In our OT sessions at the Sunshine Center, we sing a song “let your eyes tell your body what to do”. We use this song to gently remind our children to look around, take note of the area and then move. We are trying to replace “on the go” actions with conscious awareness of the room. However, this process of reminding your eyes to look around before moving is so exhausting. We usually do this automatically but if our kids forget to look around we have to lovingly remind them. Our children would much rather run around and crash into a walls, floors, tables or people then take the time to look around and make postural adjustments safely around an obstacle. This crashing into things uses the proprioceptive system in place of the visual system. Once you crash into something you know where it is which is much easier to do than to use your eyes especially if the eye muscles are weak.
The proprioceptive system is made up of muscles and joints. The muscles move the joints and together they move the body from one point to another. We can move quickly, slowly, make sudden stops, scale couches and jump off of curbs. We use our eyes to decide how much force we need to generate to jump over a toy, and we use the information from our eyes to walk around obstacles that are in our way. Sometimes our kids bump into things because their muscles and joints are not working well together and this interferes with fluid movement. Our children have no way of figuring out how to get their bodies to work right so we can help them by making exercise fun.
Create an obstacle course in the house and have them complete the obstacle course over and over so they have to make a number of different movement decisions. You can change the challenges of the obstacle course often so they have to discover new ways to move their muscles and joints. Place a crash pad of pillows at the end to make it fun and silly. An obstacle course will help them train their visual scanning system to look around to see what they need to do next and the course will train the muscles and joints to navigate around obstacles. If they lose their balance on any part of the course, the vestibular system detects this change in position and immediately sends information to the the muscles and joints so the body stays upright. The vestibular system knows when the body is off balance and the muscles and joints help the body regain balance.
The visual system, the proprioceptive system and the vestibular system need each other to help our children move easily and efficiently. If any of the systems are not working well, it’s our job to provide our kids with fun gross motor experiences that help build body awareness, help the body move efficiently, help them to use their eyes to be aware of the environment and to coordinate these 3 systems for interactions in the community. The end result is for the child to be able to move and respond to challenges in a way that leads them to wanting to engage more, play safely and ultimately gain a sense of joy and accomplishment.
So when you see your child is running around and they bump into a wall, or trip over obstacles simply start singing “let your eyes tell your body what to do”, set up movement challenges and let them move through an obstacle course until they tire. You could also help the vestibular system by taking them to the playground making sure that they spin, and swing side to side and front to back. Have them roll over on the ground, do a somersault, lean back on a ball or walk on a balance beam/curb. Empower your children to be the boss of their bodies, praise them for looking around, and challenge them to a relay race where they have a visual target and have to speed up and slow down at different points. Clumsy kids need our help to create that just right activity that is fun and challenging. Tug-o-war, hiking, swimming, rock climbing, wheel barrow walk and bouncing on an outdoor trampoline are excellent ways to strengthen a clumsy body. Have fun!