ADVICE: Why Does My Kid Seem Uncoordinated?
Developing body awareness and understanding its effect on coordination
Body awareness is an important part of the developmental process, but it’s not a milestone we pay much attention to. For many of us, body awareness is not something we have to think about as we go about our day.
Body awareness is having a sense of where our body’s parts are in space and how those parts move. The awareness of what our body is doing plays an important role in learning new motor skills and how to coordinate our body parts to carry out these skills. This knowledge helps up to know how high we need to step to step over something, how far we need to reach to grab something, how much force to use when holding something, and it allows us to walk without watching our feet.
Children who struggle with body awareness can be affected in a variety of ways. They may:
- Appear clumsy and uncoordinated
- Struggle with understanding personal space
- Fall, trip, or bump into things frequently
- Have trouble learning new motor skills
- Have difficulty holding a pencil and use too little or too much pressure when writing
- Have difficulty imitating movements
- Struggle with understanding spatial concepts such as over, under, left, right, etc.
- Play too rough or move too fast
Whether you worry that your child struggles with body awareness or just want to make sure they have a good foundation as they develop, you can incorporate these fun activities into their play:
Proprioceptive activities. The proprioceptive sense plays a huge role in body awareness. Learn more about this and find a list of proprioceptive activities here.
Shadow. Have your child be your shadow and mimic your actions (march in place, do jumping jacks, raise your right arm over your head to touch your left ear)
Simon Says. “Simon” can focus on commands that encourage movement and identification of certain body parts, such as “Simon says touch your right elbow to your left knee” or “Simon says touch your nose with your ring finger.” To make it more challenging, try this with closed eyes.
Obstacle courses. Create an indoor or outdoor obstacle course that focuses on gross motor skills and directionality. Crawl under the table. Jump over the pillow. Wheelbarrow around the chair.
Dance to action songs. Perform the actions as you sing songs like “Hokey Pokey” or “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”
Imitate animal movements. Ask your child to imitate movements such as jumping like a frog, hopping like a bunny, slithering like a snake, walking like a crab, or crawling like a bear.
Balance. Encourage your child to stand or hop on one leg or walk across a balance beam, two by four laying on the ground, or a line marked with painter’s tape. Keep your eyes open for places to balance while outside such as curbs or low retaining walls.
Hopscotch. Make a hopscotch grid out of chalk on the cement or mark it out with painter’s tape on the floor and have your child hop with both feet or one at a time.
Create self-portraits. Ask your child to draw a picture of themselves then name the body parts.
Sidewalk jumps. While on a walk, have your child jump forward, backward, or sideways over the line in the sidewalks.
Motor skill practice, play, and repetition are the keys to developing body awareness. As always, the most important part is having fun with it!
CINDY UTZINGER is an occupational therapist, mother of two, and author of Why Is My Kid Doing That?, a book to help parents better understand their child’s behavior.