Attaining body awareness is an important part of the child development process.
This concept can seem more hidden and less obvious than other milestones children meet in the early years.
Find out exactly what this ability entails and how you can help your child develop it with this collection of fun body awareness activities.
What is Body Awareness?
Body awareness for kids is being aware of all the body parts, how their bodies are moving, and where they are located in space.
This knowledge for adults and older children is basically unconscious, traveling between the brain and spinal cord. [source]
Body awareness helps us know how close to move in order to reach something, how high we need to step up onto a curb, and how to walk without watching our feet.
Until they gain body awareness, younger kids sometimes must think more consciously about these types of movements.
Kids who struggle with spatial awareness are affected in a variety of ways during the course of their daily lives.
- Have difficulty imitating the movements of others
- have trouble learning new gross motor skills
- Appear to be clumsy
- Play roughly with other kids
- Exclude various body parts when drawing pictures of people
- Display confusion about personal space
- Move too fast for the situation
- Act generally shy OR overly loud
- Have difficulty holding a pencil: pressing too hard or too lightly
- Miss social cues from other kids’ reactions to them
- Avoid the dark
Hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, and even tasting, all work together with the vestibular system that controls balance, in order to help kids move effectively.
But there is one more sense that is crucial for body awareness in child development: proprioception.
What is Proprioception?
We have receptors in our joints, muscles, and ligaments that give us feedback about our position in space at any given moment, how we are moving, and where we are located in relation to things and people around us.
Receiving input properly and learning to effectively interpret this is an essential part of sensory development in children.
Kids with proprioceptive dysfunction, who lack awareness of body position, are often observed:
- bumping into others
- chewing on objects
- enjoying loud noises (or preferring quiet)
- disliking/preferring tight clothing
- avoiding physical activity
- having difficulty walking on stairs.
As you can see, some of these behaviors are opposites. This is because some children with proprioceptive issues seek out this type of stimulus, while others avoid it.
How do You Teach Body Awareness?
If you think your child is challenged in this area, or possibly you just want to make sure they are off to a good start, you can ensure that their everyday movement activities and play enhance body awareness.
Incorporate the following types of experiences daily:
- Active use of arms, legs, trunk, hands, fingers, feet, and even toes
- Heavy work, like pushing, pulling, carrying, stomping, and jumping
- Discuss your own emotions and those portrayed in stories read to children
- Encourage kids to look for social cues from peers
- Talk about the personal relationships in your child’s life
- Encourage kids to help with heavy chores around the house and garden
- Have children sit within a hula hoop or on an X on the floor to practise personal space
- Talk about body parts while bathing and dressing your child
- Set up sensory stations that stimulate the sense of proprioception
Many simple games and planned activities also help kids gain body awareness.
25 Body Awareness Activities
These body and spatial awareness activities are easy to plan and require very few special materials. Check out the following ideas:
The leader calls out directions for players to follow. These focus on the movement of certain body parts, such as, “Simon says touch your nose with your finger.”
Here are some fun Simon Says commands to try.
Make a hopscotch grid with chalk on cement or mark it out with tape on the floor. Use 8 or 10 squares.
Depending on how the squares are set up, children hop on just one or on two feet. If a small item has been thrown onto the grid ahead of time, kids must hop over that square and possibly lean over to pick it up before continuing.
Play some of your kids’ favourite tunes and encourage them to dance slowly or fast, depending on the beat or flow.
Part of the challenge is to avoid touching anyone else in the given space while dancing.
Children sing along with the song and take part in the movements. Stand alongside the kids so they can mimic your movements to choose between left and right.
If need be, many versions of the song are available on YouTube.
Follow the Leader
The leader moves in certain ways (walk, skip, hop, etc.) throughout the space, while children mimic the movements.
They can add other movements, such as holding a hand up in the air or bending both elbows out to the sides.
Invite children to choose (or make) a musical/rhythm instrument. Lead them in a high-stepping marching parade around the room or garden.
Provide a full-length mirror for children to view themselves. Then ask them to draw and colour pictures of themselves, including all the main body parts.
Set up an obstacle course inside or outdoors. As children navigate the course, challenge them to name their actions: up, over, under, through, between, crawl, stretch, etc.
Encourage kids to climb during a visit to the playground. Look for monkey bars, ladders, climbing ropes, and rock walls.
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
Children listen to the music and sing along with adults or with YouTube. They touch the body parts mentioned in the song.
Play with balls, giving verbal commands that involve body parts. This could include, “roll the ball with the tips of your fingers” and “kick the ball lightly with your foot.”
Using a low balance beam or tape on the floor, invite children to walk the line, with or without arms out to the side. Also, see if they can stand still on just one leg for as long as possible.
Explore in the Mirror
Looking into a large or handheld mirror, challenge kids to display various types of emotions on their faces: happy, sad, worried, scared, and silly.
Blow bubbles for children to chase, catch, clap, and break. Challenge them to avoid bumping into their peers or objects in the area.
Big Like Me
Roll out plain wrapping paper on the floor. Have children lie down to be traced around. After these are cut out, they can then “decorate” their likenesses with crayons or markers.
Fingers and Toes
Trace around kids’ hands and/or feet on heavy paper or paper plates. These can be cut out or just decorated with crayons and markers.
Move Like Animals
Indoors or outside, challenge children to move like named animals. They can slither like snakes, hop like rabbits, and prance like horses.
Let them think of animals and name/show how they could move, as well.
Set up a finish line indoors or outside. Urge kids to crawl as quickly as possible toward the goal when you say, “Go!”
Aim for the Target
Provide bean bags, balls, or various small toys of differing weights. Challenge kids to throw and hit the target bucket as many times as possible.
Show kids an easy way to measure distances, indoors or outside. Using just their feet, children can walk heel-to-toe, counting how many steps across the room or from one side of the garden to the other.
Here are more, fun measurement activities to try with young kids.
The Hands Have It
Provide playdough or clay for kids to manipulate and experience with their hands and fingers. They can also make small bodies, including all the necessary body parts.
Tug of War
This only takes two people on a rope and can also be done with a larger, divided group. Kids determine how hard they must tug on the rope to pull the other end over the middle line.
Fill and Empty
Provide buckets and materials like sand, mud, or water. Other less messy materials can be used indoors.
Kids fill buckets and empty them. Talk with them about what happens to the various materials when they are dumped out.
Play Library or Bookstore
Guide kids in setting up a library checkout or bookstore shelves with their picture books. The secret work that benefits body awareness is carrying around all those heavy books!
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Books to Share
Many picture books deal with matters related to body awareness. Check out the following titles at your library or on Amazon:
- Personal Space Camp by Julia Cook
- Breathe with Me by Miriam Gates
- Your Body by Melvin and Gilda Berger
- Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton
- Eyes, Nose, Fingers, and Toes by Judy Hindley
- My Amazing Body by Pat Thomas
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
- From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
- Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas
An important factor to remember is that we are not doing our young kids any favours by stepping in to complete all the “hard” tasks for them.
The more movement and “heavy lifting” they do on a daily basis, the better!
Would you like a year of done-for-you, ten-minute activities to teach your 3-5-year-old through play? Get your copy of the Learning Through Play Activity Pack for only $27.