This week, I listened to a podcast episode of the Child Care Bar & Grill titled Heavy Work Makes You Happy. This concept isn't new to me, although it is definitely something I have only really had a good understanding of since being introduced to the work of Angela Hanscom some six or seven years ago.
This snippet of an interview with Angela Hanscom, explains it pretty well:
"Part of the problem is that their proprioception system, which is the senses in your joints and muscles, is off. That system helps regulate how hard you push or pull things, so when they go to tag they might push too hard. It’s because they’re not moving enough and they’re not doing enough heavy work throughout the day. To do heavy work, you really need to move your whole body – picking up a pencil is not heavy work, but climbing a tree is. You’re giving senses to the joints when you climb; there’s pressure there. So as occupational therapists we use heavy work as a treatment but they get that naturally through play."
So, if we know that heavy work is important for a healthy proprioceptive system, how do we support that in our services?
Here are five simple ideas:
- Include wheelbarrows, carts and wagons in your outdoor space. Children can fill these with various loose parts items and push or pull them around the environment.
- Provide opportunities for rough and tumble play - allowing children to wrestle and engage in big body movements and contact with one another is great heavy work. Get some crash mats, talk with children about how they can keep themselves and others feeling safe, and get to it. (If you need more support around rough and tumble play, check out this online training recording with Mike Huber)
- Encourage children to help with setting up gross motor equipment - you know the large A Frames and planks that you lug out of the shed? Many children love being involved in the set up of these spaces and helping to carry the equipment to where it is needed.
- Dig in the dirt. Digging in sand offers little resistance, while digging in dirt is much harder and requires more strength, force and big body movement. Provide larger, real shovels.
- Be okay with children transporting materials! Filling a bucket with water, or sand, or dirt, or woodchip, and carrying it to another part of the playground is a great heavy work experience. Too often we stop this in it's tracks with "sand stays in the sandpit." While there can be places we don't want piles of sand for safety reasons, we do need to let go a little bit of the image of perfection that we sometimes have in our spaces (ps - no judgement, I used to sift leaves out of the sandpit in my early days) and simply observe the exploration and play, and its purpose.
There you have it. 5 really simple ideas. Are you providing opportunities for Heavy Work in your environment? We would love to hear about them in the comments!
And - if you want to know more about Heavy Work (and a whole bunch of other amazing things!) we recommend Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela Hanscom