reason why we seem to never forget how to ride a bike, no matter how many years have passed.
During those frustrating days of childhood when we couldn’t seem to understand how to pedal and stay balanced at the same time, our brains and bodies were doing important work.
After a lot of practice, we developed a specific motor pattern that made bike riding suddenly seem easy. Even years later, many of us can jump on bikes and ride as easily as we did when we were kids. No matter how much time has passed, we still hold on to that motor pattern.
Work on Developing Motor Patterns
Similar to how we practiced bike riding over and over and over again before we developed a motor pattern for it and mastered it, our kiddos also need to practice the skills they struggle with. Pick some key activities and practice, practice, practice. Once your kiddo masters an activity, move on to the next.
As your child develops new movement skills, they are helping their bodies understand how to properly integrate sensory information, which will in turn improve their kinesthesia.
You may be thinking, “wow, this is going to take a long time.” Yeah, that’s true. There is no quick fix for kinesthesia, let alone any sensory issue.
That said, think about how much easier it was to learn to ride a scooter or a motorcycle after already learning to ride a bike?
After developing a motor pattern for a certain activity, that same motor pattern can then be used to more quickly acquire skills in other areas.
As your child builds their motor skills, they will become more adept at movement overall and learn how to process sensory information more effectively.
Improving Kinesthesia is Hard
While kiddos that struggle with kinesthesia benefit from movement, they may shy away from practicing their skills at first. Think about the first time you fell off your bike. While you eventually got back on and tried again, you probably cried for a bit and wanted to do something else.
At first, building better kinesthetic skills can feel like walking through mud. Each step is a big effort that requires careful planning, coordination, and thought. As the mud loosens up, you no longer have to look at your feet and steps become more fluid. In the same way that riding a bike feels more natural now than it did on day 1, all new movement activities are going to be very challenging at first.
As we often believe in Occupational Therapy, the best therapeutic activities are the ones that are helpful without the kiddo even knowing it.
The activities below are great choices for helping kiddos develop their motor and kinesthesia skills at various levels.
Yoga is a rockstar activity when it comes to developing better motor and kinesthesia skills, as it can be adapted to all skill levels.
If your kiddo really struggles with kinesthesia, begin with poses that keep both feet on the ground and only move one body part at a time. During these initial stages, your kiddo can watch their arm as it moves up and down or their foot step backwards and forwards.
As your kiddo progresses, challenge them to balance on one foot or move two body parts at a time. You can also challenge their kinesthesia skills by having them close their eyes or look in a different direction as they move.
Take a Dance Class or Join a Sports Team
If your kiddo has a passion for something, embrace it. Dance, theater, soccer, taekwondo, baseball, and tennis will keep your child moving in a fun way. This recommendation really depends on your child’s readiness though. A team or group may be really motivating and a great way for your kiddo to feel inspired to participate. On the other hand, if your kiddo is really embarrassed about their motor limitations, you’ll want to introduce this idea carefully and in accordance with your child’s needs.
If your kiddo isn’t ready for group participation yet, here are some great at-home activities that can help them build their skills and their confidence.
Video games aren’t bad! If used in the right ways, video games can help our kiddos build important skills. If you have an old Nintendo Wii, that’s great for movement! The Wii is now discontinued though, so if you’re in the market for a video game system that supports movement games, grab a Nintendo Switch.
What I love about movement video games is that it can help kids practice movements they otherwise may not have had access to. For example, a kid can refine the motor skills required to swing a tennis racket without ever being on the court. While a Nintendo Wii doesn’t replace the real thing, it can keep kiddos moving when they may have otherwise been sitting and staring at the TV.
The Wiggle Box
This classic game actually has a lot of therapeutic benefit as far as kinesthesia is concerned. After each command, kids have to understand which body part they are being asked to move and then move it properly. Increase the challenge by having kids close their eyes as they play.
Twister is on so many of my lists for great motor games. If your kiddo is doing well with Simon Says, Twister can add a balance component to the mix. Understanding which body part to move and then moving it to the proper place while staying upright is quite a challenge and a great way to work on motor skills.
Any Heavy Work Activity
Heavy work is a favorite topic here at The Sensory Toolbox. It’s just so good for improving sensory processing! When our kiddos engage in heavy work, they are flooding their systems with sensory input. Think about the difference between tapping your toe and stomping your foot.
The more input we can give the body, the more information it has to work with and the better it can understand the world around it. If we have our kiddos push a heavy box across the room, there is so much sensory input coming through their arms that their bodies can better understand that their arms are in front of them performing a task.
While kinesthesia can seem like a daunting thing, our kiddos will naturally improve as they interact with the world. The more that they move, the more their bodies will learn how to properly integrate the sensory information they’re receiving and develop the motor patterns necessary for daily activities. Once those motor patterns are ingrained, little effort will be needed to take a step forward without looking. Kinesthesia comes with time and, like everything, is a sensory block that is built with time.