Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
Summer has arrived, and we are often found filling our days with trips to the beach to soak up the sun, water, and sand. Going to the beach is a great way to embrace summer. It offers so much fun for children of all ages, despite developmental needs, and much peace for adults. When looking at the beach experience in terms of sensory inputs, we typically hone in on the tactile benefits that it offers. However, it provides the perfect landscape for meeting the proprioceptive/heavy work needs of any child.
As we sit back and watch the joy that comes on many of the faces of the children playing in the sand, we are taken back to our own childhood. The laughing, giggling, and excitement reminds us of a time when we were able to let go of any inhibition of sitting in the sand, having it all over our bodies, and in our suits to just have a little bit of pure fun. The best part of playing in the sand is definitely the end product of the castle that is built or the hole that is dug, but in working hard to achieve this our little ones' sensory systems are being fed buckets full of proprioceptive input. As they dig through the sand with any type of shovel, or even the use of their hands, the resistance of the sand to fill their buckets or dig a moat provides a good amount of feedback. And typically, those buckets need to be carried or dumped which helps to offer some great 'heavy work'. Since this is pure fun, you can watch your child do this over and over again, unlike when Mom or Dad tries to achieve getting this input at home (with those 'great' sensory diet activities provided by their OT)! Running to the shore to fill up buckets of water, or the wet sand (which build the best castles) intensifies the input our children receive. So next time you want to help carry that bucket, take a step back and let those sensory systems be fed. For those who like to dig, digging a hole just the right size for some body burying in the sand, not only is a nice tactile experience, but it is a built-in weighted blanket!
And to beat the heat, or remove all that sand from our bodies, 'diving' right into the water is another great way to meet our proprioceptive needs. Swimming alone provides a full body experience. Whether you are at the ocean or a lake, the swimming, bouncing, and just overall movement within in the water offers great benefits. And when those waves come crashing in, our bodies get a rush of proprioceptive input. Water play is especially ideal for our older children, so grab a ball or Frisbee, and play some catch in the water...with all the fun that is happening they will not even realize the 'work' their bodies are doing. In addition, using a body board can also help those older children work through some motor planning needs.
Therefore, whether you are lucky enough to have a beach near your home, or you are packing up the family car for vacation, it is great to see that a trip to the beach is not only fun and relaxing, but also very beneficial for our sensory systems. It is not just the heat that tires our children it out, it is all the excellent 'heavy work' they do while having fun!