Heavy Work in Montessori for Students with Sensory Processing Disorder
Definition of Proprioception
Proprioception is known as the "position sense" as it provides body awareness. It interprets sensory cues to help motor control and planning. Children with difficulties in this area are often given "heavy work" to do to enhance interpretation of this sensory disorder. Proprioceptive activities can be made available in the Montessori classroom for when the child needs them.
In the Practical Life curriculum, children can often be found transferring items from one bowl to another. Movement is a fundamental part of the Montessori curriculum, so transfer activities can be adapted to require moving across the room. The child can carry a bucket filled with heavy items, gallon jugs of water, or 2-liter bottles filled partway with sand or water, from one side of the room to the other. A lesson must be given in the proper way so they know how to carry the heavy item and have a suitable path to follow.
The child could also transfer weights in their hand while following a line from one side to the other. As balance improves, the objects could be placed into the hand with the arms outstretched. Later, the heavier items, such as small pumpkins, could be carried on a large spoon.
Heavy items could be placed into a basket to be pushed along the line used for walking. Parameters would be set up as to what is permitted in the basket, and staying on the line is emphasized.
A great heavy work involves swinging a hammer. A fun Montessori activity is pounding nails into a tree stump. Some classrooms are set up with an entire woodworking station in the Practical Life area.
Another facet of Montessori education is learning to maintain the classroom environment. Children can fulfill their proprioceptive needs when scrubbing large tables, chairs, and even spots on the walls. Sweeping and mopping the floors requires large movements.
Ideally, the Montessori environment has easy access to the great outdoors. The child needing heavy work can be in charge of raking leaves and shoveling snow in the fall and winter. In the spring, she can help dig in the dirt for planting and push a load in the wheelbarrow.
Often the child will require joint compressions as a part of his sensory diet. If an adult is unavailable for some reason, or the child wishes to self-soothe, he can perform push-ups as a substitute for the compressions.
Standing arms' length from the wall, he can lean forward, then push himself upright again, in a wall push-up.
While sitting in a chair, he can tuck his hands under his thighs, and push himself straight up, then release, in a chair push-up.
Setting Up the Environment
Many of these activities occur naturally in the Montessori environment. Others can easily be integrated into the classroom without disrupting the atmosphere. Other children often end up benefiting from the activities as well.
When setting up the environment to include proprioceptive exercises as sensory diet for children in Montessori with sensory processing disorder, be sure to meet with the child's OT (Occupational Therapist) to determine the best course of action. Share ideas and implement accordingly.