If you've been looking into sensory processing activities for your child or student, you have most likely come across the term “heavy work”. What exactly is heavy work and how it is beneficial? We'll answer these questions today as well as give you some heavy work activities for kids.
What is Heavy Work?
Heavy work is a term coined to describe any type of activity that activates proprioceptive receptors. Proprioception is the sensory system responsible for body awareness and it activates in the muscles, joints, and ligaments.
Heavy work can have a calming effect or alert and orienting effect based on what your child is craving. It allows your child to get adequate proprioceptive input that will help them focus and increases self-regulation.
Proprioception works closely with the vestibular system which has a huge effect on your child's behaviors.
Heavy work activities make great “brain breaks” during the school day or when your child just needs some time to reset so they can focus on an activity or task.
25 Heavy Work Activities for Kids
This is a huge list, so just pick the activities that fit your space or what you think your child would be interested in. Based on this list, can you come up with your own heavy work activity? I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.
1 || PUSH A FILLED LAUNDRY BASKET
Make sure the laundry basket is heavy enough that actually requires some work for your child to push it, but not too heavy that they struggle to push it. You can make it into a race or obstacle course. Some items you could fill it with are books, stuffed animals (this works great for younger kids), or any other random items from around your house or classroom.
2 || CRASHING
Children who crave proprioceptive input can often be found “crashing” into things. Whether rubbing on the walls down the hallway at school or literally jumping off furniture or beds. Providing some controlled crashing experiences will help give them the input they are craving in a safe way. Bean bags, piling up blankets and pillows, or making a huge ball pit out of a small swimming pool can work.
Check out the DIY No Sew Crash Mat from And Next Comes L
3 || JUMPING
Something as simple as jumping can be great proprioceptive input. Small trampolines (or large) are great for this. Jump rope or jumping on a pogo stick are also great options.
4 || WHEELBARROW WALKING
This is a good old-fashioned activity that is amazing for heavy work. The child balances on their hands while you hold their ankles up off the ground. Then have them walk on their hands while you keep holding their ankles. You may need to hold at the knees or waist if your child needs more support with this. As they get better, add races, obstacle courses or sprints while wheelbarrow walking.
5 || CLEAN THE HOUSE
And all the parents said “YES!”. 🙂 Pushing a vacuum, broom, or mop are great heavy work activities that require no additional tools or set-up. Simply helping out around the house is a perfect solution for heavy work at home.
6 || USE WEIGHTED LAP BEANBAGS
These can be great to have around during homework or during class time to give some added input to help focus and attend. They are easy to make with rice or beans. You can find a DIY Weighted Lap Pad tutorial HERE.
7 || WALK WITH MOON SHOES
This is a fun activity that you might see in Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy sessions. Think of them as two mini trampolines attached to your feet. They are a little on the pricer side as far as equipment goes, but they would make a great additional sensory room activity at school or outside at home.
8 || SIT IN BEAN BAG CHAIRS
Bean bag chairs are great to have as alternative seating options or in a quiet or calming space. It can be like getting a nice hug but without the actual hug. This can have a calming effect and also help kids focus while reading or doing other calming activities.
9 || PUSH A GROCERY CART
Does your grocery store have those little child-sized grocery carts? I know Whole Food does sometimes and our Kroger here also has some. It is one of my daughter's favorite things to do at the grocery store. Of course, you do need to pay close attention and teach them to be aware of their surroundings. But this is a great heavy work activity that they won't even realize is beneficial for them. Older children can push a regularly sized cart.
10 || PUSH A ROLLING CHAIR
This can be used in the classroom or at home with an office chair. They can push a friend, a sibling, or you.
11 || BODY SOCK AT CIRCLE TIME
Body socks are great at giving input for where your body is in space. Plus the child can push against them and get the needed proprioceptive input they need during a time when they need to be sitting in a group. You can also use this at any time, not just circle time. You can get different sizes depending on the ages you are working with. Typically small, medium or large sizes are available.
You can also read my post on activities to do with a body sock HERE.
12 || LYCRA AS A CHAIR POCKET
You can get regular lycra material and tie it around a chair or desk to make a little pocket. A child can push their feet against it or hands under a desk to get some added input to help them focus during desk work.
13 || CHEW GUM OR CRUNCHY FOODS
Chewing gum or crunchy foods is like a mini workout for the mouth! Your mouth is full of proprioceptive receptors. So chewing gum or having crunchy foods as a snack or break time is a great option that all the kids can enjoy together.
14 || SIP WATER FROM A STRAW
Seriously, again, so simple! The act of sucking through a straw is again another great proprioceptive activity with the mouth. If you have a child who has some oral sensitivities for gravitates towards putting things in their mouth all the time, this is a great one.
15 || PULL A CHILD OR FRIEND IN A SHEET
Use a large bed sheet, or even a fitted sheet and pull away. Have races or see how far they can pull in 10 seconds.
16 || TAKE OUT THE TRASH
Are you loving all the working around the house options? Housework and chores can be amazing heavy work opportunities. Don't pass up the opportunity for taking out the trash. Emptying smaller trash cans into large trash bags, carrying the bags to the trash can or dumpster or pulling the cans out to the street for pickup are all great options.
17 || SCRUB SURFACES WITH A BRUSH OR SPONGE
Cleaning on the chalkboard or whiteboard, wiping down a table, or scrubbing off a dirty surface all give great proprioceptive input through the upper body.
18 || HELP WITH YARD WORK
Moving dirt with a shovel, filling up a wheelbarrow and moving dirt or rocks, or digging in the soil are all great options.
19 || PUSH A FRIEND IN A WHEELBARROW
And you can't forget pushing an actual wheelbarrow or pushing a friend in one. I have fond memories doing this during the summer months with my brother with our gardening growing up.
20 || PULL A WAGON
Put your little red wagon to work with this activity. Pull a friend or some of their favorite stuffed animals, baby dolls, or toys for a walk.
21 || PILLOW FIGHTS
I feel like some will want a disclaimer on this one, so yes, please make sure your child is supervised and don't let it get out of hand. But a good fun pillow fight is a great way to get quick bursts on input.
22 || PLAYING IN A SANDBOX WITH DAMP SAND
If you live near a beach, go dig in the wet sand with a shovel or your hands.
23 || SWIMMING
Swimming is great for heavy work since you have to work against the water in order to move.
24 || BATHE THE DOG OR PET
If you have a pet, make sure to include washing that pet, especially dogs as part of your child's routine. This is great tactile and proprioceptive input with the fingers and arms.
25 || WASH THE CAR
Get the water hose, buckets, and don't forget actually pushing against the car to wash it! This is such a great heavy work activity, plus it's FUN!
26 || BONUS ACTIVITY – SHOVELING SNOW
I know I said 25 activities, but since we got 7-8 inches of snow this weekend, I had to include this. If you live in an area that gets decent snow accumulations, shoveling the sidewalk or driveway is amazing some heavy work.
Heavy Work Activity PDF
I created a 4-page heavy work activity PDF printable download for you. You'll get all 26 of this activity suggestions with the descriptions below each. It's completely free, just enter your email address in the form below. You will also receive some follow up emails on each of the 8 sensory systems that give you detailed red-flags and activity suggestions for each. And you'll also get weekly child development tips, tools, and strategies in my weekly newsletter.
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