Propioception: Or, How I Learned to Stop Tripping and Love Balance

Every once in awhile, my son goes through a stage where he trips and falls over his feet at every turn or bonks his head on the corners as he’s rounding from one room to another.  Sure enough, shortly after I notice one of these phases, I also notice that his shirt sleeves are a little too small and his pant legs are a little too high off the ground.  (Ugh!  We JUST bought you those!) While his new size may be only just noticeable to my eye, it’s clear it even a small growth spurt means that his body can’t quite figure out where it starts and stops.

Have you noticed that in a Kindermusik class we might play a “follow-the-leader” type game?  What about going for rides in the laundry baskets or swinging in a towel?  Sometimes we make a big tunnel of hula hoops for the kids to go through.  All of these activities are designed to increase our children’s propioception, or their ability to move through space with fluidity.  In the ever-expanding “Wow! Our Bodies Can Do That?” column of awe, we can list: “they send our brains constant information about where and how we are in space.”  This is what allows us to kick a soccer ball or use scissors.

Propioception is basically what my son lacks when he falls out of his chair.  He’s 8, now, and finally better; but, for a long time I was convinced that one day I would get a call from his seventh grade math teacher saying, “Your son is a dream to teach [hey, as long as this is my fantasy, I’ll hope for the best], but he always falls out of his seat.”  Nevertheless, his balance on a bicycle is far greater than that of my 2-year-old nephew’s.  Clearly, we develop these skills over time and with practice, including participating in activities such as the ones we do in Kindermusik.  (I suspect this is probably why my son is even as good as he is!).

Check out this great video that explains just how important movement is to our bodies.  I really appreciated seeing just how normal it is for there to be fingerprints all up and down the walls in my house.  Maybe this will help me react with more patience next time I’m scrubbing up.

Incidentally, propioception is also one of the things that police officers are looking for when they administer field sobriety tests.  If you drive by a New Year’s Eve traffic stop and you see a driver out of her or his car walking a white line, will you remember to come back to the blog and tell us that you saw first-hand what can happen when somone’s propioception was compromised?

(Important note: There are some real, neurological disorders that may present themselves in children who seem to be atypical in developing their sense of body awareness.   If you suspect that something is “off,” please pursue appropriate avenues to get help in diagnoses and resources.)