Samantha Tolley and colleagues talk about pushing, pulling and lifting.

When a child has sensory processing difficulties, appropriate automatic reactions and behaviours are not as forthcoming. They may be  unable to effectively process and interpret all of the information received through the senses.One of these sensory processing difficulties is often a difficulty with proprioception,  the sense that allows us to understand where in a space our body parts are, how they can move, and the strength required to move them in different situations. Proprioception difficulties can mean that children consistently handle things with more force than necessary, have a desire to feel enclosed in what they’re wearing or struggle to lift things that seem heavy. 

In Educational Health and Care Plans for children with sensory processing disorders, Occupational Therapists will often recommend heavy work activities, to support their proprioception development. ‘Heavy Work’ as a phenomenon has grown rapidly over recent years. In essence, Heavy Work refers to muscle movement that involves lifting, pushing, or pulling. This could refer to pushing a shopping trolley, pulling a toy on wheels, or lifting items above their heads and throwing them towards a target. The muscular resistance that occurs during these movements is ultimately what makes these activities so beneficial for children with sensory processing difficulties or disorders. 

Taking Heavy Work Outdoors Can Be Fun and Support Healthy Development 
Getting outdoors in the fresh air and ensuring a level of participation in heavy work activities daily is essential for developing a healthy sensory diet for your pupils. Without an environment where heavy work can take place and is encouraged, children may have a strong desire for sensory input. This can lead to unsafe play activities such as jumping and leaping across furniture, trees, and classroom equipment. Creating an environment where heavy work is encouraged and facilitated is key in supporting a healthy sensory diet.

Trim Trails are an excellent physical development resource for children of any age and ability. The trail can be customised to suit the needs of your pupils, selecting items that best meet their needs and creating a space where their development is prioritised. Pupils can use rope and net to pull themselves along, engaging their upper arm muscles. Climbing walls are also a great resource for encouraging children to use their leg muscles to push themselves along.

Outdoor Gym Equipment also offers fantastic opportunities for children to get some fresh air while targeting specific muscles and building their sensory processing skills. Depending on children’s abilities, they could use an air skier to push their legs back and forth, pushing against the resistance to build their strength. If there is not  access to an outdoor gym facility, taking bikes or scooters out onto the playground also offers a great space for pupils to concentrate their energy and practise the pushing of their leg muscles. 

Mud, Glorious Mud, There’s Nothing Quite Like It…
Messy Play can also be fantastic for heavy work, inviting pupils to lift buckets and cups of mud, water, and sand, all weighing differently, engaging their muscles and also providing them a safe environment to practise lifting. If anything spills, then it’s okay, because it’s a messy play session anyway! 

There are many exciting and engaging ways to incorporate heavy work into your everyday outdoor play sessions to offer a balanced and healthy sensory diet to your pupils, supporting those with sensory processing disorders..

Pentagon Play
Author: Pentagon Play

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Pentagon Play
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Pentagon Play is the UK’s Number One School Playground Specialist with a mission of improving children’s lives today to shape happier and healthier grown-ups tomorrow.



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