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March 30, 2022

Developing the Senses - Proprioception

There is so much we can learn through our senses. As humans move through the world, we are constantly assessing our surroundings with all the tools that our body provides. The assessments are often immediate and sometimes even unconsciously preformed. As Maria Montessori explained all those years ago, and as we know from modern science, children have heightened sensory awareness as they learn about the world. That's why Montessori materials include such heavy sensory input. Children learn first through their senses, it's literally how they make sense of the world. 

Proprioception is one such sense, but not one that we often hear about. The proprioception system, along with the vestibular system, are two important senses that we should be aware of as parents. We want to make sure our environment is allowing our children to develop both. 

What is the Proprioceptive Sense? 

The proprioceptive sense allows people to know where they are in time and space in relationship to their environment. The proprioceptive sense comes from your muscles and your joints and their communication with our brain. It's how we know where the end of our arm is, or how close or far we should walk to get through a doorway without bumping into the sides. It's this sense that allows us to physically move through the world without consciously calculating every distance and every step. 

Proprioception is also essential to understanding how much force is needed for a particular task. "For instance, picking a dandelion seems easy enough. But when you pull, the flower is surprisingly resistant. Before you can even register this consciously, your proprioceptors have already communicated with your brain, which has commanded the muscles to use more energy." (A Moving Child is a Learning Child) Practically this can look like children ramming into things, doing things too roughly/softly, or just not having well defined body awareness.

Supporting Proprioception in Montessori Environments

Maria Montessori wrote a lot about the fact that toddlers, in particular, seek to exert maximum effort in their work. They seem to need big, heavy work to develop themselves, and seek this work on their own. What Maria Montessori called "maximum effort" is our proprioceptive system at work. In order to develop a strong proprioceptive sense, children need to move and exercise their bodies in big ways. They need to exert maximum effort. The more children move their bodies, the more they can develop this sense. 

Sometimes I think that Montessori can also look like small work at a table, but in order to fully develop this sense, Montessori environments must include respect for and allow for large, heavy movement. So mostly what children in Montessori environments need is an understanding adult that supports their need to move. In Montessori environments this is often done through practical experiences in the environment - gardening, hauling laundry baskets, moving trays across the room, pouring water and other maximum effort activities. 

For Babies: Time on the floor to explore their bodies
For Babies: Things to mouth - the jaw is an important source of proprioceptive input
Heavy Ball: perfect for throwing, catching, rolling but much heavier 
Squeezing things: paint bottles, clay, play dough, deep hugs 
Crashing: allow for crashing (into cushion, Nugget, or couch) and rough play (in a safe area), wrestling, rolling
Hauling and Pushing: loading a small wagon or wheelbarrow, pushing a small grocery cart, large dump truck
Maximum Effort: read more maximum effort ideas Here | Here | Here

Once again, I am not an occupational therapist and am sharing an overview of the proprioception system, read more about proprioception here:

Read about how to support other senses in Montessori environments here: Hearing | Visual | Taste | Touch | Vestibular

Montessori learning is all about engaging the senses. Here's a look at the proprioceptive sense and ideas to support it in Montessori homes.


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