If you have had any interactions with a pediatric occupational therapist you have definitely heard the term heavy work. Heavy work is a term occupational therapists use when a child needs more physical exercise or input into their body, not necessarily because they are out of shape or weak, but because their body either craves it more than others or needs the input to help keep their body and sensory system calm and regulated.
Do any of you watch Jane the Virgin? Her son, Mateo, was recently diagnosed with ADHD and the tried to implement “heavy exercise”, as they called it, to help his focus. I believe what they were referring to was heavy work! Which can actually be really helpful for kids with ADHD, the trick is to find heavy work that is motivating for the child.
So what is heavy work actually?
Heavy work is proprioceptive input, or input into your muscles and joints. You receive input when a muscle contracts (like a bicep curl), a joint compresses (the bones in the joint are pushing into each other) or a joint distracts (the bones in the joints are being pulled away from each other). As you know, you have muscles and joints all over your body, so there are a lot of options for heavy work. In my experience, the best and most calming heavy work or proprioceptive input is when the upper body is involved. So maybe that is why Mateo didn’t see a lot of progress with running? Heavy work should be completed when the child is already somewhat calm, do not wait until a meltdown occurs, because usually a child will not comply. Heavy work can positively impact the serotonin in your brain, release oxytocin and endorphins into the brain that positively impact how you respond to stress.
The main idea is to push, pull, lift, drag, or climb EVERY DAY. Here are some fun ways for a child get heavy work:
- Fill a laundry basket with clean clothes and have the child follow you by pushing the laundry basket around the house and help you put the clothes away
- Fill a play stroller or grocery cart with a couple bags of dried beans or cans of food to add extra weight and have the child push it around.
- Bonus points for turning this pushing activity into an obstacle course or pretend play grocery shopping
- Allow your child to help carry groceries inside, in fact, have them push the grocery cart at the store.
- Take the garbage out
- Fill a wheelbarrow full of rocks found in the yard and push and dump the wheelbarrow into a pile across the yard
- Animal walks. My favorites are crab walks, worm crawl, backwards bear walks, wheelbarrow (not an animal), and donkey kicks – anything that puts a lot of weight into the hands and shoulders.
- Example: Bear walk to breakfast, crab walk to get dressed, worm crawl to the door to go to school!
- Pretend you need help getting into the house and have your child push you. Make it a little more difficult than it really is by resisting their push slightly. 😊
- Some of my favorite community heavy work activities are gymnastics, swimming, rock climbing and parcore
- Get a heavy and large bean bag (this one is AMAZING! and this one is more budget friendly) and hide balloons under it. Request one balloon at a time so they have to lift the bean back multiple times. Once they retrieve it have them pump it up using my favorite balloon pump. Then watch the balloon fly (this part is just for fun). Repeat until all the balloons have been found.
- Play yoga bowling! Put a yoga card (I like yogarilla cards and yoga pretzel cards) under a bowling pin and roll a weighted ball to knock them down. Each time a pin gets knocked over you do the yoga pose under the pin!
- Get out Mr. Potato head. Put all the pieces on one side of the kitchen table (on the floor) and sit at the other side with the potato part (also on the floor). Have them army crawl to under the table get each piece, one at a time, until complete.
- OBSTACLE COURSE. Make an American Ninja Warrior Course OR do something ridiculously simple. Kids LOVE rescuing stuffed animals (. Hide them or put them somewhere difficult to reach (under that heavy bean bag, on a top bunk bed, under a couch cushion, wherever). A simple obstacle course would be to crawl through a tunnel (the secret passage way), save the animal, then crab walk with the animal on their stomach (they can pretend to be a car), and then put the animal to bed so it can rest from the adventure. OH NO! The bear is stuck now! I feel like 4-6 is usually the magic number for repetitions.
- Shucking corn before dinner!
- Play don’t touch the floor and make it so difficult that arms have to be used to keep their balance and not fall. I love using these for this game!
- Turn Candy Land into a heavy work game. Each color is assigned a yoga pose or animal walk. In order to move your player piece you have to complete the pose or walk for 10-20 seconds. Elementary aged kids love this. And yes, you have to do the poses too!
Do you have a favorite upper body heavy work activity? Please Share!