Heavy Work: What is it and why do preschoolers need it? 

Jaletha Smith

Jaletha Smith, PEDALS Coach

By Jaletha Smith, PEDALS Coach

Do you have children in your classroom who have behavior issues, special needs, or are over or under responsive? Heavy work might be the remedy to help with that child’s situation. 

What is heavy work? 

Heavy work is a strategy used to target the sense of proprioception. Proprioception is responsible for helping our body understand where it is in space. For children with sensory processing difficulties, learning how to use the sense of proprioception to their advantage through heavy work activities can be especially powerful in helping them self-regulate, pay attention, and remain calm in a variety of situations. Heavy work is often seen as a great equalizer in terms of sensory integration strategies. For children who are under-responsive, heavy work activities can help increase their alertness and attention to tasks. While for children who are over responsive, heavy work activities can 

help them to calm down. What are heavy work activities? Heavy work is any activity that pushes or pulls on the body, more specifically our joints. The joints are where the receptors for proprioception are. When we participate in heavy work activities, messages are sent from receptors in our joints to receptors in our brainstem. These messages remind our brain and our body where we are in space and most importantly for many children, make them feel safe! 

How can heavy work activities help preschoolers? 

The main ingredient to every heavy work activity is that it stimulates our sense of proprioception, which is one of our senses that you may have never learned about. Proprioception is stimulated through running, jumping, crashing, hugging, climbing, pushing, lifting, and pulling. Of course, heavy work is not one size fits all. While some children respond very well to heavy work activities, they may have insignificant effects on others. When to use heavy work activities? Heavy work activities can be used as part of a lesson plan that has been thought out in advance. For instance, during large group you might play a game of “help the movers” and have each child lift boxes and put them on a table or in a designated area in the classroom, or you can have the children stand against and push the wall as part of exercising during a transition time. Keep in mind that heavy work activities might just be one arsenal of tools you have for helping your student(s) regulate their sensory needs and thus improve their ability to relax and be attentive. Your student(s) may not want to do heavy work activities every single day. Some days, they may want to jump up and down, run, or chill out in the calming area. 

Heavy work Activities 

It is important to know why we are giving sensory activities to our students and not just do them for the sake of doing them. Understanding why, and seeing the benefit, helps teachers choose heavy work activities wisely. In the future and as teachers incorporate heavy work activities into their classroom routine, they’ll likely begin to see some exciting changes in young learners both cognitively and behaviorally. 

Here are some examples of heavy work activities: 

  • Massages
  • Body sock play
  • Yoga poses
  • Pulling stretchy bands
  • Playing passing games with weighted objects
  • Weighted sensory bottles
  • Animal walks
  • Pushing walls
  • Chair dips
  • Tossing and catching heavy bean bags
  • Boxing against a mat
  • Rolling a stability ball
  • Squeezing playdough or putty
  • Tearing cardstock
  • Kinetic sand play